When Jackson Prince toured Duke, selective living didn’t seem like a key part of how the University presented itself. Then he got to campus.
“That reality was very quickly shattered,” said Prince, Trinity ‘19.
Prince would go on to join a fraternity and live in a non-Greek selective living group’s housing section. Even so, Duke’s housing system, built on a selective rush process that could make or break some students’ experiences, didn’t sit right with him. His discomfort would lead him to become one of many students over the years to push for changes to Duke’s housing system.
The new QuadEx system in place this fall resembles, at least in part, Prince’s vision for a better residential community. Current first-years will live in West Campus quads next year based on their East Campus dorms, though they can live elsewhere starting their junior year. Selective housing will be phased out after this academic year.
The system is designed to shift Duke from a culture where selectivity is “the coin of the realm” to a “culture of belonging,” Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs, told Duke Student Government last year.
Not everybody loves the idea of revamping housing. Some members of the Class of 2025 were thrown for a loop when a new system was announced during their first semester on campus. In recent years, many fraternities and sororities have disaffiliated from the University entirely, frustrated by changes to housing and the rush process. Due to QuadEx, non-Greek selective living groups could not host recruitment events this year — some held them anyway, with plans to disaffiliate from Duke, while others intend to become living and learning communities.
But for alumni like Prince, something like QuadEx was a long time coming. It’s the culmination of a line of work that includes Duke Students for Housing Reform, a group he was involved with that lobbied the administration to implement a residential college system. It’s also built on the work of students who shared their voices with Duke's administration in columns and focus groups, driven to do so by a housing system that didn’t quite feel like a home.
Finding flaws in the system
During first-year rush, Prince thought he would join Wayne Manor, an SLG. He didn’t get a bid, instead joining the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. He was a Wayne “friend of house” his sophomore year, meaning he lived in their section but was not officially a member. He then lived in AEPi’s section as a junior.
For a college student looking for acceptance, living in a selective section was great in many ways. Prince found friends among his peers and bonded with older students he looked up to. In AEPi, he found community with members who shared his Jewish faith.
But in some ways, Prince felt uncomfortable with residence life at Duke. There were times he felt out of place, like nights he wasn’t invited to members-only Wayne events and found himself alone in an empty Crowell section. More than that, he realized that it was hard for students who hadn’t joined groups to find the same sense of community he had.
“Once I was able to take a step back and look at [Duke’s housing system] as an ecosystem, I realized that my benefiting from my community, and the positives that I got from those communities, were actually in a way a detriment to a lot of people that were trying to experience community around me at Duke,” Prince said.
Nicholas Chrapliwy, Trinity ‘22, experienced that difficulty firsthand.
Chrapliwy enjoyed his first-year experience in Randolph during the 2017-2018 academic year. On East Campus and through the FOCUS program, he met people from around the country and the world. He had grown up in North Carolina, and he learned a lot as he bonded with his roommate, who was from Bangladesh. The campus felt like a community: students had spontaneous interactions at Marketplace, in the library and at the gym.
In his spring semester, Chrapliwy went to some rush events, but dropped out of the process because he didn’t have enough time. In his sophomore year, he joined a living and learning community — groups that are focused on an academic theme and don’t require a rush process to join — in Keohane. He found it was a vastly different experience from East Campus.
He had a random roommate; the two had little in common and rarely spoke. Spontaneous meetings became rarer; the physical structure of the dorm meant students were in common spaces less often. Keohane felt empty. Life there was isolating.
Chrapliwy found a residential community again when he became a resident assistant in Craven his junior year.
“It was great to connect to residents,” he said, “and to plan events, watching movies with them, just trying to foster some kinds of community.”
He took a gap semester in fall 2020, and after returning he remained an RA for the rest of his time living on campus, through the fall 2021 semester. He particularly enjoyed the summer of 2021, when he lived in Few. The slower pace of summer-session classes meant he could enjoy his time on campus more, and he and his residents could bond more.
Meanwhile, change was coming to the housing system. COVID-19 was a catalyst, but the seeds had been planted years before.
Working toward change
In Prince’s sophomore and junior year, which spanned 2016 to 2018, he helped start a group of students advocating for Duke to redesign housing.
“Our divided, sometimes lonely campus life falls short of Duke’s incredible potential,” Duke Students for Housing Reform wrote in a February 2018 Chronicle column, arguing that independent houses “with a few notable exceptions, lack[ed] a broader sense of community.” The group wrote that Duke should adopt a residential college system similar to those at Yale, Rice and other universities.
To hear the community’s views on housing, the members held public forums, created online discussion groups and tabled on the Bryan Center Plaza. They spoke with parents and professors, independent students and members of selective groups. They met with President Vincent Price and members of the Board of Trustees. Their goal was to create a “coalition,” Prince said, pushing for the creation of a task force on the housing issue.
That year, Duke created its first Next Generation Living and Learning Experience task force, which examined potential changes to campus life. The task force’s 2019 report was vague, referencing goals like organizing houses into neighborhoods.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and residential life came to a temporary end. When students returned to campus for the socially distanced 2020-21 academic year, selective groups were not given on-campus housing sections.
In November 2020, Duke announced that it would move to a “residential community” system. The newly created Next Generation Living and Learning 2.0 Committee would fill in the details, aiming to “build a joyous and intentional four-year residential experience that promotes growth, meaningful inclusion, and health, and that is distinctly Duke,” administrators announced.
As the members of Duke Students for Housing Reform graduated, including Prince, students like Chrapliwy got involved in the committees’ work. Chrapliwy took part in focus groups, sharing his thoughts on campus life to inform the Living and Learning committees’ work. Last fall, he served on a Living and Learning subcommittee that focused on helping quads develop identities. He was a columnist for The Chronicle, and he wrote in support of QuadEx.
Chrapliwy is now a Spark Fellow at Duke, and his work has included projects related to the recommendations he gave as part of the subcommittee. Those include visual identities for each quad and a competition between quads.
He said the administration is implementing “clear solutions” to the struggles he and other students faced under the old housing system.
“It’s wonderfully fulfilling to be able to participate in something like that,” he said.
Thoughts on QuadEx
Today, few signs remain on Abele Quad of the old housing system. The crests for selective living groups have been pulled down. The West Campus benches mostly all look the same, a Duke-blue blank slate for a new era of residential life.
Not everyone was excited when they learned those changes were coming.
“With this new housing plan, the one word I immediately think of that describes it is restriction,” one sophomore told The Chronicle after the announcement. “I feel like Duke has really built up more walls, because one of the exciting things about entering into sophomore year is that the divide between [first-year] quads is really brought down.”
However, Prince and Chrapliwy see QuadEx as a step toward a stronger campus community.
Chrapliwy doesn’t want QuadEx to make the campus experience worse for groups like Greek organizations. But he wants the benefits of those groups to be open to all students, without a competitive rush process.
“Your work is getting here into Duke,” he said. “And that’s … not something that’s given for free. And so being here, I think, should secure you by default some kind of good living situation.”
He noted that QuadEx communities will create an opportunity for upperclassmen to share what they’ve learned during their time in college, helping first-years and sophomores get oriented to life at Duke.
Prince commended the QuadEx system for giving students a clearer idea, when they arrive at Duke, of where they’ll live in the future. On the other hand, he noted that Duke also needs to be flexible when individual students have issues with the living situations they’ve been assigned.
Even if it isn’t perfect from the beginning, Prince sees QuadEx as a foundation that the community and the administration can build on in the future — especially in the context of a nationwide awakening to equity issues.
“I think that we needed this sort of clean slate, this blank canvas, because of not just conversations that we're having on campus, but what's been going on in our country, in the world for the last five, six years,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Matthew Griffin, Trinity ‘22, is currently a member of the Duke Student Publishing Company Board. Reporting for this story began in spring 2022, when Griffin was a senior.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Matthew Griffin was editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 116th volume.