6,500 type A's Living Together: What could go wrong?


Contributed by Alex Shapanka

“Duke culture” – a compound noun that both students and faculty enjoy throwing around in various contexts for their own agendas, yet in each instance the word rears its head, it stands without explanation. Amazingly everyone believes they know the identity of this ambiguous phantom that haunts our campus. If you ask any student about “Duke culture” or “campus culture” they know precisely to what you’re referring, the culture that allegedly pervades the Gothic Wonderland. Work hard. Play hard. While that mentality may apply to some, it surely neglects the majority of Duke’s population. I know plenty of students who do not work very hard and even more who do not play very hard, which is of course the Duke approved euphemism for partying.

The “work hard, play hard” mentality has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even as we sat in the pews of the chapel during convocation, we as Duke students were given an identity. We were from then on individuals who work hard and play hard. As I listened to what Dukies are made out to be, I fully accepted the character of the student body. From a certain perspective it sounds brilliant. It is reducible to Duke students achieve, both academically and socially. We adopt “work hard, play hard” as Duke’s tagline because we’re told to do so, not because it’s actually how we feel.

Perpetuating a false reality of campus culture has been detrimental to student health. Let’s break it down piece-wise. “Work hard.” With 6,500 type A’s attending the same academically rigorous institution, it might be a little redundant to say the students work hard. What’s worse, underscoring the fervor with which students approach their courses creates a pressure to succeed. We hear that other students are studying for their midterms two weeks in advance, which in turn stresses us out and forces us to do the same. Working hard takes on a new meaning at Duke. It does not mean dedication and diligence to studies. At our university working hard has devolved into a competition among the students, a competition to see who can complain about being the busiest or most stressed. While there is a sense of camaraderie in riding the struggle bus, please recognize there is no need to complain about how much effort you’re putting into your work. The more time you talk about it, the less time you actually spend doing it, which creates more stress if you’re on a deadline. Moreover, you’re likely to make someone else feel an unnecessary sense of urgency with his or her own work.

Do the level of work you feel is necessary for what you want to accomplish here, but don’t complain about it. Know that by constantly seeking sympathy for the amount of work you have generates an unhealthy atmosphere of anxiety and pressure on campus. It also wrongly suggests that all Duke students work hard. It’s not true. There are some individuals who need to put in little energy to do well. Some of us, myself included have moments of endless assignments and tests, but we also have weeks of boredom from lack of work.

Admit that Duke is manageable. You can control your schedule to have some downtime. Now some of you are probably shaking your heads saying there’s no way. False. College is about striking a balance between work and free time. If you get stressed about activities or organizations you participate in during your free time, perhaps you should consider eliminating some of them.

While we’re on the subject on downtime, let’s dispel rumors that Duke students “play hard.” I understand the urge to blow off steam at the end of a stressful week. Unwinding, however, does not require us to engage in a destructive lifestyle. Yes some of us will drink more than we should on the weekends after handing in a twenty-page research paper. But that is NOT the majority of this campus. Some of us enjoy sleeping in, vegetating on the plaza and watching movies. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t exactly qualify a day of napping in the gardens as “playing hard.”

Countless times I’ve had people tell me they didn’t party in high school, and it was not until they came to Duke that they started drinking. I would be curious to know how many of us were the same and why many of us sometimes choose to “play hard.” How much of our decision is an independent choice, and how much is influenced by what we’re told Duke students are from the moment we step on to this campus?

In his essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation,” the French philosopher Louis Althusser wrote, “Ideology interpellates individuals as subjects.” You become a subject by being hailed or called by institutions. Our identities are crafted by social forces, not by ourselves. If you unaware of Duke’s alcohol policy and are caught partying on east campus, you are not conscious of being a student who “plays hard” until the administration calls you one. You recognize that you’re not just an individual but you are a subject in a societal category.

Therefore it is essential to discard the labels we impose on Duke students. Their existence allows for the recognition of an identity, one with unhealthy tendencies. The habits of the few do not apply to all, and it’s time we recognize that. Duke culture is socially constructed. That is, we ascribe certain attributes to being a “Duke student,” though they do not pertain to everyone. Duke is not just over zealous sports fans. It is not just a bunch of intellectually driven individuals. Nor is it just a party. Duke, its culture, is all of these things and more. It cannot be generalized. Duke culture is not something that needs to be reimaged but understood by all members of the Duke community.