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Housing, Dining & Residence Life

Housing, Dining & Residence Life

What I Say, As An RA

October is one of the hardest months of the fall semester, especially for freshmen. Up until midterms, the first few weeks of class are a time for settling in, meeting new people, and trying out new clubs at Duke. After about a month of wavering between friend groups and activities, many freshmen start to wear out and become frustrated with their experience. Around this same time, they are taking their first midterms and writing their first papers, adding to the overall stress of feeling uncomfortable here.

Midterms can leave freshmen shocked and disappointed with themselves. Most of them are accustomed to being straight-A, top of the class students, and they expect to continue this successful academic trend in college. It’s frustrating to work as hard in college as in high school, but receive substantially lower scores. In many math and science classes, the average test grade can be lower than 50%, and even though the freshmen know their classmates all failed the test with them, it’s still hard for them to feel comfortable with the score. It takes time at Duke to realize that being average here is something to be proud of. We’re surrounded by superstars of all types, inside and outside of the classroom, so being perfectly average is actually amazing compared to the world outside the Duke bubble. With time the freshman class will begin to understand that they don’t have to live up to the expectations of high school. Courses in college are designed differently than they are in high school, and it takes a couple semesters for students to build a new academic identity.

Another aspect of college freshmen struggle with during the fall is finding their niche. From O-Week up to about the third week of class, East Campus is an exciting place to be. There are always new people to meet and new events to attend. It’s almost like summer camp. As the school year becomes more intense, people have less free time and the social scene dies down. Freshmen start to feel lonely and can’t seem to find a place where they fit in at Duke. Friend groups from O-Week can dissolve quickly once classes start, and there aren’t any more large orientation events to help the entire class meet new people. After the activity fair is over it can also be difficult for freshmen to find student groups that interest them.

In my experience, it took more than the first few weeks to fully understand where I fit in at Duke. It took me my full freshman year, and my idea of where I belong is still evolving. It’s important for freshmen to keep trying new activities to meet new people, especially when they’re at the point of giving up. It’s frustrating to feel out of place for such a long time, but the only way they’ll find their place at Duke is if they continue exploring.

Balancing work and social life is a third way freshmen have to adjust around this time of year. This combines what I previously said: trying to get good grades while also making friends. School and social life always seem to be at odds with each other. To stay in and study, or go out and have fun? Something that impressed me my freshman year was how many people decided to stay in to do work rather than go out. It often seems like everyone goes out to parties on weekends, but only because we don’t see the people studying in their rooms or the library. It will take time, but eventually freshmen will find friend groups who will help each other make good decisions about balancing life.

If I could give all the freshmen one word of advice this semester (and I do as an RA), it would be “patience.” Balancing the workload and finding true friends takes time for everyone. No one makes a best friend immediately. Relationships need time to grow and strengthen. At this point in the semester it gets tough to keep a positive attitude through feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, but no freshman is alone in this struggle. It’s a class-wide difficulty that happens every year in college across the country. Luckily for the freshmen at Duke, they’re at one of the most diverse colleges in the nation. There’s something for everyone here, and as long as they don’t give up they’ll figure out where they fit in. Before we know it, the class of 2018 will be next year’s sophomores and a new set of freshmen will arrive on campus looking to them for guidance on how to find their way at Duke.

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My Residence Life Family

As a junior I thought I was prepared for the upcoming school year, especially in my role as a second year RA on East Campus. I expected my life to be relatively similar to my sophomore year in Bell Tower, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the changes that have come with a new RA team in Blackwell this year. Not only do I have 34 new freshmen in my hallway, but I also have five new RA’s who have become my residence life family.

Even as an RA, I sometimes feel slightly out of place being an upperclassman on a freshman campus. It’s hard to maintain relationships with the people in my own class because I live far away, and sometimes it’s difficult to be close friends with freshmen because they view RA’s as an authority. But that’s why it’s important to have a few RA friends who are in the same situation. Facing the same challenges brings us closer together, and when the RA team is strong, the overall community of the dorm is stronger, too.

The Blackwell team this year is five sophomores and myself, so I’ve become the “veteran” RA. I’m more confident this year in my ability to build community through planning events, and I’ve helped the new RA’s to learn about the logistics of our role; the paperwork, planning, and meetings can be a little confusing at the beginning of the year. However, I have had a lot to learn from them as well. They bring fresh new ideas to the team, and they have renewed my enthusiasm for building community. It can be frustrating when people don’t come to programs, but having a team of new RA’s who are excited to work hard for the dorm is refreshing and inspiring.

Before the freshmen arrived on campus, the RA’s went through a week of training to learn and practice the skill of solving problems. We discussed the policies and procedures of dealing with various situations ranging from alcohol and drugs to homesick and depressed students. It’s a lot of information to pack into one week, and after training during the day the teams in each dorm completed tasks such as putting up bulletin boards, making door decorations, and checking for damages. Training could be overwhelming and stressful, but the challenges provided a great way to bond with the other RA’s on our teams. We worked in small groups to accomplish tasks and shared individual experiences during training sessions to help each other learn about new ways to solve problems. When we weren’t working we spent time together at the gym, watching movies, and getting to know one another better. I’m appreciative to have such a supportive team to work with this year, and I’m excited to see how we’ll continue working together to create a home for the freshmen of Blackwell.

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New Off-Campus Housing Site

Looking for off-campus housing? Housing, Dining and Residence Life (HDRL) has you covered!

We are proud to announce the launch of a new website to simplify the off-campus housing search for students, parents, faculty and staff, and for area property owners and managers.

The new site offers a user-friendly, searchable database for housing around campus, and in the broader Durham area. It includes photographs and floor plans; descriptions of amenities; maps showing proximity to campus; links to property owner information; a roommate matching feature; and more.

We hope you find this tool useful in your search for off campus housing that meets your needs.

For more information, please visit studentaffairs.duke.edu/hdrl and click on “living off campus” in the left hand menu. Questions? Contact HDRL at housing@studentaffairs.duke.edu.

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Green Dining Awards

Duke Dining locations recognized for sustainability efforts!

It isn't uncommon for Fares Hanna, the owner of Twinnie's and Blue Express eateries on campus, to spend time researching user-friendly, compostable to-go containers or rearranging his kitchens to accommodate reusable china and silverware.

Both locations were just crowned "Most Improved" in the Green Dining Awards, which highlights Duke eateries and their sustainable practices every year, since 2010.

Read more.

 

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Duke Dining Bans Styrofoam

Read about it here on Duke Today!

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You can't spell art without RA

Do you ever pay attention to the walls of your dorm? I know I don’t. Usually I’m in such a rush that the trip out of my room, down the stairs, and into the cold outdoors is just a blur. However, after talking with a senior RA on West campus, I'm starting to pay attention to the wall art around my dorm.

Torie Scott, a second year RA in Kilgo House O, created a small photo gallery titled “One Wild and Precious Life” in an entrance of her dorm. It was her Resident Coordinator’s idea to put up photographs of nature in the otherwise empty lobby, and in the coming weeks they plan to have a grand opening “party” (the RA version of a party) to celebrate her work. After she graduates, the plan is to have another RA next year change the scenery in the gallery with new photographs.

As a lucky second year resident of Hotel Bell on East, I realize the importance of the appearance of the inside of a dorm. It truly makes a difference to the experience on campus. I’ve become slightly spoiled living in one of the best looking residence halls I’ve seen so far at Duke. The halls are painted orange and yellow with wooden panels across the lower half, and the rooms are all freshly painted and carpeted. There is some art around the dorm, too, but it is not student produced (as far as I know). It seems like it’s there to take up space on the wall rather than to inspire students. It would be great if we had more displays of student creativity around our living spaces. Art produced by fellow Duke students would give dorms a personal and inviting atmosphere, something they currently lack.

While her residents haven’t said very much about the gallery yet, news about her project will spread after the opening party. However, the purpose of the gallery isn’t to create a powerful bonding experience among residents; rather, it reminds Duke students of the world outside stressful academics and activities at school. The green photos of leaves, dragonflies, and flowers represent the small beautiful sights in life that we frequently overlook in our rush through each day at Duke. The precious world outside the classroom is a refreshing theme to encounter here. Her gallery also serves to show the creativity of a Duke student who cares about her dorm. I asked Torie what she wanted me to take away from our conversation, and she told me that she just loved being an RA; it’s one of the best commitments she’s made at Duke. She enjoys being a resource for her residents and creating a healthy, friendly community in her hall. While the gallery may not help people to make friends, it shows them that someone cares about the dorm. Someone wants it to be a welcoming, colorful place to live.

Torie will be graduating this spring. Torie’s title “One Wild and Precious Life” sums up the experience at Duke perfectly. Our precious four years here are passing more quickly than we ever imagined they could.

Audience: 

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Collaborative Efforts Help to Feed Those in Need

On any given day, Urban Ministries of Durham may provide about 600 meals between breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thanks to a partnership between Duke Dining and Urban Ministries of Durham, some of those meals are easier to plan, prepare and provide to people in need. Last week, Duke handed over between 50 to 75 pounds of food to the local shelter that will use it to feed local residents. Read full article here.

 

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It's All About Perspective

By the end of freshman year most students have come to love East Campus.  Frankly, I still miss East in a lot of ways.  I miss knowing that almost everyone on the quad was a member of my class.  I wish that I could still count on the fact that it was more likely than not that I would run into someone I knew when getting breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I will always think that Brodeie is way better than Wilson, and I will feel a stronger affiliation to Southgate than any other place I’ve lived on campus.  For me, East Campus means community.  There is an overwhelming sense that the people you are living with get you.  Everyone comes into freshman year vulnerable, and looking for a sense of belonging.  The East Campus community was deliberately designed to foster that very sense of belonging, and was directly tied to where you live. As a freshman, I had so much pride in my dorm, and was quick to claim that it was far superior to any other.  I loved that I was really close with the people in my hall, and that the norm was to keep your door open instead of closed.  All of these things in some small way, helped me to find a sense of place at Duke.

But, what happens when you leave? Objectively, West Campus is a different world.  Suddenly, you can’t be sure whether the person in line with you at The Loop is a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior.  You don’t know whether the people in your common room actually live in your dorm, or are just passing through.  Many times you won’t know everyone in your hall, and the doors seem to be closed more often than they are open.  West Campus is an adjustment, and a lot of times I felt like a small fish in a big pond.  It’s hard when all of your friends don’t live in the same place that you do, and it can feel lonely at times.  I always thought it was interesting that something so small, like a shift in campuses, can have such an impact on the sense of community that students feel.  It makes sense.  It’s hard when your friends don’t live right down the hall, and making plans changes from knocking on someone’s door to scheduling time to meet up.

I guess what I’m getting at, is that sophomore slump is real, and its okay to feel lonely.  I know tons of students who have said that sophomore year was a rude awakening.  I think that these feelings of disenchantment are tied to two things, a lack of community (attributed to leaving East Campus), and increased academic expectations.  Sophomore year comes with a whole new set of challenges.  Leaving the insecurities of freshman year behind, students are confronted with harder classes, greater extracurricular involvement, and a new environment.  I think that all of these things together make it harder for students to feel the sense of community that they had as a freshman.  But, sophomore year has its advantages too, and West Campus has its own sense of community though different.

I had a serious bout of sophomore slump.  I felt alone a lot of the time, and it bothered me that all of my closest friends were spread out all over campus.  My classes were hard, and I had to completely rethink the way that I studied and prepared.  I spent a lot of time wishing that I could go back to freshman year, to my small Southgate bubble, to the comforts of introductory classes, and the reliability of Market Place brunches.  But, sophomore year was also a time of growth.  I learned to look at some of my stressors as opportunities.  Even though it frustrated me that I didn’t feel the same sense of community on West Campus, it forced me to be proactive about seeking it out.  My sophomore slump helped me to make a concerted effort to seek friends out.  Closed doors in my hall, allowed me to make conversation with people in the common room.  Hard classes helped me to build a broader network, and to meet with professors on a regular basis.  Don’t let the slump get you down!  It may no be freshman year, but sophomore year can be just as amazing.  It’s all about perspective.

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