A column about arches: how QuadEx has failed upperclassmen

Recently, the Quad Identity Project announced the addition of “Quad Arches”—since we all know that logos are the absolute best way of creating community and apparently crests have been canceled. I wonder whether Quad identity or lack thereof should be the problem we are focusing on vis-à-vis the current living situation at Duke.

Something that initially drew me to our campus culture was the unique freshman experience on East Campus. While my first year was during the height of the pandemic, I was able to get at least a taste of the famous freshman experience. I made my first friends in Trinity dorm, where we could bond based on proximity and shared experiences.

Here’s the funny thing, though: the housing changes brought about by QuadEx prevented me from continuing to live with this same group of friends I made as a freshman two years ago. It has also apparently prevented Duke from providing me with a dresser or wardrobe, but that’s another story. Last year, under the non-quad-based random assignment policies, we couldn’t choose our own room, but HRL placed us with our roommate and adjacent to our blockmates, and I could live with my friends.

This year, while lucky enough to be a junior placed in Hollows, my block was split up, since we apparently did not have a high enough lottery number to choose rooms when whole suites were still available, and housing did not agree to our requests to shuffle things around, due to the logistical snafu resulting from the utterly predictable housing shortage. Are the possible benefits to future students worth the continued diminishment of the upperclassmen’s experience right now? Let’s consider that the current junior and senior classes have gotten the short end of the stick for the campus experience due to the pandemic for pretty much the whole time we’ve been here.

I’m not against a quad-based living model; I just think we’re going about it in a fundamentally flawed way. How can we have a cohesive residential community if there physically isn’t enough space for everyone? Why are these community-building policies interfering with the community I already built under the old model?

At the very least, I still wave to the girls on my floor in Trinity freshman year. Last year, I didn’t even learn anyone’s name in my sophomore dorm. The separation of campuses creates a natural segmentation of the Duke experience that I doubt will be overcome with more quad-based programming—nor do I think this gap needs to be overcome.

More than ever, my dorm has become just a place where I sleep. And not everyone’s dorm is even a safe or comfortable place to do that, not to even consider whether you’re living with people you know. Mold in older dorms has continued to impact the health of more than just first-years, and some people are living in converted common rooms—though I suppose it’s better than Kenyon College’s converted trailer housing addition in response to increased enrollment.

QuadEx, in practice, is antithetical to its own values. While freshman dorm events are a great way to meet new people and make friends, by the time we move to West Campus, no one really cares unless there’s free food or dorm sweatshirts—again, more “programming” is not going to change this. Sorry to say it, but no one’s meeting new friends at a Few Quad boba pickup event. Sure, many students—including myself—make their first friends in dorms, but as time goes on, you’re given opportunities to meet people with whom you have more in common than just the random building in which you were assigned to live. If your friends are scattered all across campus—and off it too—why would you feel any particular allegiance to the random group of people in your quad?

This brings me back to arches, which are certainly a notable feature of Duke’s architecture, and will apparently come to represent the spirit of each quad community.  However, I can’t get over the fact that, at its very core, this idea is incredibly cheesy. Come on, stairs and ivy for Edens? “Wandering and Discovery” for Kilgo? I cannot imagine a world where we will create these logos with any semblance of tastefulness. Further, I don’t talk to the random person next to me in the Sazon line when they’re wearing a Keohane cat crewneck from last year, so why would having a new quad arch change that?

Arches, however, do represent quite well the quad-based community that QuadEx has succeeded in building. They are integral to the physical structure of the university but are simply structures we walk between on our way to more meaningful things—and they look great on brochures. Where we are now, I can’t see the upperclassmen quads representing much more than places to live. We walk through arches to move between the places we sleep and the places we interact with our communities. Maybe we stop and chat under an archway if we see someone we know, but an arch itself isn’t a destination. If we want dorm community, we should focus on the dorms themselves. Having enough safe living spaces for students should be the bare minimum, and letting students live with the people they want to is the logical next step.

Heidi Smith is a Trinity junior. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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