DU’ing WELL on East – Connections & Corrections


by Sean Novak, Center for Multicultural Affairs

So much has happened on East since the last time I shared my journey with you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still strange and these people are still weird. However, the more I interact with them the more they seem a little bit normal. I know it’s unbelievable but it’s true.

Since last time I shared my journey, I had the opportunity to meet with Christine Pesetski. She said something that blew my mind. Did you know that DukeReach/Case Management and Student Conduct are two separate offices? I guess it was just lazy research on my part. Also, like I mentioned in my last blog I was a rather “spirited” young man in my youth and developed a fear of anything related to “conduct” or “cases.” However, as I talked with Christine (DukeReach/Case Management) and also talked with David Frankel (Student Conduct), they really broke down some of my misconceptions regarding these offices. Someone who visits DukeReach/Case Management is not “a case.” A student who goes to Student Conduct is not a “bad student.” We all have slip-ups. I had so many slip-ups in my youth that you might have thought I was perpetually walking barefoot on ice. The truth is we all need support at some point in our life. Personally, I think you have to be a pretty oblivious person to think that you have done it all on your own (unless your Chuck Norris.) Many of us just don’t seek the support we have available or we don’t get caught.

The truth is that DukeReach/Case Management provides support such as “interventions, advocacy, referrals and follow-up services for students who are experiencing significant difficulties related to mental health, physical health, and/or psycho-social adjustment.” Now that might sound like heavy stuff. However, I think it’s just a bunch of big (yet useful and explanatory) words that pretty much say, “You need help? We got your back! We can give you direction.” Who wouldn’t want that? Although it is easy to feel it may be stigmatizing to seek or be referred to help like this, trust me, we do much more stigmatizing things on our own when we don’t seek help and turn to unhealthy forms of coping. Trust me on this. I’ve been down that road. I wish I had an Amy Powell or Christine Pesetski there to guide me when I was your age and younger.

Student Conduct on the other hand, they do something a little different. My preconceived notion was simple, “You be bad and you go conduct… that’s that.” Now there might be a sparkle of truth to that if you get caught engaging in behavior that would be closely aligned with “knuckleheadedness” (it’s a word, trust me) then you might end up here.  When you engage in behavior that delineates from the Duke Community Standard, you may be referred here. However, they do so much more than that and you are not “a bad person” if you do end up here against your desire. Like I said, we all make mistakes. They didn’t call me Knucklehead Novak for nothing back in the day. However, I came to realize that I wasn’t a knucklehead I just did knuckleheaded things. There’s a big difference.

At the end of the day, Student Conduct “promotes personal responsibility and encourages honesty, integrity and respect among Duke students.” They really take an educational approach to what they do. They don’t throw you in the dungeon with the rest of “the undesirables” and serve you slop for the semester. They really take an approach that challenges you to assess your own values and how the behavior you may have engaged in intersects with those values. In addition to this, Student Conduct also provides support and advocates for student victims of crime, illness, harassment, and other crises that may occur. They are here to pick you up when you fall and/or are knocked down. They are like the Robin to your Batman. The primary difference is that only half of the staff in Student Conduct dress similarly to Robin while at work (I’m looking at you Leslie Grinage and Stephen Bryan.)

After talking with them, I realized how great of a resource they are to the students and their colleagues here at Duke. I picked up on a couple of commonalities between the philosophical approaches of the CMA, Case Management, and Student Conduct. In the CMA, we are often working to break down dichotomous notions of oppression. In DukeReach/Case Management they break down these binaries too. Going to DukeReach/Case Management does not make you “a case.” The same can be said with Student Conduct. Going to Student Conduct does not make you a “bad person.” People are much more complex then simple black and white descriptions. As a social justice educator I’m very persistent in breaking down this “good guy/bad guy” perspective when it comes to social justice. You know the story. Those people are the racists over there! Those people are the sexists over there! Those people are the homophobes over there! It’s never us though, right? Even within the social justice community we often fall into this and exceptionalize ourselves. We have a habit of internalizing ourselves as “apart from” instead of “a part of” the larger problem.

On a final note, I still remember being an undergraduate student and being lost. I never found myself in offices like these but I really wish I would have (I might have graduated sooner.) I just never utilized the support that was available to me at that time. Don’t be a young Sean! Use the support you have available.

That’s all I have today. Join me for my next blog when I share my interactions with some of the DUWELL crew. Oh they're a doozy!