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Duke to create 'residential community' system on West Campus, new task force to reshape housing experience

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Rush is moving to sophomore year and Duke is setting up a new “residential community” system on West Campus, as part of the guidelines for a committee that will rethink the Duke housing experience. 

The new committee—the Next Generation Living and Learning 2.0 Committee—will aim to “build a joyful and intentional four-year residential experience that promotes growth, meaningful inclusion, and health, and that is distinctly Duke,” according to a Thursday email to undergraduates from Mary Pat McMahon, vice president and vice provost for student affairs, and Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education. 

The task force will follow up on the first version of the Next Generation Living and Learning Experience task force, which produced a 2019 report that called for the creation of new task forces without offering specific recommendations. 

Co-chaired by Dean of Students John Blackshear and Linda Zhang, Trinity ‘20 and a business analyst at McKinsey and Company, the committee will hold a Dec. 9 town hall, which will include a chance for students to share feedback on the housing experience. The committee has a listserv for students to follow along with the process and a feedback form about its efforts. 

Although the task force will have leeway to make recommendations, it will be bound by some specific guidelines. For one, Duke will “retain and enhance the first-year experience on East Campus” after the COVID-19 pandemic, McMahon and Bennett wrote.

Some of the other guidelines are departures from the way housing currently works. Starting with the Class of 2024—currently first-years—students will rush selective living communities in their sophomore year. That change comes as COVID-19 makes it “highly unlikely that [first-years] can rush safely in January 2021,” according to the email, but will continue with future classes. 

In line with that change, “informal or pre-rush activities” will be considered serious violations of Duke rules, according to the email. 

Duke asked selective living groups last month to pause recruitment planning, promising a decision on spring 2020 recruitment by mid-November.

Going forward, individual West Campus quads will be linked to East Campus residence halls, serving as “a student’s home and foundational community throughout the student’s four years at Duke,” according to the email. 

“Thanks to inclusive quad-based events and rich traditions, first-year students will feel welcomed into the West Campus quad with which their East Campus residence hall is linked,” McMahon and Bennett wrote. “While first-years come to view their quad as their home on West Campus, upperclass students–and ultimately alumni–will take pride in their quad community and affiliation.”

That change to linked houses was first announced in January, when the Office of Housing and Residence Life announced that first-years would automatically be placed into housing blocks based on their East Campus dorm for the 2020-21 academic year. HRL announced that students could still opt out of the link program, but would be automatically included unless they chose to make that change. 

As part of the new quad-based system, Greek and non-Greek selective living will return in 2021-22, but will “shift away from Abele Quad,” the central West Campus quad. Because of the change to when rush occurs, only juniors and seniors will live in selective living sections. A subcommittee of the new task force—including representatives from Greek organizations and non-Greek SLGs—will tackle the specifics of how those groups will work in the new system. 

As well as Blackshear and Zhang, the Next Gen 2.0 committee also includes current students, alumni, faculty and administrators. In all, the task force has more than 20 members, according to a website about the new initiative. The website also includes the full committee charge for the task force, which will guide its path to “options for implementation” that it will present to McMahon and Bennett, according to the Thursday email.

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