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The Chronicle answers Class of 2023's questions about Duke social, housing life

Over the summer, The Chronicle asked incoming first-years to pose their pressing questions about life at Duke. One popular theme was interest in Duke’s social scene and the complex system of Greek life, selective living groups and independent housing. The Chronicle reached out to individuals affiliated with each housing system to get their perspective on campus communities and the University’s social scene. 

Please keep in mind that for the 6,000+ students at Duke, there are 6,000+ social experiences. The advice below draws from many facets of Duke’s social scene, but only accounts for a small portion of the entire student population—remember that although this advice may help you navigate the non-academic side of Duke, your experience is bound to be unique.

Housing at Duke is divided into selective livingcomposed of Greek life and selective living groupsand independent living.

Greek life can be further subdivided into four categories, each under the umbrella of a separate council. 

The Interfraternity Council oversees 15 of Duke’s fraternities, and the Multicultural Greek Council governs Duke’s multicultural fraternities and sororities. Additionally, the National Pan-Hellenic Council supervises eight of Duke’s traditionally African American fraternities and sororities, and Panhellenic Association presides over 10 sororities at the University.

Non-Greek Selective Living Groups comprise the other portion of Duke’s selective living community, with more than 15 SLGs currently recognized on campus. The purposes of these groups can vary, with some being “purely social in nature” whereas others are “based upon some fundamental intellectual or cultural theme,” according to Duke’s Student Affairs website

Duke also boasts 30 independent houses—or sections of residence halls—for students who did not join a selective living group. Students can choose to live on their own (provided that single rooms are available at the time of room selection), with a roommate or as a block of three to six students.

The Chronicle collected responses from members of each group listed above. Senior Rachel Kim, president of Multicultural Greek Council, and a general NPHC email did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Could you outline how the rush process works? What’s the appropriate number of SLGs/Greek organizations to rush? 

For all selective living organizations, students must wait until at least the Spring semester to enter the rush process.

Senior Harrison Labban, president of IFC, explained that students interested in the IFC rush process would register their interest in the Fall semester before entering the rush process in the Spring.

IFC rush consists of three rounds, with chapters extending invites to potential new members (PNMs) at the end of the first two rounds and bids after the third.

Labban explained that there’s no ideal number of fraternities to rush, but that casting a wide net would be beneficial.

“There is no recommended number of groups to rush, but I would encourage PNMs to check out as many chapters as possible,” he wrote. “Every chapter offers a distinct perspective on the Duke experience and a different opportunity to find community on campus; by getting to know a diverse range of groups during rush, PNMs can go into bid day as well-informed as possible.” 

Aspiring members of NPHC chapters undergo a process called intake, where each organization has its own application process for new entrants. Some chapters require students to be sophomores before applying, according to the council’s website.

MGC groups will hold campus meetings to initiate their intake process, according to the Student Affairs website. This process may occur whenever chapters feel that there is “enough interest from qualified students” to build a class of new members, according to the website.

Senior Pingyi Zhu, president of the Panhellenic Association, explained that the recruitment process involves interacting with all 10 of the Panhellenic sororities.

“This means that going through Panhellenic sorority recruitment basically means you rush all 10 chapters,” she wrote. 

Recruitment takes place during two weekends and consists of four rounds, Zhu explained, with bids being extended at the end of the last round.

She also cautioned first-years considering sorority and SLG recruitment to be mindful of the time required to pursue both avenues.

“SLGs vary in terms of what kinds of events they choose to do and how many rounds they require during their processes, so if you’re trying to rush both, make sure you’re leaving yourself enough room to breathe,” Zhu wrote. 

Senior Jacob Levine, former rush chair of the SLG Cooper, explained that SLG recruitment usually occurs in two to three rounds, which take place over three weeks. Whereas the initial events are intended to gauge interest from a larger student population, the subsequent weeks are focused on more intimate conversations, he added.

Levine mentioned that he rushed three SLGs into the second round, a task he called “manageable but difficult.”

Junior Simal Soydan, a member of the SLG Mundi, explained that Mundi rush includes three rounds, which begin with open houses where students can indicate their interest in rushing and meet current members. Later, there are other events including parties and salsa dancing events, he explained.

At the end of the process, students are informed of the final decision via email.

What makes SLGs/Greek organizations different in terms of communities and events?

One major difference is that most SLGs are co-ed—besides all-male Wayne Manor and all-female Illyria—while fraternities and sororities are single gender.

Labban explained that a distinction is the national network associated with fraternities, as all Duke IFC chapters are affiliated with a national organization. This creates an “expansive, national alumni network” and a “brotherhood” with every member of a particular fraternity, he noted.

Another difference, Zhu noted, is that each Panhellenic organization partners with a philanthropy organization to conduct one fundraising event each semester. 

Students considering whether to join should also consider the financial implications, as members pay chapter, school and national dues for an organization, she explained.

“Panhellenic sororities do have certain social events that happen each semester, namely date functions, crush parties and formal/semiformal. Other organizations on campus besides Greek organizations and SLGs may hold similar events,” Zhu wrote. “Other mandatory commitments include weekly chapter meetings, chapter initiations, and sometimes semesterly sisterhood retreats.”

Levine pointed to the “diversity dynamic” that can differ between SLGs and Greek life, though he acknowledged that the dichotomy isn’t a strict one.

“There are many Greek organizations that are making efforts to become more inclusive, and there are also SLGs that are not making these efforts,” he wrote in an email. “All types of selective living groups have biases in their selection processes, and some are stronger than others.”

A 2018 investigation by The Chronicle found that SLGs are more diverse in some categories, but not all, compared to Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic organizations.

How necessary is rushing if you just want to have a good time and make friends?

It’s not necessary, according to students from both selective and independent living groups.

Zhu stressed that living organizations are just a few of the many groups that populate Duke’s campus and allow students to forge friendships and connections.

“If you go on DukeGroups, you can see the hundreds of student organizations that are on campus, from sports clubs to arts clubs to tea appreciation clubs,” she wrote. “There are many outlets on campus that can serve as paths to making friends and having a good college experience, and being in a sorority is just one of them.”

Senior Saheel Chodavadia, an independent student who serves as chief of staff for Duke Student Government, added that he draws his friendships from many sources, including his first-year dorm, late-night study sessions, campus organizations and even casual conversation.

Although friendships might not necessarily be as pre-packaged as in selective groups, he mentioned that this could work out for the better.

“You might have to work just a bit harder to make and maintain friendships because the environment isn’t created for you as it is in selective groups, but sometimes that just means the friendships you make and maintain are stronger and deeper than the rest,” he wrote.

Labban agreed that rushing was not necessary to fulfill the social aspect alone—he emphasized that joining a selective organization provides more than just social benefits and improves “academic, athletic and leadership development.” 

Is it true that there's a lack of community for independent students?

Chodavadia explained that it depends on the definition of community. Moving into sophomore year, he acknowledged that people have varying degrees of familiarity with students living in their residence hall. However, he emphasized that community is more than just proximity.

Although he said he doesn’t feel close to many of the students living near him, Chodavadia builds his community in other ways—from classes, clubs, organizations and random conversations.

And he finds that most people couldn’t care less which living category he falls into.

“If you’re talking to someone who does care if you’re in Greek Life or an SLG and has ascribed some sort of arbitrary, self-serving and self-affirming hierarchy to those things, maybe that person isn’t worth your time,” Chodavadia wrote. “But the good news is most people don’t do that.”

Levine explained that he values the friendships that have come from being part of an SLG but realizes that his closest friends came from classes, clubs or his first year at Duke. The desire to pursue meaningful friendships—not necessarily membership in a selective organization—is a defining characteristic of students who have healthy social lives, he added.

Junior Andrew Orme, a former columnist for The Chronicle who has written about being an independent student, argued that there is a lack of community for independent students on campus, though he admitted that he believes it’s largely a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Dissatisfaction with being independent leads some students to blame those in selective groups for their fate and to perceive Duke’s social structure as being much more set in stone than in reality, Orme explained.

“People constantly talk about the lack of community on campus for independents, but at the same time, absolve themselves of any responsibility for making that facet of campus life better,” he wrote in an email.

The solution, Orme added, is for students not to take the outcome of the rush process personally and construe themselves as victims.

“At the end of the day, nobody besides some childish [first-year] pledges really care about whether you’re independent or not, nor should they,” he wrote.

Any advice for first-years on the fence about rushing a selective organization, or any tips on navigating Duke’s social scene?

Most of the students The Chronicle contacted advised first-years to try out the rush process regardless of their interest level. 

Students can begin rushing and are free to decide whether they want to join a group after attending events and meeting the members, Labban explained. 

Zhu added that first-years going through the recruitment process need to keep their physical and mental well-being in mind amid the hectic rush of events. And for those who become members of selective groups, she encouraged them not to view their living group as an enclosure but instead continue to interact with other students.

Junior Kate Chen, director of administration and order for Panhellenic Association, agreed with the importance of not becoming isolated within a social group.

“Even if you and your O-Week friends/[first-year] friends end up going into different social circles, make sure to make an effort to keep talking and hanging out with them,” she wrote in an email. “Rushing a Greek organization isn't a done deal, and I know many people who started sorority rush and realized it wasn't for them.”

Chodavadia recommended that first-years “stay true to [themselves]” when deciding which groups to join. 

“You can find your best lifelong friends in SLGs or Greek Life, but you can also find them elsewhere,” he wrote. “Don’t second-guess yourself and don’t change yourself or your values because it seems all your friends are going in one direction and you’re going the opposite.”

Nathan Luzum and Jake Satisky contributed reporting.

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