A Revolution in Residential Life

by Robert J. Bliwise
A new design for Duke: an all-freshman East Campus, reconfigured living groups, increased faculty-student interaction, and more restrictive drinking rules.
Dorm benches provide more than outdoor sitting space for Duke students; they also stake out turf and define dorm identity. So this fall, when Brown House attempted to carry off the bench of rival Alspaugh, it was no small offense.

History professor Ron Witt saw the episode as no small opportunity. Donning his bright red academic robes, Witt--who is, after all, a medievalist--organized a delegation of students, including a mace-bearer and a trumpeter, in a march across the East Campus quadrangle. As a student knocked the ceremonial mace against the door of Brown, Witt unscrolled a list of grievances and issued a somber challenge to a volleyball competition.

Alspaugh, an all-freshman house, lost in volleyball. But it may have gained from Witt's readiness to "stir up some house loyalty," as he puts it. He had signed on as one of Duke's first Faculty Associates, part of a program that links professors to living units around campus. Now Witt is witnessing a Duke transformation that is especially striking on East Campus, long considered a Georgian backwoods to the West Campus Gothic core of the university.

A quarter-century ago, East Campus lost its distinctive status as the Woman's College; now it has a distinctive status as the center of freshman living. With introductory courses in political science, psychology, and music taught in a renovated Baldwin Auditorium--and with the required first-semester writing course taught in freshman dorms--East Campus is also becoming more fully a center of learning.

The all-freshman East was just one of multiple changes in the campus character this fall. There were massive real-estate shifts everywhere to accommodate a concept of clustering different living groups into various self-governing "quads." As Sue Wasiolek '76, M.H.A. '78, LL.M. '93, assistant vice president for student affairs, describes the system, "If you go into any quad, the hope is that you will find a fraternity, maybe a selective house, maybe a single-sex residence and a coed residence, so that you see a balance." The reshuffling also grew from a concern for equity: It aimed to avoid domination of prime space by any type of living group. "Certain groups moved to a location that they perceived to be more desirable than their previous location. But other groups moved to a location that they definitely consider to be less desirable, and that had some fallout."

So if East Campus is beginning an experiment, West Campus is facing "a unique year," Wasiolek says. "The uniqueness is that most students on West changed their residence and as a result of that, there was sort of this shell shock, almost the trauma that we all go through when we move into a new home."

A large number of less-than-enthusiastic sophomores found their new home in Trent Hall on North Campus, nudged up against the medical center. This year, the 350 or so residents of Trent live in thoroughly reconditioned space, with an aerobics room, a weight room, new painting and carpeting, remodeled commons areas, two kitchens, a small cafeteria, computer facilities, and a volleyball court. Still, Robert Fremeau, faculty resident in the dorm and also a Faculty Associate, says it "clearly doesn't have the atmosphere of community living" that characterizes West or East.

A proposal to make Trent a theme house devoted to the medical sciences never got off the ground. But with what he calls "a Who's Who list of speakers" from around campus, Fremeau has built a broad program of evening discussions around medical-science themes-- among them, clinical practice guidelines for medical delivery; drugs, the brain, and behavior; health-care reform; infant mortality; the biology of aging; and sports medicine. (Fremeau is an assistant professor in the departments of pharmacology and neurobiology.) Those discussions draw what Fremeau describes as a "small but steady" turnout of ten to twenty students. He regularly takes Trent residents to campus cultural events like a North Carolina Symphony performance and the Miami City Ballet. And he's taken tennis-minded students to the Faculty Club for matches that haven't particularly gone his way.

As Fremeau puts it, his object is to "expand students' learning activities outside their organic-chemistry class." At the same time, he's trying to make the traditionally isolated Trent "a place where students want to come and live"--which remains a struggle.

For Faculty Associate Witt, the various campus changes are an effort to infuse the joy of intellectual adventure into residential life. He says he hopes it will tap into the sort of energy once applied to the notion of a Duke residential college. That experiment, a decade ago, flopped when it drew minimal student interest. And the Faculty Associates program is no sure-fire success, Witt says. Even with structured events like monthly dinners with the resident advisers, he doesn't yet feel thoroughly comfortable in the Alspaugh setting. At the beginning of the academic year, he posted a lunch sign-up sheet in his "adopted" Alspaugh. There were no takers. Now he issues the invitations as he meets students individually--providing a context that's more meaningful than a sign-up sheet.

What Duke is trying to do with its Faculty Associates "hasn't been part of the behavioral patterns that faculty and students have had," says Robert Thompson, who co-directs the program with Jean O'Barr, director of Women's Studies. (As a professor in the medical center's psychiatry department, he is a behavior expert.) Thompson sees the program as a sort of intellectual integrating experience: "The idea is to extend out of the classroom and into the co-curricular aspects of the students' time here at Duke, staying focused on critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, and a respect for diversity that characterizes liberal education. We want to help students appreciate that they have to apply those things in their daily lives; it doesn't just stop at the boundaries of the classroom."

Thompson, part of a team that has taught an interdisciplinary course on human development for seventeen years, has an undergraduate orientation that belies his medical-center rooting. Highly-motivated students have been able to seek out close faculty relationships on their own part, he says, "but there's also a sub-group which would equally benefit if they just had the way paved a little for them."

Apparently, there's a lot of agreement with that point in the faculty ranks: More than a hundred have signed on as Faculty Associates, including professional-school faculty, and many others expressed interest. Two or three are assigned to each of the freshman dorms on East; six to eight work with each of the West Campus quadrangles.

"I've become very much aware of two things. One is how intimidating it is for students to approach faculty; it was amazing to pick up on the widespread sense of intimidation. The other thing is how uncomfortable faculty feel engaging students outside the classroom. It's just not customary. They're not used to it, and they wonder how it's going to be received. So there's some risk involved here, on both sides."

From all sides, the all-freshman East Campus is heralded as an early success story. East Campus has become a place of spirited Frisbee-flinging, soccer ball-kicking, outdoor-snacking, stereo-blaring, and class-taking freshmen. For an assignment that asked them to reflect on East Campus, most of the freshmen in a writing class celebrated the community. But they also worried about a sense of isolation--something that administrators hope to overcome with "adopt-a-quad" thinking, intended to link freshman living units with Trent and West Campus quads. "I feel as if I go to East Campus University rather than Duke University," in the words of one freshman.

"East Campus is a beautiful and cozy campus," wrote Dana Bennison. "One cannot help but feel safe within the confines of the green, manicured quad. But then, you are forced to attend that class on West, go to the bookstore, or buy that frozen yogurt you've been craving all day. And soon enough, this blanket of security is gone. As one climbs onto that infamous East-West bus, she knows that she is heading for the unfamiliar Gothic territory of Duke.... Upperclassmen have taken on the role of strangers to freshmen, and this fact does not do wonders in trying to make the entire Duke student body coalesce. It is difficult to lose one's identity as a freshman, for you all come off that big bus together--Ôthe East Campus herd.' "

That "East Campus" herd flocks regularly to the East Campus Union, a building that is largely the charge of Wes Newman B.S.E. '78, director of food services. The trustees approved the residential-life plan last December, and a massive overhaul of the Union began in May. Construction has continued well into this academic year, meaning that elements of the "servery" have been slow to get cooking. "We felt that when the decision was made for an all-freshman East Campus, it wouldn't really have a decent shot at success if we didn't do something different with dining over there," says Newman. "So we made a decision to go through nine really difficult months. When we started pulling down walls and looking at plumbing and structural things, we discovered that the building was not in good condition to start with. And that made an already ambitious renovation even harder to do."

An equal challenge, Newman says, has been overcoming student resistance to change. "I would have guessed, before I got involved in food service five years ago, that college students would be the most malleable and open and flexible to change. But as it turns out, in some ways, they are more traditional than even the faculty and the administration are. They very quickly come to believe that the way that things are on campus is the way that they need to be."

Newman still has resistance to overcome. Reflecting on East Campus for the freshman writing assignment, Meredith Gouveia offered an ironic thought that was echoed by many of her peers in the writing class: "The first-year dining plan has succeeded in a way that was most likely not intended. It has promoted cohesion, not only in the fact that all first-year students eat together, meet one another, and discuss the first-year experience over dinner; the first-year dining plan has provided all freshmen with a common enemy. We love to hate it together." Testifying to students' beloved freedom of choice, Gouveia complained about paying in advance for meals "we may or may not attend," running into "huge crowds of people at every turn," and not being able to take out the food. Some of her classmates said the serving hours (five o'clock until eight o'clock for dinner) are inconvenient for those with extracurricular commitments like rehearsals and sports practices.

Freshmen prepay a fixed semester price for twelve meals a week--five breakfast meals, five dinners, and two weekend brunches. Their other meals on campus are covered by food "points" deducted from their personal accounts. The prepaid meals are provided at the East Campus Union's new food facility, called "The Marketplace," and are served in an all-you-care-to-eat format. And the food options are hardly on the high-school cafeteria model: They include a "breakfast bar" featuring Belgian waffles, a "monster" (more than twenty-foot-long) salad bar, rotisserie meats and chicken, a "wok your own" Asian stir-fry counter, fresh pasta and pizza, deli and grill sandwiches, fresh and steamed vegetables, and a frozen-yogurt bar.

Newman says the numbers testify to the success of The Marketplace: Two-thirds of the class, on average, is coming in and eating a full breakfast; the dinner average is 84 percent of the class.

The Marketplace concept grew out of experiences with other food operations on campus; the recommendations of a consultant who works with food operations at hotels, restaurants, and theme parks; and visits to other campuses. "Harvard's is a traditional concept: All the food is cooked in one kitchen and it goes out to twenty-some college residences every night with the same menu everywhere," Newman says. "It's well-presented to them, it's very good, but it does not have this element of distinct choice. Duke students value choice and variety and flexibility. We were trying to walk that line between needing to have a fixed meal program and also wanting to have enough choice and variety so that students did not see this as a traditional, restrictive kind of board operation."

With that philosophy in mind, "Those twelve meals were very specifically chosen to fit into the Duke students' pattern of life, which is to study hard on Sunday night through Thursday night and to socialize on Fridays and Saturdays. We intentionally didn't include Friday and Saturday night in the program. But the idea was that they will be on East Campus for breakfast, because they sleep there, and that we would like them to come back to East for dinner, in order to regroup with their classmates and have some opportunities for social interaction and hopefully some intellectual interaction over the dinner table."

The residential-life plan that remade East Campus and invented Faculty Associates was the product of almost two years of study and discussion. Task forces involving students, faculty, administrators, and alumni looked at the campus intellectual climate, residential life, and the Greek system; they issued reports with sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting, recommendations. Another plan--not part of the same process, but invariably seen as an outgrowth of it--was put in place at the same time. It covers alcohol distribution.

The new alcohol policy allows student groups to sponsor keg parties, but only if they hire a university-approved bartender to check student identification and distribute alcohol to students twenty-one and older. But the issue of keg parties may be close to moot: A new Interfraternity Council alcohol policy limits the fraternities to bring-your-own-bottle functions. Such a drastic shift by Duke's fraternities reflects an off-campus reality. To preserve their liability insurance, they are required by their national organizations to uphold national bylaws. Were the fraternities to refuse to comply with those bylaws--which don't permit free-flowing alcohol--their national organizations would withdraw their Duke charters.

One aspect of the policy is a set of strong sanctions for violations. For a first violation of the distribution guidelines, groups will face a four-week social suspension; for a second offense, a twelve-week social suspension and a fine leveled against each member; for a third offense, loss of university recognition for a year. An individual who engages in "impaired and disorderly" conduct--such as grabbing, shoving, pushing, or fighting others--will face disciplinary probation for one semester and, ultimately, suspension for two semesters with a requirement to seek alcohol-abuse assessment and counseling before readmission.

In early October, The Chronicle editorialized in favor of the Undergraduate Judicial Board's decision against one selective house. Its members had confessed to free distribution of a lemonade-and-grain-alcohol punch from two trash cans. "Though strict, there is little doubt that the policy and its consequences are effective and appropriate," said the newspaper.

Fraternities have "for too many years, harbored the legal liability and financial burdens of the social scene at Duke University," wrote Lex Wolf '96 last spring in a Chronicle column. Wolf, president of the Interfraternity Council, added: "While the national fraternities have, for more than a decade, overlooked the violation of these policies, it is now clear that they will no longer tolerate at Duke what they refuse to tolerate at 700 other campuses nationwide." Wolf noted that the issue extends beyond legal concerns. Last fall, thirty-four students were taken to the emergency room because of alcohol-related accidents. Alcohol violations were up 54 percent from the previous year, marking the fourth straight year in which the number of violations increased.

Lew Wardell '75, assistant director of public safety, is on the front lines of enforcing the alcohol policy. Asked if the policy has been accompanied by a more assertive enforcement mentality, he responds crisply: "Yes. Clearly and consciously." Public Safety has visited dorms during prime party hours and checked the identification of students who were publicly drinking; a few times this fall, it has set up driving-while-impaired checkpoints around the campus.

"I wanted behaviors to trigger the stop--that is, the interaction between the student and an officer in the context of examining the student for alcohol use or abuse," Wardell says. "The problem we ran into is that the students thought the trigger would be much more overt than the officers do. The way that the students have visualized it is if you're not face down on the sidewalk, then you can break the law. It's not that we're addressing underage drinking exclusively. If we can stop students from drinking themselves practically to death, if we can stop student-on-student violence, if we can stop rampant destruction of university property, then we will have been successful."

For years, the perception had been building that a new way was needed to deal with alcohol. In Wardell's view, the celebrations over Duke's 1992 basketball victories made the need clear. "As an alumnus, it did not make me happy to tell people to not come to campus because it was too dangerous. And in large part it was dangerous because of the unbelievable drunkenness of the crowd."

Last year, the Student Affairs staff and Public Safety toured a series of weekend parties on campus. "The anecdotal evidence was unbelievable. We're talking about criminality, deviance, and extraordinary personal threat just because of the level of intoxication. I was a detective for eight years and worked in some of the worst areas of Durham, and I was seeing things on campus that I had never seen in those places--places where students are afraid to go."

It's surprising that no Duke student has died in an alcohol-related incident, says Wardell. "We've taken people to the emergency room who, if they hadn't been found immediately and transported, would have died.

"There's a saying that God protects fools and drunks. That is very much in evidence here, because we have scraped people off the sidewalk and taken them in, and they have been saved only because we have an excellent hospital right next door."

Wardell dismisses the theory, propagated in letters to The Chronicle, that the alcohol policy has merely banished drinking to off-campus locations or to private student rooms. "Our experience has been that students who were taken to the emergency room were not drinking in their rooms; they were taking advantage of the free distribution of alcohol on campus. The intention of the critics is to make the administration feel guilty for enforcing the policy. The same holds true for drunk driving: ÔYou've driven me off campus and now I have to drive drunk.' Very clearly the policy was created with the bottom line of enhancing personal responsibility. I think that if an individual doesn't come to Duke and learn about personal responsibility, we haven't done a complete job of education."

Duke's alcohol policy is "still more liberal, more permissive" than that of many other universities, Wardell says. "We have absolutely no misconceptions about creating a policy that will prevent drinking, and in fact that's not our intention. If somebody chooses to drink socially, they have to learn how to do it in some context. So what we've done is to take the first step, which is to say that you don't learn how to responsibly drink when you can clamp your mouth on a beer keg and not let go until the keg is empty--which is what we were allowing up through last year. There was pretty much an unrestricted flow of alcohol because the existing policy was generally being ignored, and the law was being ignored."

The I.F.C.'s Lex Wolf--who joins with Wardell on the Alcohol Policy Committee--has what he calls his "prepared quote" in responding to the question of whether the drinking regulations, along with the quad governance system, have dampened the social scene: "It's like Mark Twain, when he read about his own death in the newspaper, and said, ÔThe rumors of my death are exaggerated.' Well, the rumors of the death of social life at Duke are exaggerated." During the first few weeks of classes, he says, the campus saw more band performances than during all of last fall semester. Every Friday, up until the weekend of fall break, the Interfraternity Council was promoting a so-called "Communiversity Hour"--food, music, and non-alcoholic beverages--on Clocktower Quad on West Campus.

Without the obligation to support events focused on free-flowing alcohol, fraternities have more funds available for other programming. But Wolf says he's frustrated at institutional impediments to organizing social events. As he put it in his Chronicle column: "At most of our peer institutions, several hundred thousand dollars a year are set aside to promote social programming. Not here. At Duke, if you want to do anything but serve alcohol, you must track down a number of signatures, hire a bunch of Public Safety officers, and pay the university's inflated prices for renting equipment."

Others point out that for individual fraternities, beer-buying budgets have approached $10,000 annually--which, with the advent of the bring-your-own-beverage mentality, should free up lots of resources. And this year, President Nannerl O. Keohane has made $75,000 in programming funds available to the quads.

Beyond band concerts, students have helped shape the programs in two campus establishments: the Underground, a nightclub introduced last year in the Bryan Center with a dance theme, and the Kudzu Tavern, set up on Central Campus this academic year and quickly popular for its food offerings, imported beers, large-screen television, patio deck, and luxurious pool tables. (Wes Newman of Food Services says that the students who conceived the idea "wanted a college hangout, but they wanted it to be on campus.")

"The social scene has changed," says Sue Wasiolek, the student affairs assistant vice president. "I'm drawing this conclusion not only from my own impressions, but also from what students have told me. I'm not saying that I support it or that I want to perpetuate it, but there was something about a keg of beer that naturally and very spontaneously and very conveniently and very effortless brought students together. And that is a part of the keg scene that I would somehow like to capture without all of the negative impact that we know that kegs brought.

"One thing that we always prided ourselves on at Duke was the fact that it was a very open community. I don't know why kegs provided this sense of Ôyou're welcome here, this is your home as much as mine,' but kegs did that. The bands on the quads have done that to a certain extent, but my question is when the weather changes and we go indoors, can we continue to create an open community? It's probably one of the greatest challenges administratively that I've ever felt."

Takcus Nesbit, a junior who is the student government's vice president for student affairs, has few worries about the prospect of a socially deadened Duke. "Duke students are social by nature," he says. "We study so hard all week that we look to weekends for relaxation. We need to be a little more socially innovative. We were keg dependent for a long time. Now we're experiencing a kind of withdrawal period from kegs." With the changed campus climate, drinking has become much more a conscious act and much less a social given, Nesbit says. "We're probably drinking a little bit less, and that's probably a healthier thing for our futures."

And if Duke has reinvented itself with a set of changes meant to infuse undergraduate living with the spirit of undergraduate learning, it's picking up on a trend of the times. Barbara Baker, who came to campus this fall from Syracuse University as the new dean of student development and residential education, says the kind of questions asked at Duke--and the kind of responses made--are mirrored at colleges and universities across the nation.

"Universities have looked at their administrative structure and their academic structure," Baker says. "And they have come to wonder why it is that never the twain should meet. There's a growing sense that universities need to integrate the in-class and the out-of-class experience, to bring together the whole university community and its resources in the educational experience."

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