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'Culture of selectivity' to 'culture of belonging': University administrators discuss QuadEx with DSG

<p>DSG at their Sept. 22 meeting.</p>

DSG at their Sept. 22 meeting.

Duke Student Government heard campus administrators talk about QuadEx, Duke’s newest residential living model, during its Wednesday meeting.

The conversation, which was led by Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs and Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, included a comparison between QuadEx and Duke’s former model, as well as a discussion about the potential impacts QuadEx will have on Duke’s culture.

Bennett and McMahon were also joined by their colleagues Shruti Desai, associate vice president of student affairs for campus life; John Blackshear, dean of students and associate vice president of student affairs; Chris Rossi, assistant vice president of student affairs for strategic engagement and Dean for Residence Life Deb LoBiondo. 

“Somewhere along the way, Duke became a place where selectivity was like the coin of the realm,” McMahon said.

She also commented on what she observes as a slow shift in the student experience away from that previous culture to a new “culture of belonging.” This shift, McMahon explained, was expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many student groups could not afford to be selective. 

Another goal of QuadEx is students’ “intellectual experience.”  The system is designed so that “this whole concept of your intellectual growth and development has real meaningful support throughout your four years,” McMahon said.

Throughout the discussion, senators questioned administrators on the extent of student groups’ involvement in the process and how students can make their voices heard.

In response, administrators emphasized that they are flexible and open to students’ opinions. 

At the moment, administrators rely on official channels to communicate with first-year students, such as “identity and cultural student groups, a lot of FOCUS groups, class councils, East Campus councils and quad councils,” Rossi said.

Rossi said he hoped that the discussion held with DSG could also be a “call to action” for Senators to help administrators access students’ voices.

Bennett and McMahon emphasized that they need students’ support and cooperation.

“What we really need, we probably need a hundred of you all from the Class of 2025, to really get into this with us and say, ‘I want to start building traditions. I want to start thinking about what this is going to be. I want to think about welcoming the Class of 2027 students that will come through,’” McMahon said.

Bennett and McMahon addressed students’ concerns about the future of selective living groups with the advent of QuadEX. “If you're interested in joining a selective social group, or you're interested in joining a Greek organization, we want that for you, there are no barriers to your engagement,” Bennett said, “but we want to give you an opportunity to try to experience the sort of core Duke community first.”

QuadEx is intended to build community without the “abrupt challenges that were associated with rush—which frankly, dismantled a lot of the community that was built on East Campus for so many years,” Bennett said.

University administrators made it clear that they are not adverse to the engagement Greek and non-Greek selective living groups have to offer. “Those groups will no longer have section housing, but we hope that they will have a vibrant presence on this campus,” Bennett said.

Administrators also responded to concerns about students of marginalized identities and students with disabilities finding community through QuadEx.

Bennett pointed to the movement from a dormitory to a larger unit of around 400 students. “We [will] have larger and more diverse communities,” he said. 

University administrators will make sure that students with disabilities will have their accommodations met. The University is committed to “work with those students to make sure that they have what they need,” Bennett said.

Bennett and McMahon addressed concerns that students would find it difficult to meet people outside their first-year circles. They believe QuadEx will be a way to build relationships across class years. 

“It is about creating the structure, but it's also about providing the resources and the programming so that you can find people and feel good about the folks you’re around,” Bennett said. 

Despite this conversation, senators expressed concerns with QuadEx in their post-discussion roundtable.

In particular, senators worried about how QuadEx would affect sexual assault survivors’ experiences, given that assaulters and survivors will be more likely to live near each other for consecutive years. Before moving into an executive session, senators also noted that administrators did not describe any specific methods they would use to reach out to Duke students, such as a town hall. 

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