‘Dodge those questions’: Student tour guides reveal what you won’t hear on a Duke tour

Editor’s Note: The Chronicle elected to grant anonymity to the tour guides interviewed in this piece, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation and losing their jobs. The assigned names in this article are not the individuals’ actual names, nor do they necessarily conform to their gender identities. 

With the 2024 fall semester drawing near, prospective students come to campus to hear about Duke’s academics, extracurricular activities and social culture from the University’s tour guides. 

With the Duke Chapel as a dramatic Gothic backdrop to Duke’s top-tier academics, cutting-edge research and national basketball championships, tour guides have a lot to boast about. They undergo rigorous training to learn helpful information and statistics about the University, though they are also instructed to leave certain details out.

The Chronicle spoke to five tour guides about what they are encouraged — and discouraged — from talking about on tours. Here’s what they had to say:

Greek life, SLGs and QuadEx

Multiple guides said their training discouraged them from discussing the prevalence of Greek life on campus.

Nine fraternities disaffiliated from the University in February 2021 after Duke announced that it would prevent first-years from rushing Greek and non-Greek selective living groups. In November 2021, all eight of Duke’s Panhellenic Council organizations announced that they would disaffiliate from Duke. 

Duke’s Student Affairs website lists one co-ed chapter in its Interfraternity Council, five chapters in the Multicultural Greek Council and seven in the National Panhellenic Council.

Despite the organizations’ disaffiliation, around 60% of surveyed students from the Class of 2026 expressed at least somewhat of an interest in taking part in Greek life, while just over half of those surveyed from the Class of 2025 had a similar opinion. 

“They always tell us to under-emphasize the dominance of frats and sororities on campus,” said Pamela, a tour guide. “We have always had a figure that Greek life is only like 30% of the student body. But despite being 30%, it still dominates more than that.” 

Daniel, another tour guide, mentioned that the figures that admissions have on Greek life might need to be updated, but that such data is not available because of disaffiliation. The Chronicle estimated in January 2023 that around 23.2% of Duke undergraduates are affiliated with a Greek organization

Pamela believes that Greek life is “the most outward-facing social aspect of campus” and “dominates a lot of other clubs” since those in Greek life often help others in their sororities or fraternities gain admission into other organizations. 

“I don’t want to tell prospective students that there's no Greek parties or that there's not a problem with exclusivity because that's just a false representation,” explained Mercy, another tour guide. 

In another effort to de-emphasize their influence on campus, guides who are affiliated with a Greek life organization or SLG are not allowed to discuss their affiliation or wear clothing related to these groups on their tours, Daniel added.

“Our tour guides do not focus on Greek life or SLGs during tours because QuadEx is Duke’s residential model,” undergraduate admissions officer Chloe Dodds, Pratt ‘22, wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “Tour guides do answer questions about the social life and the role of SLGs and Greek life in general when asked.”

“I think [our training] was geared a little bit more to be pro-QuadEx,” Daniel confirmed. 

Daniel mentioned that guides were discouraged from “trash[ing] the school” when QuadEx rolled out, despite many students reacting negatively to the change. 

According to Mercy, the tour guides are encouraged to emphasize how the QuadEx model is similar to other peer universities.

“They don't say to say Harvard or Yale or whatever, but I think they think it looks prestigious,” she said.

However, Turner, another tour guide, said that he believes the bias against Greek life has lessened over time, as tour guide training transitioned to new leadership. 

“When I was a freshman [in 2021], it was anti-Greek life, so you couldn't mention anything relating to Greek life or SLGs. You just had to dodge those questions, the way the other guides explained,” Turner said. “But now, if someone asks a question like ‘What does Greek life look like on campus?’ you’re allowed to give them an honest opinion.” 

Personal admissions stories 

Although tour guides are often asked how they got into Duke, they are trained to direct these questions to Undergraduate Admissions rather than answer them from personal experience. 

“You can’t mention where else you applied, how you did on tests, what APs you took, pretty much no admissions tips or statistics about yourself,” Alex said. 

Turner explained that during training, guides are even encouraged to give students false information about themselves to avoid answering questions that make them uncomfortable. 

“They taught us you could tell them any story, and they would believe it,” Turner said. “So, for example, let’s say you were on the RD waitlist, and then you got off the waitlist. You could say ‘Oh, I was an ED student’ because that would just stop the questions.”

According to Dodds, this rule exists to prevent prospective students from “[using] anecdotes from someone else’s process — especially that of a current student — to estimate their own chance of admission.”

This rule also bars guides from discussing how affirmative action has affected Duke’s admissions policies. The current admissions cycle is the first since the US Supreme Court’s decision to end race-based affirmative action. The consequences of the ruling on the demographics of Duke’s student body and admissions policies have yet to be aggregated.

Mentioning other universities

Tour guides cannot mention other schools like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or North Carolina State University to keep the focus on Duke and avoid inadvertently criticizing other universities. 

Pamela explained that tour guides do not compare Duke to other universities and that they expect that other universities will do the same. 

“UNC is not gonna be like, ‘We're better at Duke on this front.’ They can't say that. It's a respect thing,” she said. 

Mercy added that guides cannot say anything about other schools, even if it’s just a light-hearted “Go to Hell, Carolina!” 

However, Turner said that some guides find ways to “beat around the bush” by comparing aspects of other colleges to Duke, such as likening the Bryan Center to other universities’ student centers.

‘Difficult questions’  

Tour guide training also teaches guides to dodge questions related to drinking and partying. 

“If people [ask], ‘Do people drink on campus?’ You can be like, ‘Duke has a vibrant social community,’” Alex joked. 

“You can say there's things to do off campus, but that's about it, like [going to] different restaurants,” Pamela said. “I guess you wouldn't be in trouble for saying, ‘Oh, there's bars if you're 21 and up,’ but you shouldn't mention Devine’s or Shooters specifically.” 

Daniel noted that guides are trained to avoid the phrase “work hard, play hard” to describe Duke's social scene. 

Another example of a “difficult question” that tour guides mentioned was sexual assault. According to 2018 data from a Duke Student Experiences Survey, 47.8% of undergraduate women and 13.5% of undergraduate men experienced sexual assault since enrolling at Duke.

Although tour guides are technically allowed to discuss sexual assault at Duke, multiple guides believe that offering statistics about this problem would be discouraged by their higher-ups. 

According to Pamela, admissions expects student tour guides to say that “sexual assault is an issue common across every college campus — that includes Duke — and there's many initiatives on campus to solve it.”

Daniel believes sexual assault is one of the “biggest problems” with Duke’s institutions, but it would be discouraged to speak about the issue on a tour. 

However, since tour guide training only covers some instances of what questions to dodge, some tour guides opt to address these issues during their tours if prospective students ask for information.

Dodds confirmed that guides are not required to mention sexual assault, but can provide information about safety resources on campus such as the Duke University Police and the blue light system.  

Still, Turner believes that not mentioning sexual assault rates during tours unless prompted may be a harmful omission and tour guide training should consider making it mandatory to discuss the Women’s Center in addition to general wellness resources. 

Perspectives on Durham

Daniel believes that tour guides are encouraged to discuss Durham in a positive light rather than “[illustrating] it as this dangerous, scary place,” a perspective that he believes is unfair but common among prospective and current Duke students. 

Alex says that training leaders emphasize not calling Durham “specifically the word ‘sketchy.’”

However, Turner shares his honest opinion on tours because he thinks people already tend to believe that some areas of Durham are dangerous, so what he says would not necessarily taint their opinion of the city. 

“I'll tell them that the public transportation isn't that great, and I’ll tell them that there are some areas of the city that you probably don't want to go to alone at night,” he said. 

Turner admitted that the way tour guides are trained to portray Durham may not paint an accurate picture. 

“You are skewing things because you're omitting stuff,” he said. 

Zoe Spicer profile
Zoe Spicer | Staff Reporter

Zoe Spicer is a Trinity junior and a features managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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