President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial symbolized the illusion of change. His acquittal, however, simply represents yet another example of superficial progress. Thinking about trivial advancement in a smaller administration, we see these same themes arising in Duke’s new housing policies for the upcoming school year. Although it may seem a bit bold to compare Duke’s Next Gen 2.0 Housing Committee to the inner workings of the United States government, the two are similar in that Duke’s new housing policy is riddled with conflicting interests, vague policies, and an unclear motive to explain why these specific changes are being implemented.
In November 2020, the Duke administration released a new residential structure aimed at “deepen[ing] connections across class year, with faculty, and with alumni” and “fostering dynamic opportunities for faculty engagement and co-curricular learning.” Two essential points of this new plan include organizing houses on West Campus into diverse residential communities that link to East Campus residence halls and postponing rush processes until students’ sophomore year. The Next Gen 2.0 website claims that the goal of these housing changes is to “build a joyful and intentional 4-year residential experience that promotes growth, meaningful inclusion, and health that is distinctly Duke.” However, the major flaw in this new structure is one many of us have called out for too long: Duke’s administration lacking transparency in their purpose for these changes.
Perhaps selective living is the system that these new changes aim to dismantle. Discussing selective living systems is inevitable in the conversation about housing at Duke. Although the Next Gen 2.0 statement does not explicitly reference Greek life and Selective Living Groups (SLGs) on Duke’s campus, it does emphasize the concept of inclusion. Historically, Duke’s residential system has consisted of Greek organizations, SLGs, Living Learning communities (LLCs), and independent housing. Fraternities and sororities have existed on campus since the time of Trinity College, founded in 1859, which was the precursor to the modern Duke University.
Despite their historical legacies, these systems might be outdated—the Abolish Greek Life movement has gained traction at universities across the country, including on Duke’s campus. Some of the most pressing complaints related to Greek Life include its role in creating a toxic social hierarchy among student bodies, perpetuating cycles of wealth and class, and discriminating against students of color. In response, Duke has taken certain measures that resultantly have weakened the presence of these organizations such as its abolishment of Central Campus, where the majority of sororities and fraternities had housing. More recently, on October 8, 2020, Duke asked fraternities, sororities, and non-Greek selective living groups to indefinitely postpone their recruitment processes. Perhaps, then, these new housing measures are simply an extension of a long-term attempt to weaken the dominance of Greek life in campus culture.
That being said, it is worth examining the extent to which, if at all, the power dynamic of these selective organizations have evolved on campus. While Central campus no longer exists, even now, Greek letters printed on the neo-gothic architecture just outside of Abele Quad emphasize the bold presence of these organizations in student life. Furthermore, the recent decision to delay selective housing rush processes has backfired: numerous Greek organizations have decided that they would rather disassociate from Duke and recruit first-years on their own than delay rush. Now, at least eight fraternities are headquartered off-campus, meaning that these fraternities will no longer be held accountable to Duke’s standards and regulations. As such, they now have the ability to hold rush at their own discretion despite the change in Duke’s policies and ignore the changes that Duke students have demanded amidst the Black Lives Matter Protests. As for these new housing changes, the policy specifies that it will not undermine the existence of selective housing; instead, all such sections will be housed in Edens, a dorm on the outskirts of West Campus.
The Duke administration seems to be taking the same exact approach as it did in abolishing Central Campus. Instead of taking a hard stance that could give rise to tangible, more inclusive change, Duke is simply relocating these selective organizations. Each group will still recruit an incoming class, albeit a few months later, and the organizations will continue to perpetuate social and class divisions between students. In essence, Duke is changing nothing; under this leadership, Greek life and SLGs will continue to dominate Duke’s social culture for decades to come. In this way, Duke’s superficial housing policy modifications constitute yet another example of the university’s complicit stance in fostering an exclusive environment for its student body.
Finally, we must consider what it really means to have an environment that is “distinctly Duke.” For many of us, the ideal Duke residential system should not isolate selective housing organizations by pushing them to the edge of campus and prompting them to disaffiliate from the university. Rather, the university should work to better integrate these organizations into Duke’s social culture by creating a residential system that builds more inclusive, sustainable communities. If the Next Gen 2.0 task force is any indication, though, it seems that the term “distinctly Duke” simply conveys that Duke will find a way to preserve its historically exclusive housing policies under the guise of an inclusive and communal residential experience. Superficial change strikes again.
The Community Editorial Board is independent from the editorial staff of the Chronicle. Their column runs on alternate Mondays.