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The dark side of the 'Duke Difference'

double ds

The Double Ds I'm looking at today are “Duke Difference,” and how this simple phrase extends beyond jokes about academic excellence and occasional weird happenings on campus.

Even though I’ve only been on this campus for two months, I’ve already had my fair share of Duke Difference moments. The first one came mere moments after I stepped out of my car on move-in day. As soon as my feet hit the ground, a herd of upperclassmen swarmed me like vultures, hauling my stuff up to the second floor like pack animals in flashy neon fun.

And I couldn’t help but think to myself, I’ve been on campus for two minutes, and I’ve already got a family. Well, it’s really more like a herd with an affinity for bad 2000s pop, but they’re a family nonetheless.

Duke Difference moment right there.

Now, we fast forward to an important day in the life of the first year Duke student­—Shooters night. All of a sudden, the wholesome junk is behind the young Padawan, and it hits him for the first time that he’s a college student. By induction, this also means he’s a sardine in a tin can, branded with a black X across his non-dominant hand, wondering if the puddles he’s wading through are ethyl alcohol or perspiration.

And the night doesn’t end there for our young lad. Somehow—and he’s a little too inebriated to remember exactly how—he ends up paying a visit to the Holy Land.

No, I’m not saying he died. That’s really more of a midterm season sort of issue. I’m talking about McDonald's: the place where a red-haired clown rains root vegetable on hungry students’ trays at three in the morning. All for the low, low price of three food points.

And thus ends a night full of Duke Differences.

Soon enough, the little freshman has to work as hard as he plays. The Duke Difference goes from wild nights out to that one time he was late to class because a bus driver literally yanked him off of a full C1. If you know, you know.

The Duke Difference becomes that face he makes when Professor Fullenkamp says that he expects “everyone to end this class with a Satisfactory.” I’m sure his first midterm grade, coupled with hundreds of students on RateMyProfessor, would strongly beg to differ.

However, I’m not saying the Duke Difference is all stress. Picture, for instance, that night when the young freshman looks up from his computer after six hours of poring over a bootlegged copy of Locke’s “Second Treatise” only to still see sitting around him the six friends he started studying with earlier. Sure, they all have death written across their faces, but it’s nice to see that everyone’s in the same boat: suffering, but also thriving.

Personally, Duke Difference moments have given me some of my best friends. Take, for instance, that time I fished a shirt out from behind the washers for a girl I’d never met. She didn’t look happy to see it covered in washer sludge and Tide pod residue, but we’re somehow friends now.

I’m not going to act like the Duke Difference is all sunshine and rainbows, though. We’re used to thinking of the phrase as sort of tongue-in-cheek: referencing how, despite our strong intellectual culture, we can still have fun and do dumb things. My argument, though, is that there’s some such moments, often not thought of as “Duke Differences,” that we could definitely do without.

During O-week, I learned that 48 percent of female undergraduate students at Duke are sexually assaulted during their time on campus. A little digging yielded that, on average, that percentage is definitely lower—around twenty percentage points lower, in fact.

Like it or not, that is indeed a part of the Duke Difference.

On FDOC, the floors of Marketplace were riddled with QR codes. Upon scanning one, I was redirected to a site called the Duke Sexual Assault Project that claimed to keep a running counter of every time someone reported being sexually assaulted.

It was only eight hours into the first day of class, and already, that number was at one. The Duke Difference. We are number one.

Later that day, I checked the site again, and to my utter confusion, the counter was sitting at a big, fat zero.

There are a lot of things in this world that can be undone, reset or rewritten. Entire histories can be repainted for the convenience of undemocratic governments. A person who commits a crime will often get a second chance.

But sexual assault isn’t one of those things. There is no undoing that action—no minimizing that number. Once it goes up, it stays.

I checked back at that site soon after. The domain no longer exists. The 48 percent figure, however, still does.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay that way. That percentage can surely decrease if we work hard to change campus culture. To redefine the Duke Difference around awesome meals at Sazon, 2 a.m.  conversations about the meaning of life, and fun nights out as opposed to statistics we’re too afraid to talk about outside of closed doors.

I’ve only been here for two months, but I’m already excited to see what the next Duke Difference moment will be. Because that phrase, to me, is what makes this place special. What makes this place a home.

I just hope we’re doing our best to make it a home for all seven thousand of us.

Pranav Athimuthu is a Trinity first-year. His column, "double ds," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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