Readers of The Chronicle know that one of the shibboleth passwords for easier entry to the echo chamber of Duke’s campus culture is the phrase "QuadEx is terrible." Hence, I attempt to assail the ramparts of prevailing sentiment with the contrarian call that QuadEx may not be a bad idea.
On their own, all symbols — whether they are elaborate emblems, letters of the Greek alphabet, initiation rituals or Latin mottos — are social constructs, lacking any intrinsic authenticity. Yet these vestiges of affiliation — be they of a business fraternity, a social fraternity or Duke as a whole — are valuable to the members. The symbols are significant to individuals precisely because of their association with the communal entities. As a postmodernist would say, “Chants are not chanted in a group because they are holy; they become holy because they are chanted in a group.” Hence, the administrators at Duke have decided: There is no reason accessibility to symbolism is restrictive!
Two prospective trajectories unfold from here. In the first scenario, high school graduates in the year 2041 write their "Why Duke" essays, expounding upon the hackneyed observation that the “distinctive character of the collegiate-style accommodations nurtures a sense of camaraderie and exudes the ethos ‘work hard, play hard.’” In this scenario, each quad shall have invariably acquired an aura of a distinct adjective, although the exact matching of these particular qualities to these quads is still to be determined. Did you not know that, “___ quad is where the gym bros live,” and, “____ quad is where people are always studying,” and, “____ quad never sleeps”? This is, frankly, the ideal, optimistic scenario.
The other scenario is that QuadEx stays an enduring fixture of campus life, albeit without students heavily identifying with their quads. I assert that even this prospect is splendid! In that case, QuadEx within the realm of residential life would assume an analogous role to that of Shooters within the sphere of revelry — a rather pedestrian establishment, indeed, but one that extends an invitation (unlike the exclusive themed parties hosted by fraternities) even to those who have not memorized the names of five brothers’ pet dogs or those guys who are not that tall or dashing.
QuadEx does not claim to supplant existing social circles; rather, its intended purpose is to provide solace to those students who are atypically reserved, reticent or encounter financial constraints preventing them from indulging in a vibrant social life. It grants them access to rudimentary social gatherings — even if it is just a modest watch party — and also assigns a faculty member the role of a guardian. We claim to be concerned about low-income students, but a curious reversal occurs when Duke University assimilates them into an opt-out social circle, bestows substantial financial support upon the Quad Council and tells these economically disadvantaged students, "Hey, we also have tailgate parties with snacks, courtesy of your very own Quad Council." Suddenly, the same detractors vociferously decry, "Fun is a privilege reserved solely for insular cliques!"
Let us now turn our attention to the biggest critique leveled against QuadEx: “But we cannot room with friends.” To be candid, I have never viewed this as an issue. Every year, I have elected to be assigned random roommates, not even attempting to form a housing block, and on each occasion, I have cultivated a fresh circle of friends. My roommates over the years have spanned three different ethnicities, attended high school in four different countries, studied three different majors, been both richer and poorer than me and have had different sexual orientations. They have all enriched my college experience in their own way. QuadEx does not preclude the possibility of grouping with friends; rather, it confines such groupings to approximately one-seventh of Duke's undergraduate populace, mirroring the number of quads.
Duke has not ordered students to become best friends with their roommates. The contention that one cannot locate a compatible roommate among the one-seventh slice of Duke's student body appears incredulous. Students are not coerced into living with wholly arbitrary individuals; rather, their roommate pool remains a subset of Duke students. While it is true that Duke has some who have unsavory habits or exhibit suboptimal personal hygiene, it remains the case that the average Duke student maintains a robust, functional existence and possesses intellectual acumen surpassing that of the majority of Americans.
Furthermore, the housing reassignment portal remains available, permitting individuals to seek alternative living arrangements if they find themselves incompatible with their initial roommates. One remains at liberty to spend the majority of their time with friends in other quads and continue forming acquaintances through participation in clubs, professional organizations and classes. Duke has not been partitioned into seven discrete nations requiring visas to travel in between; rather, it has introduced an additional label to every student, much like one's affiliation as a “Broncos supporter" or a "Drake fan."
The stratification of social life along the lines of class or race within Duke will never be eradicated. Indeed, individuals who choose to reside off-campus or in Hollows during their senior year tend to have roommates who share affinities in terms of social standing, fraternity affiliations, akin career aspirations or even racial identity. That is fine; I do not claim that it is malevolent to associate with those whose backgrounds bear resemblance to one's own.
However, regrettably, a considerable portion of the population does not appreciate the prospect of forging relationships and fostering camaraderie with individuals whose life experiences diverge markedly from one's own, even if these connections prove short-lived. I, for instance, wholeheartedly endorse Duke's mandatory “three-year residence” policy. One of the reasons the undergraduate years are so special is because college truly is the last time that one can have their residence, food, friends, work and the library all a three-minute walk from each other. Cherish it.
Angikar Ghosal is a Trinity senior. His column typically runs on alternating Mondays.
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