The 'people who have to deal with the growing pains': Class of 2026 express hopes, concerns about QuadEx's inaugural year

As the first year of QuadEx comes to a close, the Class of 2026 expressed both hopes and concerns for the program’s future.

Blue Devil Dorming

Many first-year students learned about the QuadEx program during Blue Devil Days or when they first moved into their dorms. First-year Emma Podol believed that it played a role in her college-decision process and felt she knew the basics of QuadEx before attending Duke. Podol was hopeful that QuadEx would fulfill its purpose of “build[ing] better communities, although it’s fairly new.”

However, some of those who learned about QuadEx during Blue Devil Days pointed to a gap between how the program was advertised then and their actual experience with it so far at Duke. First-year Calvin Cho noted that Blue Devil Days advertised QuadEx as “revolutionary,” but he still left the presentation “confused.”

He and his father “just knew that it was a new type of residential dorm thing that Duke created,” Cho said. “But we didn't exactly know the details of what that meant.”

“We didn't even know about even the basic parts, such as [the] two [linked] dorms, or these [dorms] getting connected to an upperclassman dorm,” Cho said.

'Not all freshman dorms are created equal' 

Regardless of how they learned about the program, the Class of 2026 soon adjusted. 

Comfort Markwei, first-year and Trinity Residence Hall house council president, feels that living with people leads to natural communal bonds. While Markwei personally “factors QuadEx into how [she] interacts with [her] residents,” she feels that Trinity and its linked dorm, Bell Tower, have naturally built a strong community in the past year, with residents frequently gathering in each other's common rooms.

Although she doesn’t visit Bassett often, Podol, a Pegram resident, believes that the community between the linked dorms formed when Bassett residents began using Pegram’s kitchen. First-year Peter Banyas points out that Giles transformed into a “hub” where there is “almost always something happening in the common room.”

“So when you walk by, it almost compounds — you see someone, and then you start hanging out, and then more people come by and join. It's this rotating cycle of everybody seeing the community evolving throughout the day,” Banyas said.

Even the most critical of first-years agreed that’s how residential dorms’ common spaces created both intra- and inter-dorm communities, but several pointed out that the impact of QuadEx depended more on dorms’ spaces and their utilities, not their proximity. While an inter-dorm community may have been created between Trinity and Bell Tower, as well as Pegram and Bassett, other linked dorms have not had the same experience.

As first-year Hannah Mekaru says, “not all freshman dorms are created equal.”

First-year Harrison Kane pointed to how larger freshman dorms are “not necessarily designed to provide half as many common spaces,” making it difficult to build community, especially if common spaces are integral to creating communities. Cho echoed this sentiment, comparing Trinity's rooms to “five-star hotel” rooms and Pegram’s common room to “a business conference room.”

“You can tell the [Trinity common] rooms aren't meant for people to study — they have a TV, the chairs are really uncomfortable,” Cho said.

“Go to the Pegram study hall,” he said. “Certain rooms just have a better environment to study in.”

Mekaru emphasized the importance of focusing on community within dorms instead of creating communities across dorms because “different dorms have different levels of community.”

“I think Bassett has a really good community, and that's because we put the effort into it. That's not saying you shouldn't expand, but it's really difficult if you're only going to Pegram maybe two times a month to meet,” she said.

The worry about utilities and space extends beyond linked dorms and into sophomore year, as first-years consider the spaces they’ll be living in next year. While Markwei is unsure if the pairing of the “worst dorms” on West and the “best dorms” on East was purposeful, she does see first-years in Trinity and Bell Tower “fighting like hell” to avoid getting into Edens Quad, of which several first-years have a negative impression.

One of those who “fought like hell” and succeeded was first-year Ella Alan, who currently lives in Bell Tower and will be joining the Spire Fellows in Craven Quad next year. She said that she now loves her living-learning community and is “really glad that [she] applied,” but she also does “a lot of things for convenience,” including her decision to apply.

Kane and fellow first-year Lindsay Frankfort also noted that QuadEx is similar to Yale University's residential system, in which first-years are randomly assigned to 14 residential colleges.

However, Duke lacks the individualized residential facilities — such as dining halls — that each Yale residential college has, a characteristic of residential life first-year Abigail Pickens called “inconvenient.”  Pickens noted that many students spend the majority of their days outside their dorms, making it difficult to build community through simple proximity.

“If we were like Yale, dorms would have places to eat altogether — that's the whole point. It makes no sense because you don't have to do things in your dorm. You just sleep there,” Frankfort added. “We all eat together at Marketplace — I've met friends because I sat down with some random person.” 

“It's not really a residential college,” first-year Mary Grace Rorke said. 

Which comes first — the community or the space?

First-years also found comparisons rooted in fiction. First-year Chandler Wimmer noted that QuadEx was often explained by comparing residential dorms to Hogwarts houses — but he pointed to this being an imperfect analogy. He noted that in the fictional Harry Potter universe, the reason that there was “some community there” was due to a purposeful selection process, but with QuadEx, “you just have some random people together, and then you would expect the community to form around that.” 

Cho agreed with Wimmer’s sentiments, pointing to the communities behind LLCs, selective living groups and the FOCUS program. He noted that the lack of a strong application process made QuadEx “very understated” compared to the detailed rushing process for SLGs or applications for LLCs and FOCUS. For him, it’s the difference between “a roommate you don’t get to choose” and “the friend next door you actually talk with.” 

“Going to Florida together with [your FOCUS cluster] or going to eat dinner every Monday with them — there's some sort of community that's bound to formulate. But with QuadEx, it's just, ‘Oh, you live with them? Cool,’” Cho said.

For friend groups living in different dorms, QuadEx poses some additional burdens. Frankfort believes that friendships are formed by “shared interests and values,” which leads to some people getting lucky and others getting the “short end of the stick.”

While Frankfort is living in Bassett and will room with her current roommate next year, her closest friends live in East House, which is linked to Wannamaker Quad.

“I just feel like I'm not part of either community fully — because I want to be part of one, but I can't because they won’t let me, and the one that I'm a part of, I don't click with. It's just kind of like a weird in-between of like, ‘What am I doing?’” Frankfort said. 

'Growing pains'

Nevertheless, Markwei feels that QuadEx is succeeding in getting people to form a bond past “I just live here.” 

She acknowledged that there will be “bumps in the road,” especially as the first class under a system that is “very individualized.” At the same time as she knows people frantically trying to get out of their Quads, she knows others who are reluctant to leave.

“I wouldn't be surprised if we came back in 50 years and QuadEx was like this whole big success,” Kane said. “We’re the unlucky people who have to deal with the growing pains, you know?”

Audrey Wang profile
Audrey Wang | Editor-in-Chief

Audrey Wang is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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