You don’t have to be a helicopter mom, Duke. You can let us go.

A mother is sending off her first born to Duke. It’s freshmen move-in day, and all the helicopter moms have said their final goodbyes — all but her of course. The family of three stand in front of the chapel, the sun has now set. Her husband tries to pull her way, and her son is itching to get to his first Shooters pre-game (where only water will be served, of course). She grabs hold of her child; promises to never let go; tears flow uncontrollably.

Now, to clarify, this story is not about me. After all, when my parents dropped me off, not only did they not cry, they celebrated for the next month. 

“You take him, Duke!” “Sayonara Alex!”

Now back to the story. 

But out of the darkness, a mysterious yet impressive figure emerges. It is President Price. He gently grasps the mother’s shoulders, and tells her but one line. 

“It is okay to let go.” 

Miraculously, she releases hold of her child. 

As the boy begins walking to catch the C1, he cannot help but smile. Finally, he may lead a life of complete liberation. 

Then, like out of a nightmare, the Duke housing officers and the Global Education Office (GEO) staff appear suddenly out of the bushes. President Price  — their leader — walks in front of them. He stares at the student and says but one word.


Price and now an entire ensemble of Duke bureaucratic workers begin pointing and laughing uncontrollably at the boy. Dejected and, quite frankly, a little bit terrified, he walks onto the C1, completely defeated. 

After 18 years of having had his mother breathe down his neck, the boy finally thought he would be set free. 

Sadly, he was mistaken. 

First, I must preface that Duke is an incredible place where the students enjoy a multitude of freedoms. Nonetheless, the university insists on holding — or better yet, guiding — our hands each step of the way. And for this reason, I say to President Price what he had told the mother in this story. 

“It is okay to let go.”

In rhetoric, sure, the Duke administration has expressed the greatest trust in their student body, composed of some of the brightest young minds in the world. However, their insistence on intervening in the lives of its students suggests the opposite — that Duke has little to no trust in us at all. And although I have only attended this university for 1.5 years, it truly feels like each semester, Duke introduces a new reform to cap the autonomy of its students. Most recently, this was a dramatic change to Duke’s study abroad program. 

In the first weeks of November, if a blind visitor were to have conversations with the sophomore student body, they likely would leave having no idea that it was peak midterm season. They would, however, be able to articulate — in great detail — all of the new rule changes to Duke’s study abroad program and explain precisely how we were all being “screwed over.” 

For the readers who do not know, prior to this year, students could study at any of the Duke-in or Duke-approved programs for their semester abroad. However, due to an “overabundance” of students in Madrid, Florence and Copenhagen these past few years, Duke’s Global Education Office (GEO) made the decision to set 50-person caps on all programs. Those programs that surpassed 50 sign-ups would be sent to a lottery, where from there, it became random luck as to whether or not you were accepted. 

Yes, it is true that this new initiative greatly limits the opportunity for STEM and Engineering students to study at a program of their choosing. But, there is a greater issue at hand, one that has become synonymous with Duke’s administration. 

A semester abroad is often described as the best few months of college, and for many, the best of their lives. Yet on multiple occasions in preparation for program sign ups, the GEO stuaff articulated their intent to separate large collectives of friends from sticking together. And to this, I ask plain and simple:

How does this concern you and why are you so invested in the path we take?

If a student chooses to embark on a solo expedition to Tanzania or Ecuador and comes back with an enlightened world view, this should be celebrated. But in the same way, if one prefers an experience of partying in Madrid and traversing through Europe’s great cities, that should also be welcomed. As someone who favors the former option (of non-European travel), I am still able to acknowledge that not everything needs to be about “personal growth.”  In the end, we are still just kids, who should not only be allowed to but encouraged to maximize the amount of fun we have. Thus, it is entirely understandable that students want to experience this time alongside their closest friends … all of them. However, because Duke assumes that they know precisely what's best for our development, many students will be deprived of this. 

Still, undoubtedly the greatest change to Duke life has been the evolution of Duke housing as an effort to consolidate control over the students’ living arrangements. Some of the major reforms have included the dissolution of Central Campus, the switch to random roommates for all freshmen and enforcing on-campus housing for the first three years of schooling. 

“QuadEX,” which sees that the students of two paired East Campus dorms live together in the same “quad” on West, was simply the most recent reform. The goal is to establish strong social communities ingrained within our student body — think Hogwarts minus the magic, fun and actual formation of social communities. In addition, by obliging that people from the same freshman dorm stay together sophomore year, this will, in theory, facilitate the continuation of friendships. This is where the fallacy lies. 

Yes, I have certainly noticed many friendships blossom out of my freshman year dorm, but that strong community likely would have formed with or without QuadEX and its two to three sponsored social events a year. The issue is that when we move to West Campus, these communities largely dissipate due to the large size and complex structural organization of the quad buildings. Take the comparison between Southgate and Few. Southgate is three floors, with living quarters concentrated on the top two, and each consisting of one central hallway. There is only one common room in the entire building. Then there is Few, composed of three distinct houses, six floors (with two common rooms on each floor) and a countless number of hallways. The place is an absolute maze. Put simply, people in the same quad do not see each other nearly as often as they did in their freshman year dorm. 

So let’s say it how it is. This isn’t the Brady Bunch; Duke, and West Campus Quads are not a place where we all sing in harmony. If someone meets their best friend in their freshman year dorm, they should be able to live with them as a sophomore. But in the same way, if someone wants to room with a person from an entirely different freshman dorm, let them. 

Quite frankly, I am not sure why Duke feels it must intervene in the natural development of friendships. The only thing I can think of is that they simply deem us incapable of forming relationships organically. Perhaps, what they say about nerds is true. We simply don’t know how to talk to people. 

Ehhh, I don’t think so.

At face value, the reforms that have been described in this article will not greatly impact my college experience. I still have an incredible roommate as a sophomore and will likely still have an amazing time during my semester abroad. But what I and  many of my classmates would appreciate is the opportunity to make our own choices. I mean, for God’s sake, you took away Nutella! What sick person deprives a populace from Nutella. If a person allergic to tree nuts is smart enough to get into Duke, they are also likely smart enough to know not to eat Nutella. And I can say that as someone who embarrassingly admits to having a peanut allergy (how pathetic, right?).

So, all I ask from Duke is to have just a little more faith in your student body. Although we may do some idiotic and outright insane things sometimes, we generally have an understanding of who we are and what works best for us.

You don’t have to be a helicopter mom, Duke. You can let us go. 

Alex Berkman is a Trinity sophomore. His column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.


Share and discuss “You don’t have to be a helicopter mom, Duke. You can let us go.” on social media.