A senior's quest to foster unity in K-Ville

Ryan Bergamini's efforts hit a policy snag.

Ryan Bergamini discusses “community” to a degree that the combination of his face and the word has become a meme. On East Campus, he’s the senior making signs that encourage the first-years in the dorm where he’s a resident assistant to become TROUTs (Trinity Residents Organizing a Unified Trinity, with the slogan stating that “TROUTs swim together”). On West, he’s hosting weekly open dinners in the Brodhead Center, complete with a subversive and self-aggrandizing acronym—DSG, for the Duke Student Group—to make the act of meeting new people worthy of a line on a résumé.

Pretty much everything Bergamini does is focused on generating this unity on campus, making others aware of its absence, and proving it’s possible for such a community to grow from the ground up. “I think it’s important to change things institutionally,” he says, “but we also have to realize we have agency to change.”

Existing as an “independent” student unaffiliated with a Greek organization or an SLG (selective living group), Bergamini operates from a vision that entails not “trying to tear down SLG/Greek life,” but instead building up alternatives to the “effortless community” that the social-circle-as-housemates model provides. He quickly realized, as many Duke students do, that community at this school often starts with a “K.”

“I think that K-Ville’s one of the few truly open spaces on campus,” says senior Steve Hassey, head line monitor, “where regardless of what social group, whatever your other things going on…K-Ville is the one space where you can come together and participate in this much larger community and have this sense of belonging.”

Bergamini, as a member of tent #12, made small efforts in his immediate surroundings—staking out a spot at the K-Ville entrance in front of Wilson Gym, where he organized street-hockey games for his fellow tenters. Quickly, though, his snarkier instincts kicked in.

Given its predilection for sleep- deprivation tactics, K-Ville can feel like a torture prison. There are inmates (tenters) and guards (line monitors), and while the tenters have to sacrifice multiple nights of good shuteye per week for the chance to see Duke-UNC in-person, the guards earn easy access just for their policing.

Bergamini recognizes that line monitors have a necessary job: “It’s kind of like the RA role,” he says, in that “you need to enforce policy.” But he didn’t like the divisiveness they fostered, or the added prestige that line monitors garner, best symbolized in the Dukeblue warmup jackets that they wear. To minimize that distinction, Bergamini ordered replica jackets in bulk, selling 170 of them at-cost to fellow tenters, which, he says, “completely nullified this power trip that they had.”

Surprisingly, the head line monitors were onboard. “It comes from a very positive place,” says Hassey, of the jacket scheme. “I think that’s a real problem that he identified.”

There was some initial confusion, in that tenters in need of help didn’t know which authority figures to approach. (To re-distinguish the jacketed campers from the actual line monitors, Bergamini ordered the latter safety vests.) But the lasting effect was a more communal K-Ville. Even before the jacket scheme, Hassey and his co-head line monitor, Peter Potash, had aimed to reduce this gap between the groups, to ensure the monitors weren’t just enforcers but also the sort of people who’d hang out and play pickup soccer if the sun was shining. “That gap between line monitors and tenters—it’s not something that will ever fully close,” says Hassey, “but I think that this year had the least animosity between the two groups.”

After the tenting season was complete, Bergamini’s activism about K-Ville would continue—albeit on slightly different terms. The day after the Duke-UNC home game, his resident coordinator asked whether he had “black”-tented—the most intense, and time-intensive, iteration. Bergamini confessed he had, which definitionally put him in violation of the Housing and Residential Life’s nightsaway policy that states RAs can only spend eight nights away from the dorm in a semester. Found to have been “intentionally deceiving” around his plans to tent, he was fired from his RA role, along with two tenting peers. It turned out to be only a temporary firing: Bergamini and his colleague were reinstated after an appeals process (many fellow students petitioned in his favor), and now he’s agitating to change the policy.It’s unfortunate, Bergamini starts to explain, that tenting caused such a situation, and then he stops talking abruptly: Three people in his jackets had walked by.

“I think taking RAs out of K-Ville would be a real shame,” Bergamini says, before ending on a familiar, if bittersweet, note. “I think we made real strides in terms of building community.”

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