Despite being an elite university, Duke sure knows how to treat its students like children. The university mandates a longer housing requirement than its peer institutions, forcing us to live on campus for three years. This requirement infuriates me because Duke removes my power over where to live. Even though as a junior I can choose which dorm to live in, I am prevented from living off-campus in the name of creating a thriving campus community. This requirement traps us in a pseudo-boarding school environment. Duke takes care of our every need on campus, from dining to exercising to studying. Like boarding school students, we migrate between classes, the dining hall (WU), and our dorm rooms. In this, Duke’s ideal scenario, we never need to go off campus and instead rely on Duke for everything we need. There is even a campus pharmacy, after all!
Why would I like to live off campus, given the convenience dorms offer? For one thing, I am a vegetarian, and having my own kitchen would allow me to cook a wider variety of food than is available on campus. (I have no interest in using a dorm kitchen. One of the kitchen sinks in Wannamaker was recently full of standing water.) I would not have to share dorm bathrooms with the many Duke students who cannot seem to throw away paper towels in the trash cans, remove their hair from the showers, or keep the countertops dry.
These living conditions reveal how many of us fail to take responsibility for maintaining even the simplest standards of cleanliness. Because Duke pays for housekeeping staff to clean the bathrooms and kitchens, some people evidently don’t feel the need to clean up their messes. If Duke were to switch to having primarily suite- and apartment-style housing, students would be required to clean their living spaces; thus, they would learn how to tackle one aspect of adulthood. Yes, Hollows and Swift are on-campus options, but they are challenging to get into unless you are a senior. In the meantime, most of us living in regular dorms would prefer a cleaner environment, which we all deserve.
Living in the dorms makes it convenient to attend classes and extracurricular activities, allows students to easily attend dorm events, and encourages students to take advantage of campus resources. Given these benefits, many students would no doubt choose to live on campus anyway, so why take away the option to live off-campus for those who desire it? Reducing the on-campus living requirement to one or two years would help students ease into adulthood during college by learning how to balance school, work, extracurricular activities, and normal household maintenance.
The obvious downside to Duke’s ideal scenario is the oft-bemoaned “Duke bubble,” which refers to Duke students’ lack of interaction with the Durham community except for maybe an occasional trip to Shooters II. (And, of course, Duke now allows keggers on West Campus, reducing the need to leave campus to party.) If done respectively, living in off-campus housing enables students to engage more meaningfully in Durham. It makes it easier to have an off-campus job and volunteer with local non-profits because you live in proximity to these settings. Students may even develop meaningful relationships with Durham locals living next door to them. When my parents lived in the Watts Hospital-Hillandale neighborhood, some of their most well-mannered, pleasant neighbors were two Duke students renting a house down the street from them.
Duke will probably not change this policy anytime soon because of money, the university’s driving motivation. For the fall 2022 semester, my shared room cost nearly $5,000, and my meal plan cost almost $2,500. A simple search on a housing rental website reveals a number of apartments in Durham that cost less than $1,200 per month, not to mention the plethora of cheaper listings for roommates on private sites such as DukeList. These numbers reveal a not-so-shocking fact: Duke is ripping us off. For those of us who are low-income or middle-class, these prices sting even more. I hate to consider the money I would have saved on housing alone if I had attended a different university. The longer I study at Duke, the more I resent the university for the housing trap they have sprung on me.
What keeps me going is the knowledge of the world-class education I am obtaining, but that should hardly be reason enough to prevent the creation of a better, more equitable housing system.
Miranda Straubel is a Trinity junior. Her columns run on alternate Thursdays.
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