While Duke’s plan to house some first-year students on West Campus for the fall was a positive experience for many, some first-year students have chosen to relocate to East Campus for the spring.
West Campus dorms are traditionally reserved for sophomores, juniors and seniors, with all first-year students living on East Campus together. This is part of Duke’s efforts to build cohesion and community among each class.
As with many elements of the Duke experience, however, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic impacted these plans. Joe Gonzalez, former assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life, announced in a June 9 email to students that first-years would be housed on both East and West Campus to help reduce density in residential buildings.
Asha Artis, Housing and Residence Life staff specialist, wrote in an email to The Chronicle that first-year students living in West campus residence halls were mostly a part of FOCUS clusters. These students lived and attended classes together in Edens, Keohane, and Wannamaker.
In total, 25 first-years moved between campuses this fall, according to Artis. She wrote that of the 25, 15 moved from East to West Campus to be closer to their FOCUS cluster. The remaining 10 moved from West to East Campus.
Artis added that “those [reassignments from West to East campus] were only granted in extreme circumstances.”
Some students decided to move because they had received housing assignments on West Campus despite not being part of a FOCUS program.
First-year Abbey Munn recalled her experience living on West Campus without the connection of a FOCUS cluster.
She said that, while she was able to meet the people on her floor and others in her dorm, “it was weird being the only person on my floor that wasn’t in their FOCUS classes. They got to be really close, working together out of class and that kind of thing.”
First-year Jeffrey Zhou shared similar sentiments as Munn.
“I have a couple friends that are also in a similar boat and they found it a struggle to connect,” he said.
Zhou was not only the only one on his floor not in a FOCUS, but the only student living in his section altogether.
“For me personally, my hall was empty. I was the only one on my side and there was one other person on the other side but there was empty space all around us,” Zhou recalled. He added that he moved in with the expectation that others would fill in as the weeks went by, but realized about a week later that he would be living alone.
“I was isolated, and I felt like I was missing out on a chance to connect with a lot of other first-years. I heard that was a part of a normal first-year experience,” Zhou said.
Munn noted that one reason she chose to move from West to East Campus for the spring was to salvage the traditional first-year Duke experience.
Munn, who was admitted as an Early Decision applicant, had the opportunity to attend Blue Devil Days before campus closed in March. There, she met several other incoming students with whom she kept in touch.
Because she was the only one from the group living on West Campus, she spent the majority of her evenings during the fall semester on East Campus and began to realize what she was missing.
The moment that cemented these thoughts for Munn was a festival-themed dinner at Marketplace that she attended with friends living on East.
“They had that fall festival on East Campus, and I was on East Campus with my friends,” she recalled. “And that’s the freshmen experience that you want—and Duke was doing the best they could with COVID-19 going on—and living on West you didn’t really even know that was going on.”
First-year Jerry Xin was not as concerned with achieving the quintessential Duke experience as Munn, but he felt that with friends living on East, it would be easier to build connections if he moved.
“I had my friends on East and I’d prefer to get dinner with them and stuff, which is easier when I’m on East,” Xin said.
With these concerns in mind, Munn, Zhou and Xin all sought reassignment to East Campus residence halls for the spring semester. An Oct. 14 email from Housing and Residence life outlined options for reassignments for the spring, including.
“Our hope in allowing a limited number of reassignments during this time is to support the opportunity for you to move closer to your friends and stay with your social group,” the email read.
Munn recalled seeing the email while in class and immediately drafting an email to her residence coordinator. Zhou, who had held out hope that HRL would automatically reassign him when juniors and seniors returned to campus, also decided to take action then.
Both Zhou and Munn were able to move into partially occupied suites on East Campus before finishing their fall semesters.
Xin, however, said that he didn’t hear back from HRL about his reassignment during the semester. Instead, he decided to store his belongings in Durham and continue attempting—with eventual success—to push for a reassignment over winter break.
Munn summarized her experience in a positive light.
“I had a good experience on both campuses. I’m still close with everybody and it was a good experience both ways. Now I have the best of both worlds!” she said.
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