True Blue

Thousands of people-students and alumni, faculty and staff, parents and siblings, even supporters who never attended one class-all feel an institutional loyalty stemming from a basic need to belong.





While I'd lived in North Carolina once before, I never attended Duke or even walked around the campus. My only previous exposure, other than watching Duke basketball from afar, had come through my husband, Barry, who has a master's in computer science; through my sister-in-law, Caroline, who graduated in 1987; and through an hour spent at the Human Resources office at 705 Broad Street taking a typing test in 1991, when I was fresh out of college and anticipating a year off to work before going to graduate school.



But just five days after I started working at Duke-on Monday, August 16, 1999-you would have thought I'd been here for the whole decade since that long-ago employment application. Whenever I walked down Chapel Drive from Alumni House to West Campus, with Duke Chapel looming ever larger in front of me and Duke Gardens spreading out to my right, I felt an enormous sense of belonging to something. With family in North Carolina, I had followed both UNC and Duke basketball since elementary school, but no longer was it unimaginable to chant "Go to hell, Carolina." My work clothes were trending toward a particular shade of darker blue. My T-shirt drawer already held a Duke T-shirt to be worn on my morning walks around East Campus. I imagined myself wandering among the stone quads for decades to come, browsing through Perkins, attending lectures. With no degree, my new job my only tie, Duke was already my school.

During the past year and a half, that brand-new feeling of loyalty has not worn off. If anything, I am more possessive, prouder of Duke, more eager to be a bigger part of its daily life. That T-shirt drawer is stuffed now with an enormous variety of Dukewear. I go to Freewater Films, watch for speakers on campus, own season tickets to the women's basketball games. I eye the Gothic lettering on the car-window stickers for sale at University Stores, making myself wait until I've earned one by earning a master's degree. And with or without that year-of-graduation behind my name, I've found just how not alone I am in feeling true Duke blue: Thousands of people, students and alumni, faculty and staff, parents and siblings and supporters who never attended one class-all feel a sense of commitment and loyalty to the institution that can be interesting to assess.

Psychology professor Phil Costanzo explains it easily, talking his way through schools of research into why people form attachments and commitments to social institutions. "Large commitments are actually gotten to by littler commitments leading up to it," he says. "And so a lot of commitment is almost banal. It's that we do little things in relationship to some institution that commit us to that institution and allow us to do bigger things on behalf of the institution."


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For alumni, then, the process begins with the acceptance letter when they are still high-school seniors choosing their college, picks up the pace when they arrive on campus for the first time, and builds through four years of engagement with and accomplishments at the school. Each individual's experience varies, of course, and so does the loyalty that the experience engenders, but during the undergraduate years, ties are forged that link that individual to other individuals and to the school itself. The most obvious ties are the social ties of roommates, classmates, and friends-but the bonds produced in the classroom can be just as important in creating a sense of loyalty.

"All the effort that goes into the learning of things obviously would produce commitment and loyalty to the institution," says Costanzo. "Commitment is substantive-it's not just rah-rah." This is particularly true at a school like Duke, where students can learn from top professors in any field. "Duke is right to promote undergraduate teaching among its most distinguished scholars, as evidenced in their commitment to the classroom," he says. When "regular" students have the opportunity to enjoy a seminar with one of the finest scholars in a field, their educational experience is that much richer-which can lead not only to fond memories of the alma mater but to better opportunities for education and career.


Namesake: Duke parents Brian and Harriet Freeman in front of the Freeman Center for Jewish Life
Photo:Chris Hildreth


"The center of our pride should be in our learning-gathering knowledge and the transmission of that knowledge," Costanzo says. "That's genuine commitment, in the sense that individuals work on behalf of a course and identify with an instructor. The more involvement evidenced by the professor in their field, the more likely it generates involvement in the student, which in fact generates involvement with the institution. I've observed in my own classes that students do discover new horizons. And a lot of it is linked to, 'Gee, I didn't think I'd like research, but this exposure to research makes me not only like it but want to pursue it.' And that also engenders commitment."

For nonalumni, the process is necessarily somewhat different. We don't have those four crucible years in residence, finding whole new intellectual and social worlds, benefiting from the mentorship of fine professors, and forging our adult identities. We don't have the experience of graduate school alumni, spending intense years of research and writing and working to establish ourselves on an academic career path. Instead, we come to Duke from different directions-as employees, as Gardens-lovers, as Chapel-goers, as patients at Duke Medical Center. As we do so, we illustrate one of Costanzo's points about commitment-one that belies my initial impression that I was participating in things at Duke just because I was so happy to be there.

"Most of us think that our attitudes affect our behavior, so we think that if we like spinach, we'll eat spinach, or if we like movies, we'll go to movies," says Costanzo. "But largely, a lot of what social psychologists find is exactly the opposite-that we like things because we do them, rather than the reverse."

So while I was thinking that I was showing the Gardens off to visiting relatives because I liked Duke and was proud of what it had to offer, there was more to it than that. The Japanese arboretum was part of what made me like Duke as I started work in August of last year, as were the dedication of the new Will Wilson portrait of author Reynolds Price '55 in September and the performance by the Capitol Steps in Page Auditorium in October. I wasn't going to these things solely because I liked Duke and was trying to become part of its community. Instead, because I was participating in that community, I was forming a stronger bond with it.

It seems a subtle, even semantic, point, but it's one illustrated by two of the largest groups of nonalumni at the university. The Iron Dukes, an athletics booster association, is one of the biggest single groups of Duke supporters, generating $12.2 million in Annual Fund gifts in the past two years. The Duke Annual Fund Parents' Program is the most successful of its kind in higher education, last year bringing in almost $3 million from nearly four thousand parents of current and former Duke students. Yes, in both cases, it's a matter of people liking Duke and wishing to interact with it. But that very interaction, Costanzo says, then cements the positive relationship with the institution. "It's not just verbal commitment," he says. "It's really behavioral commitment that becomes important."


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In the case of Iron Dukes, behavioral commitment is seen in an athletics scholarship program that helps increase support for student athletes in all kinds of sports at Duke-not just the big-ticket programs, but soccer and golf and tennis and myriad others. And it is here that nonalumni might make their biggest cumulative impact. Some thirty percent of Iron Dukes didn't attend the university, yet their loyalty can be seen in the parking lots outside of Wallace Wade and Koskinen stadiums in the fall and Cameron Indoor Stadium in the winter and early spring, as car after car sports the big Iron Dukes "D" on a window decal or front license plate. There's generally no way to tell which ones belong to alumni and, as Iron Dukes executive director Jack Winters says, it doesn't matter.

"[Being] a Duke fan-that's the only stipulation," says Winters. "You don't have to be a former athlete, you don't have to be an alum. We love former athletes and alums to be Iron Dukes members, but we're not going to tell somebody who's walking in off the street that they can't be an Iron Duke, because they're cheering as hard as anybody else." Once they start cheering in the Iron Dukes section, Winters says, they often go on to root for other areas of the institution. "We have seen some crossover from some folks, for whom this [Iron Dukes] was their entrée to Duke University," he says. "Maybe all of a sudden they had a medical problem and came here to the medical center and, lo and behold, they made a nice gift there. Or they came to see the Chapel and fell in love with it and made a gift there."

Duke parents are demonstrating their commitment with every dollar they've put toward their children's educations. But their loyalty shows elsewhere-in the record-breaking Parents' Program for the Annual Fund, for instance, where the 200 members of the Duke Parents Committee have helped raise millions. It shows in the Freeman Center for Jewish Life, where a stalled project was rejuvenated with help from Brian and Harriet Freeman, parents of Duke children Danyelle '95, Amanda '97, and Heath '02, and from three other families with Duke parents. It shows at the Divinity School, where a scholarship was established by Blue Devil jersey-retiree Grant Hill '94 and his mother, Janet, to honor his father, Calvin.

Each parent gives different reasons for being involved beyond tuition payments. On the Duke Parents' Program website, for instance, you read testimonials from parents about "connecting to the university," "supporting our children," "great fun to work with the parents of our daughter's peers." There's even a top-ten list that includes reasons like "4. We lead by example; 3. Duke is a really wonderful experience for the students; 2. We get really neat Duke logo pencils; and 1. We like our children." For Brian Freeman, motivation to help salvage the Jewish student center came from the opportunity to "add to the fabric of Duke." He envisioned an inclusive atmosphere, one that would create a spiritual haven, a cultural center, and social space, providing Jewish and non-Jewish members of the Duke community with a place to come together. It was a fortuitous synthesis of need, timing, and the ability to reach out to his children's alma mater. "I have learned over life," he says, "that one takes advantage of opportunities like this when they arise."

Costanzo says the commitment displayed by groups like Iron Dukes or Duke parents has a great deal to do with their attachment to the institution they support. It becomes a cycle in which one behavior motivates another, which then brings you back to the first behavior. "We're prone to own our own behavior," he says. "And if I'm internally motivated to give to Duke, I'm not just giving to them so I'll get a basketball seat. I may originally do it to get a seat, but once I make that investment, I'm not going to say, 'Well, I'm in favor of Duke because of this large amount of money [I gave].' You're going to say, 'I'm getting a seat because I'm so attached to this institution.' And then, if you're attached to that institution, a lot of other things follow."

One of Duke's most famous loyalists is J.B. Fuqua, whose endowment of the business school and subsequent gifts in the two decades since are a mark of his own attachment to an institution he never attended. Fuqua grew up on a tobacco farm in rural Virginia and never went to college. But he decided to teach himself about business, and it was Duke's library that allowed him to borrow the books he needed. "I read about banking and about finance, and understood a chapter here and there," he has said. "It served me very well." Fuqua has been known to joke about the "overdue fines" on those books catching up with him fifty years later, but his gratitude to the school that helped him get his start was sincere. Not only did he endow the business school, but then he inspired a friend, R. David Thomas ("Dave" of Wendy's fast-food fame), to bestow a naming gift that created the school's executive conference center. Fuqua then went on to fund the school in other ways, including the creation of a U.S.-Soviet business education program, new professorships, and international programs.

ut loyalty is about much more than financial contributions. As president of Duke, Terry Sanford liked to differentiate between "fund raising" and "friend raising." And the Duke experience has raised countless friends, whose commitment to the school shows in all kinds of ways: current students visiting their old high schools on recruiting visits during vacations; students and graduates of the MALS (master of arts in liberal studies) program vying to help lead information sessions for recruiting new students; full attendance at Hoof 'n' Horn productions; big turnouts at such events as an Alumni Affairs-sponsored reception for a blockbuster Van Gogh exhibit in Philadelphia; or the simple act of coming back for a reunion with classmates every five years.

It shows most clearly during basketball season, of course, those exciting few months that span the turn of the year and turn some of the nation's top students into tent-dwelling Cameron Crazies. Indeed, Cameron Indoor Stadium could serve as Exhibit One for psychology professor Costanzo, who explains that another school of research into the psychology of commitment deals with in-groups and out-groups and "basking in reflected glory." "We have this bias about in-groups and out-groups," Costanzo says, "and I'll give you an example. If I asked a Duke student to describe UNC students, and then I asked the Duke student to describe Duke students, forget about how positive and negative it would be. They would use many fewer adjectives to describe UNC students than Duke students; that is, you view your own group as variable, and you view out-groups as possessing few attributes. So why does this generate loyalty? It generates loyalty because it's easier to keep out-groups in their place and be connected to your own group."

There will also be some negativity, he says, as another part of creating cohesion within one's own group is through conflict with an out-group. "If you went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and asked for somebody to describe the UNC student," he says, "there would be some exaggeration of their negative attributes, which increases devotion to one's in-group. The best way to increase loyalty is to create an enemy, a common enemy among people within the group.

"So having a rival, like UNC, or having any number of academic rivals like Princeton or Harvard-being a member of one group and trying to exist in the same elite class, in a competitive sense, increases the in-group identification."

This covers "Go to hell, Carolina," not to mention the creative game-specific chants that are an integral part of any Cameron experience. But for people who are not Duke alumni, Costanzo says there is another element at work-a general sense of identity. "There's this phenomenon of becoming a member of something," he says. " 'Duke fans' -what's that? That's not a real group; it's what Kurt Vonnegut would call a 'granfalloon.' The granfalloon was just a group of people who really had no basis for having membership in the same group, but believe they do. For instance, you're on a trip to Europe and you're on an airplane and you're from Indiana, and you meet somebody else from Indiana, and all of a sudden you become a Hoosier."

"There's some sense of closeness there, an in-group identification," he adds. "And there's that element of things that we need for our own identity, to belong to something. Our identity is not purely personal-it's social."

Costanzo credits "positive association" as another property of commitment to an institution. It's a term that is used mainly for advertising, but holds up when talking about a university. "There's no particular reason to take young, thin people and put them next to Pepsi bottles," Costanzo says. "But that association tends to operate very well. And the persona of an institution like Duke, for example, has a way of having fans become a part of it. There is image-making."

Participating in that image-making is simple: Walk into almost any clothing store in Durham and you can pick up something in dark blue with "Duke" emblazoned on it. At last count, the University Stores sell hundreds of different items with some sort of Duke logo on them-shirts, sweaters, jackets, ties, hats, golf balls, beanbag bears, bibs, tankards, pens, soccer-ball keychains, coin purses, wastebasket basketball hoops-the list is endless. If it can be labeled, worn, or waved in the air, it can probably be found in a Duke shop.

It's a major source of revenue, with the biggest rushes coming during freshman orientation, Reunions Weekend, and Parents' Weekend, when stores manager Tom Craig says sales will increase "seven times over a normal day." "Nothing will ever outsell six-inch-block 'DUKE' white, navy, and gray T-shirts," he adds. Altogether, the sales of Duke paraphernalia generate more than 85 percent of the university retail stores' total revenues. The situation is not unique to Duke. Go to any school on any game day and you'll behold the same array of school-spirited everything. Indeed, the phenomenon is so widespread that it even triggered an academic study at Arizona State University, as Phil Costanzo recounts. "After Arizona State won a football game, you walked around the campus and sent your graduate students out to count who was wearing Arizona State paraphernalia. The difference between the number of individuals wearing paraphernalia after a win and after a loss was marked. People aren't aware of it-if you ask them, they're just wearing their shirt, whatever it happens to be."

Costanzo holds this up as "basking in reflected glory-as evidence of the fact that we in fact adopt the sort of positive attributes of those things we belong to, and we identify ourselves as part of them. I've also had the experience of my colleagues at other institutions-they could be at Yale, they could be at Wisconsin, they could be wherever-each time Duke has been advancing through the stages of the NCAAs and they became visible to a lot of people. I would get calls, maybe e-mails, from individuals who would say, 'Gee, my son really wants a Duke T-shirt, or a Duke jersey. Can you get me one?' And these individuals have nothing to do with Duke." "Basking in reflected glory" doesn't necessarily mean that loyalists become fair-weather fans. "People will retain their commitment if their team shows great effort," says Costanzo. Or, if a team overcomes great adversity, "Once you overcome it and stick with it, then you're even more committed. Then you're really sucked in."

And if a team, or a school, does well after going through some period of difficulty, the reward is felt even more deeply by the loyal core. "What would happen if the Cubs won the pennant?" asks Costanzo. "I grew up in an environment in which the Yankees won every year and the Dodgers won once. The Dodger fans were tenaciously loyal. Our Bums. They won once, and that probably was the most reinforcing experience that the Brooklyn Dodger fans had had since they were born."

That attitude is evident when Jack Winters talks about the Iron Dukes program and its scope beyond basketball. "The membership in general-it's amazing to me how knowledgeable they are of the sport, whichever it is, and how supportive they are through thick and thin," he says.

Some schools fire a coach even after a series of stellar seasons, as happened to Crimson Tide football coach Bill Curry at the University of Alabama in the early 1990s. Some make the difficult decision to abolish a sport altogether because of scholarship costs, as at Swarthmore College, where the football program was discontinued in early December. At Duke, Winters says, the school's fans (and Iron Dukes in particular) are looking beyond a win-loss record. "People are supporting and giving to this program because they believe in what's going on here at Duke University and the athletics department," he says. "They believe that Duke is doing things the right way, that we're setting an example for how it can and should be done."

What's being done is the continuation of the school's long tradition of the student athlete, despite a few early departures for the professional leagues. That tradition is borne out in statistics like those quoted in an NCAA report in November showing that Duke ranked second only to Northwestern in the percentage of scholarship athletes who earned their degrees within six years. Of the 184 male athletes who enrolled at Duke from 1990-91 to 1993-94, the report says, 90 percent graduated within six years, a figure that went up to 93 percent for female athletes, and Duke's football players posted the highest graduation rates of all Division I schools.

"They're proud of that," Winters says, "and they want to see that type of excellence continue. At the end of the season, winning is a bonus for what we're doing. Winning happens when the kids are getting their degrees-that's the best win possible. That's the national championship."

As for the concept of "basking in reflected glory," Winters says that while some people initially are attracted to Iron Dukes because of something like a Final Four appearance, ongoing contact creates a deeper experience. "Maybe an initial reason for getting involved might be to be part of a winner, to ride those coattails," he says. "But the other thing we try to instill in all of our folks is just how special this place really is. And while that might have been their initial way that they're involved, once they are involved, they get a sense of that pride, and we keep them on board and contributing to that."





Precisely, says Costanzo. Loyalty does go far beyond a check or a season record. It also goes beyond the purely intellectual realm of the seminar table, or the purely social and competitive world of sports. The pieces click together, and where one person's loyalty to Duke might come first from an educational experience, another person's might be formed in Cameron. "The goal is always substance, and you build institutions to be substantial," Costanzo says. "But part of the substance lies in the frill, and the commitment there is to the frills. It is reasonable for a university to promote frills and symbols to some extent.

"The commitment to a basketball team is not of any great moment in the world, and it's also not going to change one's view of Duke if basketball went down the tubes. What it does allow is an approach to the institution, an approach to what it has to be proud of, and we should be no less proud of basketball than any other kind of connection to Duke."

Certainly for those nonalumni, the attraction usually comes first from a nonacademic point of view. But as Winters and Costanzo both point out, the "approach" is often just a first step, allowing people not only to support Duke, but eventually to view that support as a part of who they are. "It's not just a matter of loyalty-it's having that entity be part of the self," Costanzo says. "So if I ask people to describe themselves in every way they could, some individuals would describe themselves as a Duke fan, or a GE employee, or as a Mac user.

"There is a way in which, some would argue, that 'self' itself-what self is-is illusory, that it's a construction. And it's constructed anew when new elements come into it-new identifications, new memberships. It's not a thing that's unchanging, that somehow exists in the chromosomal structure. It is a collection of social experience, and a way that you make sense and meaning out of that social experience, and membership is an important part of that."

"Part of our loyalties are based upon the fact that they do provide a signature," he adds. "I don't think people calculate and say, 'I'm going to root for Princeton because they'll think I'm an Einsteinian physicist.' But they are adopting more of the identity of a place. [People] will go to the Chapel services. Maybe once they're going to the Duke basketball games, they'll get very excited when the Duke soccer team is doing well, and they show up at that. Or they'll be excited by the fact that somebody at Duke maybe won the Nobel Prize, and they feel some pride in the fact. Those kinds of things basically say that part of my identity is wrapped up in this."

So when I wear my new "The Road to Bracketville starts in Durham" T-shirt to a work-out or spend fifteen minutes before a women's basketball game trying to find my lucky Duke-blue sweater, when I insist on dragging my visiting parents to meet new faculty friends or carefully plan the long-term calendar for my soon-to-be-started master's degree to ensure that the presidential signature on the parchment will read "Nannerl O. Keohane," I am proclaiming my membership, claiming that some part of my self is bound up in my relationship to Duke and all the intellectual and cultural and social excitement it gives me. And I am reassured by Phil Costanzo's analysis that such "signatures" are a perfectly typical part of the loyalty equation.


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