more conscious of my place

Author name
Alex Shapanka

I’ve always hated when classes require you to do weekly responses for the reading. As if processing one hundred pages a week on eighteenth-century European expansionism wasn’t enough work. It’s always just told me that the professor doesn’t trust us to actually read. Apparently, we need some sort of accountability to do what we’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to do. Also, so what if we skip the reading? Our final grades will suffer, the professor won’t. This semester I’m taking a course on Antonio Gramsci that has no written assignments save for a final paper. The rest is reading, which I actually do. Shocker – not that it helps me understand what the heck Gramsci was trying to express. Grappling with the reading is hard enough.

But while I’m convinced some classes have response papers to make it look like the students are doing work, there is value in writing about the reading. These assignments force us to sit and think about what we just consumed. They inherently put us in a state of reflection helping us to better comprehend and perhaps appreciate the material.

With college quickly coming to a close, I, like every other senior, have been contemplating my time here and what it means for the next steps. Sometimes I sit on the plaza or the McClendon walkway and just take it all in and think. I remember the days when 1,500 freshmen would wait in a mob at the East Campus bus stop on a Friday night and would fight each other to get on the C1 to go out on West. Those times are over. Duke has changed. For better or for worse? And have the policy shifts impacted who I am as a graduate? Who knows? There are arguments for all sides. Reflecting on the change, asking the questions and trying to figure out some answers will help us value our experience here and understand our principles.

Operating solely within our heads, however, can lead to a rush of thoughts that are difficult to organize. As much as it pains me to say it, weekly response papers help navigate the corresponding literature. Putting pen to paper makes me more conscious of what I am thinking and will in turn say.

During the summer of 2011, I went to Belfast on Duke Engage, which exposed me to a lot of history and information that was difficult to process in only two months. To help gain a firmer grasp on my time in Northern Ireland, I maintained a blog with daily updates about the journey. In doing so, I was more conscious of my place in that foreign city. Serving as a student blogger for Student Affairs this year has afforded me the same self-awareness (in addition to some self-indulgence and nostalgia). By writing about issues on campus every week or so, I had to think more critically about the whole situation to provide a more comprehensive opinion. It has assisted me in knowing who I am at Duke and what Duke is to me.

I still submit that some weekly responses are a waste of time, but response papers can be important, particularly the ones we draft on our own volition. Through writing, we learn. So try blogging.