What it takes to be a Duke student

I remember telling some people in my dorm last year that “all-nighters are a choice." I was met with shock. This statement became the subject of a debate among the STEM students in Bell Tower, as they held more significant numbers and represented most students in our dorm who worked into the early morning. It was then that I was confronted with a complicated reality: this is normal for Duke students, even if it is not normal for me. Throughout my time at Duke, I have seen firsthand how we as students sacrifice things that are so important to our health. We would rather pull an all-nighter to write a paper than get a good night’s sleep. We would rather skip meals and use our time to study when our brains need that skipped meal to perform properly. Some of us can’t even make time to call our loved ones because we are so focused on work.

Duke’s competitive environment demands that we give our all every day. We can’t take many shortcuts, and there is no easy way to navigate this experience. The pressure that doesn’t come from campus, classes, professors, extracurriculars or parents comes from ourselves, and I believe that is what pushes us to sacrifice so much. We live in an environment of stress and uncertainty where achievement is valued over all else. We tell ourselves “I can sleep later”, “I can eat later”, or “I can take care of myself later”, but the time to do so seldom comes. Yes, we have breaks from school, but even then, many of us are still focused on work.

This is what it takes to be a Duke student, or at least what is expected. For some of us, our entire academic journey has been marked with blood, sweat and tears, and this is merely a continuation. Some have never had such a large sacrifice demanded of them before. And for others, this is the first real challenge that we have faced. I argue that the solution is simple.

First, we have to acknowledge that this is a problem. Sometimes all it takes is seeing your friends doing the same thing for you to understand how poorly you are treating yourself. The next step is to figure out what you cannot sacrifice. This can be food, sleep, the gym, your friends or even Netflix as long as it helps get you through your day. Once you know what you can’t sacrifice, you can make time for it. This most likely will either mean changing your sleep schedule to allow more time or scheduling these activities into your day. Once you have done all of this, the only thing left is to let those around you know so that they understand what you will and will not sacrifice. 

As Duke students, we are masters at helping everyone but ourselves. It takes an incredible amount of self-sacrifice to thrive here, but it does not have to be that way. We can’t thrive if we don’t take care of ourselves. While self-care includes taking care of mental health, exercising, and relaxing, it also includes the basics: food, water, and sleep. We all have our priorities, they just need to be reframed to reflect what we cannot live without. While this journey is not guaranteed to be smooth, it is a necessary one. Transitioning to a mindset of self-care when you have prioritized academic achievement for so long requires you to put yourself first. As Duke students, this may feel like a challenge, but I guarantee it is possible.

Sonia Green is a Trinity sophomore. Her column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.


Share and discuss “What it takes to be a Duke student” on social media.