The typical first-year experience at Duke is centered around all first-years living together on East Campus. This year, Duke’s COVID-19 response, which included reducing density in residential buildings, left the Class of 2024 split between campuses.
Students in the FOCUS program—which includes classes and co-curricular programming on specific topics—were housed together on West Campus. Those students had mixed experiences this semester as they navigated finding communities in an unusual year.
“I really enjoyed taking two classes that were around the same topic, and I thought it was cool to learn with others who had different backgrounds and experiences but who also had similar interests,” first-year Spencer Schutz said.
Sriya Dhupati, another first-year on West, expressed a similarly positive experience.
“I’m glad I did FOCUS. Part of what appealed to me about FOCUS was getting the chance to become really close to other freshmen. It was nice to have smaller classes and to see the same people a lot,” Dhupati said.
Although isolated from the majority of the first-year class living on East, Dhupati said her experience on West “did not hinder [her] ability to meet other freshmen and make friends.”
“There was an element of feeling isolated, but it is not a big factor. People I knew on East also had similar feelings,” Dhupati said.
The bus between East and West helped Shutz connect with friends on East.
“It was nice having my classes closer by and not having to stress about missing the bus. And when I wanted to see my friends on East, I’d just take the bus,” he said.
Eavan Murray, a FOCUS student who initially lived on West, chose to move to East midway through the first semester, allowing her to see the differences between the two campuses.
“I noticed pretty quickly that there seemed to be a greater sense of community on East Campus, especially during the first few weeks, probably given the freshmen-only nature of the campus and the fact that a lot more people were out and about socializing on the East Campus quad,” Murray wrote in an email.
Another reason why Murray moved from West was that “the sheer number of freshmen living on East Campus gives the whole place a much more lively and welcoming feeling.”
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Other than the overall mood of the campus, Murray was drawn to East because most of her friends live there.
Although East Campus is known for its larger community, students found their own smaller communities on West.
“Within my dorm, I felt we had a really great community. Between dorms, I didn’t really feel that too much. But I don’t feel like I missed out,” Shutz said.
Rather than eating at Marketplace and getting a taste of Duke’s traditional first-year dining experience, first-years on West were allotted additional food points to use for their daily meals at the Brodhead Center, the Loop and other vendors.
“I’m glad I’m living on West—the food is part of it. We have the better food plan,” Dhupati said.
Dhupati said she wished she could have experienced the themed dinners at Marketplace. Still, she had a good experience on West.
“Everyone’s first-year experience is different, and living on West is a positive way to have that experience,” Dhupati said.