Tenting is hazing. Change my mind.

guest column

There is truly no experience like being inside Cameron Indoor when our Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels. The exhilarating feeling of rushing out to Abele Quad for some much-needed bench burning can’t be beat. Students come in during their first year and hear from everyone—upperclassmen, friends, fans, you name it—“you have to get into at least one Carolina game before you graduate.” It is, by far, the most anticipated game of regular season college basketball every year, and many Duke students choose to tent in K-Ville to earn their spot. This process ensures that only the most dedicated, enthusiastic, and Craziest fans witness another chapter in this historic rivalry. 

The tenting tradition began over thirty years ago and has become an integral part of the “Duke Experience.” Students set up tents outside Cameron Indoor and wait in line for up to twelve weeks to get access to THE game. Tenters are expected to be out there, rain or shine or snow or sub-freezing (but above 25 °F) temperatures and are kept honest by the Line Monitors (a committee within DSG), who call tent checks at any time, day or night. 

However, I would argue that this time-honored tradition, according to the definitions outlined by the Duke Student Affairs (DSA) office, fits the criteria for hazing. Hot take? Maybe. But hear me out.

According to the DSA website,

“Hazing is defined as any action taken or situation created, whether on or off university premises, that is harmful or potentially harmful to an individual’s physical, emotional, or psychological well-being, regardless of an individual’s willingness to participate or it’s bearing on his/her membership status.”

 DSA goes on to provide a multi-level list of violations that categorizes hazing actions and situations based on severity. I would like to call your attention to two specific violations: “Level I violation: Line-ups” and “Level II violation: Sleep deprivation or interruption of consecutive sleep hours.” Sound familiar? 

What is a tent check if not a line-up? The Line Monitors blow a siren (I’ll pause to allow any readers who have tented to recover from that involuntary shudder), and every tent must send the required number of individuals to the front of K-ville with their student ID. If a tent fails to do so twice in one tenting period, they are kicked to the back of the line. Now, imagine you are the tenter that causes your whole tent to get booted to the back of the line… wouldn’t that negatively impact your emotional and psychological well-being? Wouldn’t the fear of letting your friends down (and, of course, the time requirement) add unnecessary stress to the high-stress environment that is Duke’s campus? 

I will admit that my experiences tenting have most certainly negatively affected my well-being during my time at Duke. 

Furthermore, these tent checks can be called at any time, even when the average student, according to research, should be getting their restful 7-9 hours of sleep (a recommended, yet optimistic range). Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the Line Monitors are feeling extra generous one night and decide to only call one tent check during the 1:00 a.m.-7:00 a.m. night shift. Even this one check clearly interrupts the “consecutive sleep hours” of every student in K-ville: they must leave their tents, shuffle down to the front of K-ville, shuffle back, and try to fall back asleep before getting up to tackle some of the most rigorous course loads in the country. 

Countless studies have shown the importance of getting a good night’s sleep to an individual’s health and capacity to learn. Therefore, isn’t tenting negatively impacting a student’s health and academic performance (physical, emotional and psychological well-being)? As a result, I would argue that calling tent checks in the middle of the night meets the criteria for a Level II hazing violation (which, for perspective, was the same level of violation that led to a three-year suspension of an on-campus organization last fall). 

Now, I know what you are thinking: tenting is different for such-and-such reasons and can’t be hazing. 

  • “Tenting is a Duke tradition. Even ESPN covers it every year! These students are just following tradition.”
Tradition is an age-old, inadequate justification for hazing. Try to find one organization that has won a hazing dispute on the grounds of tradition. Good luck. 
  • “Students choose to tent. No one is required to do it.” 
I completely agree (although on nights of 26 °F weather, I find myself questioning the sanity of that decision). However, according to the definition of hazing provided by DSA, “an individual’s willingness to participate” has no bearing on the hazing classification. 
  • “We only want the most dedicated Cameron Crazies at the Carolina game to give our team the rowdiest student section possible.” 
Once again, does this remind you of any other organizations? 
  • “Hazing usually deals with alcohol, which has nothing to do with K-ville.” 
According to DSA’s definition, forced consumption of alcohol and sleep deprivation are both Level II violations— interpreted as equally severe. 
  • “No one gets hurt or injured by tenting in the way they would by ‘real’ hazing.”
The negative effects of sleep deprivation add up: students may get sick; they often find it more difficult to keep up with their academics—which, by the way, is the reason people come to Duke; and they often feel overwhelmed while scheduling tent shifts around classes, extracurriculars and interviews. To say that no one is hurt by tenting is to turn a blind eye to important facets of overall student well-being on campus.

Tenting, by Duke’s own definition, fits the criteria of both Level I and Level II hazing. Violations of equal severity have resulted in multi-year suspensions for campus groups in the past. This brings us to my question: should there be an end to tenting? Does tenting deserve this double standard? If so, why? If not, what are we, as a community that claims to support general student well-being, going to do about it? 

This is by no means a hit piece on tenting—I am a two-time tenter and have loved my time in K-ville. I wrote this article to identify a double standard and to start a conversation. While this year’s tenting season has come to a close, we must look past March 7 and decide what next year will look like. Will we continue to support institutionally sponsored hazing, or will we begin the conversation to find a better solution, one that ensures the safety and well-being of the Cameron Crazies? This must be a campus-wide decision, one that can only be made if we start the conversation.

Sam Taylor is a Trinity senior.


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