React, Lockdown and Repeat. For the anniversary of the Coronavirus lockdowns, Duke trotted out the same old playbook and imposed a mandatory shelter-in-place lockdown for all undergraduates.
In the aftermath, accusations flew wildly. Many blamed Greek Life for the lockdown, and not without reason. Duke itself claimed that most of the recent increase in cases was accounted for by “first-year male students in the Class of 2024,” the group most likely to be rushing. Moreover, it is widely known that Greek organizations have been conducting off-campus rush and are now hosting in-person parties. Just peruse Duke Confessions, Greek Rank or Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens for a bit and you will observe a war of words between furious independents and jeering frat boys.
Putting aside that these exchanges are hilarious, they also paint a vivid picture of Duke’s social dynamics. If the unflattering stereotypes painted online are to be believed, then there are two broad phyla of students at Duke. Each has a very different conception of the University.
On one side you have the Greeks. They are rich troglodytes who dwell in luxurious off campus apartments. They tend to believe in outdated notions like the difference between men and women, even daring to segregate themselves accordingly.
The affiliated female is typically observed sporting a white tube top in the evenings and a skinny caramel macchiato during the days (“can I substitute oat milk… thanks”). She posted the black square on her Instagram last summer and has links to the Minnesota Freedom Fund in her bio. Her father, the one who paid for her German SUV, is a major Republican donor. She will apologize profusely, real water pouring forth, when confronted about attending the KA party last weekend. She also regrets that she simply must attend the upcoming SNU dayger. Social reputations don’t maintain themselves!
The male variety is equally curious. On campus, he projects faux dominance, strutting about with furrowed brow. His pants are a tad too tight and he wears Vineyard Vines with nauseating consistency. He doesn’t live on campus, but he occasionally shows up just to glare at Geeds playing spikeball. On weekday afternoons, when he is on his fourth Whiteclaw, he crawls out of his shell, cracks open the laptop and unleashes the brave keyboard warrior within. Only on the anonymous e-forums, far from the woke censors, does he feel truly free. There he can act like he attends the University of Alabama, a school where Greek Life is the supreme arbiter of social life, and not Duke, where Greek Life is a dwindling rump on the wrong side of history.
That is one side of Duke’s social taxonomy. The other side is much larger, and thus more diverse, but nonetheless certain commonalities define Duke’s population of independent students.
Unlike the Greeks, the independent does not define themselves by their gender or by their organizational affiliation. Their social identity is loose and formless, much like the drab sweatpants they wear daily. They treat Duke’s COVID rules like their Bible and Dean Blackshear’s emails like the revelations of a prophet. When thrill-seeking, they remove their mask in a restroom stall (it’s fun because no one knows!). Unlike the Greeks, who live for their weekly ritual of Friday night debauchery, the independent lives for those small, delicious moments of moral outrage. Life would be less sweet if they could not briefly feel superior to the latest befuddled administrator found guilty of a faux pas. These are the shock troops of the Duke-that-is-to-be, a university where RA events are the mainstay of social life and anonymously reporting fellow students is more popular than basketball.
These characterizations are not my personal opinions. I am merely picking up and articulating what legions of students have been setting down online. “I am completely detached from these proceedings,” just “[a] spirit haunting the wires,” a humble stenographer of the Discourse as it unfolds before me.
My observations reveal that these two populations hold irreconcilable conceptions of Duke. The Greeks generally subscribe to the traditional view of Duke as the “work hard, play hard” school, a place filled with driven, sociable students who get As on tests and tequila shots at Shooters. That Duke is dying. It’s obvious. The Cameron Crazies are really not that crazy anymore; they should be called the “Cameron Avid Fans” by this point. But that just doesn’t brand well. Consider that the Crazies used to throw toilet paper at the refs for “shitty” calls and hurl empty pizza boxes at the opposing bench for mockery’s sake. Today they just wave posters and wear face paint.
More evidence that the “play” side of Duke’s culture has declined–you used to be able to host massive parties in KVille and on Central Campus and now we have school-sponsored cornhole games and a six-beers-per-person limit on LDOC. Bench burning after big victories was once spontaneous and passionate. Now it requires a permit and strict supervision. All the time-honored traditions are fading away–first-years can’t even blackout at O-Week parties anymore. So what’s the point of O-Week?
If the “work hard, play hard” Duke is ending then what will take its place? In its place will be the independent’s conception of Duke, a school where students work hard, pause for online moral preening and then work harder. It will be a more woke Duke and a more careerist Duke. After all, there is no better career prep than being a studious adherent of the reigning ideology.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Of course, students in the future will still have some time for fun. It’s just that some of Duke’s more problematic, less inclusive customs will have to be abolished to appease the shifting mores of each passing year. Wednesday night Shooters will become “Wednesday night restorative justice circling.” Instead of a déclassé barn party, the McKinsey info session will be that week’s must-attend event.
We aren’t there yet. But we all see the signs of what is to come. The terminus will be when Duke is completely filled with shibboleth-spouting drones. And we will call that Progress.
Reiss Becker is a Trinity senior. His column "roused rabble" typically runs on alternate Wednesdays.