When Duke underwent a dramatic change in its residential experience

The recently announced QuadEx plan isn't the first time

Duke recently announced a new residential plan, QuadEx, which will connect the East Campus freshman dormitories to one of seven quads on West Campus. As QuadEx is being launched, we might look back at another time when residential life underwent a massive change.

From 1930 to 1972, Duke was still divided by sex, with the East Campus housing the Woman’s College, and West Campus housing Trinity College (for men). Male freshmen lived in dorms together, separately from upperclassmen. The idea of residential “federations” was first discussed in 1967. Federations meant a group of close-by dormitories, made up of multiple living groups, including independent houses and fraternities. A federation would have its own dean and faculty, who would be connected to the group. The idea was to make the residential experience a richer one that better connected the residential and academic experience.

In 1969, the Residential Life Committee, chaired by Professor Howard Strobel of the chemistry department, made preliminary recommendations that all students should live in federations of 350 to 500 students. More controversially, the committee also recommended “the abolition of both the freshmen houses and the fraternities and independent groups as living groups,” as reported in The Chronicle. As one might expect, this suggestion was hotly debated on campus. The committee then suggested that the fraternities and independent living groups could continue, simply not residentially. On May 2, 1969, The Chronicle ran a photograph of young men playing outside with the caption: “The Duke fraternity: will it survive?” (Spoiler alert: It did.)

As for the elimination of freshman dorms, the committee was concerned about the present state of male freshmen: “The freshmen are isolated from the rest of the University. They usually have great difficulty in meeting and getting dates with girls. Thrown back on their own devices for entertainment, some freshmen houses engage in loud games and carousing.”

Some fraternities came up with alternate ideas. Kappa Sigma proposed the terrifyingly named Animal Quad federation, which would encompass four fraternities, two freshman houses, and several “affiliate groups of women.” While Animal Quad did not come to fruition, there was still interest in setting up a few federations, each with male and female students, on a somewhat experimental basis. This would mean that men would live on East, and women on West. Student Les Hoffman wrote in The Chronicle, “The adoption of this proposal would be a significant first step in eliminating the girls’ school-that-just-happens-to-be-near-a-boys’ school atmosphere that often pervades this uniquely segregated University.” In this case, “co-ed” meant that men and women would be in separate but contiguous dormitories.

To test the waters of men and women actually living in the same hall, an experimental living group was planned, with Professor John Clum of the English department overseeing it. This became SHARE, or Student House for Academic and Residential Experimentation, which opened in 1970.

Along with SHARE, several federations were proposed for the upcoming 1970-71 school year, but logistical reasons interfered— the different administrations of Woman’s College and Trinity College had difficulties standardizing and coordinating issues like board, which was then required on East Campus. Over the 1970-71 school year, the Residential Life Committee again worked to smooth a path for the formation of federations. At the same time, the desire for truly co-ed dorms was growing. There were logistical challenges for this idea, too. For example, the dormitories did not have adequate bathrooms for an evenly divided group of men and women.

To allow the shifting of men and women across campuses, some fraternities and independent houses were asked to move, in some cases, to the opposite campus. These groups would then displace other students, so there were complex plans for moving various groups around, reported exhaustively in The Chronicle. In 1971, the school year opened with three formal federations: Kilgo and Few on West, and Baldwin on East. Each had a different character, depending on the houses that made up each federation. Some freshmen were also incorporated into independent houses and fraternities.

A three-year evaluation report in 1974 noted that there had been real success in creating an academic and social community, as well as areas that could use improvement, but concluded that federations should be further supported and expanded. Co-ed dormitories—men and women in the same residence—also expanded in the early 1970s, especially after the dissolution of the Woman’s College and bringing together of male and female students under Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.

In 1982, a Task Force on Federations issued a report in which they determined that the by then five federations had not created the communities that were originally envisioned. One reason was the lack of separate dining halls and lounges made it more difficult for the various houses in a federation to naturally come together. In addition, there was tension between independents and fraternities, and uneven faculty participation and guidance. In the end, the committee recommended a “de-emphasis” on federations, allowing them to continue if students were interested, but backing away from pursuing a campus-wide federation model. It did commend Professor Howard Strobel, the writer of the 1969 committee report recommending federations, for his unwavering support of and work for the federation model for over a decade. However, with waning enthusiasm, federations faded away by the 1984-85 school year.

Unlike federations, the QuadEx model brings the entire undergraduate class into the quad concept. As ever at Duke, the residential experience will change, sometimes dramatically as it did in the early 1970s, but never without the ingenuity and creativity of Duke students who care deeply about the Duke experience, and the experience of future generations of students.

Gillispie is the university archivist.

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Diane Weddington, '72, MDiv'76's picture
Your summary fails to mention the years when all Duke freshmen were made to live on East. QuadX is a bad idea, a very dim copy of Princeton's and Yale's eating clubs. If I'd been made to live for four years with the people I first lived with at Duke, I'd never have lasted. Please do not haul out the old saw of meeting other people outside your living group through classes together. Artificial segregations such as QuadX are doomed to failure because they limit the natural choice of people and activities which are the heart of being a college student and learning about people who different.