In almost four years at Duke, senior Jake Jeffries has had the residential experience that he hoped for: Friends, intellectual engagement and social opportunities to explore new interests. But he knows that some of those opportunities haven’t been available to other students.
And to Jeffries, Duke may be competitive to get into, but students shouldn’t have to compete to thrive in residential life here.
“Duke hasn’t been doing a poor job,” Jeffries said, adding that most students have successful residential experiences. “But to have a greater impact on undergraduate life, we need to create a campus that is more equitable for students, both for academic engagement, social engagement and professional opportunities. To help all students flourish, we need to make those opportunities available to all.”
This week, Duke took a step toward the creation of a more vibrant, inclusive campus community, as outlined in President Price’s strategic framework, Toward Our Second Century. On Thursday, Professor and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Gary Bennett and Vice President for Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon announced a new residential model called QuadEx that will extend the best of Duke’s social and intellectual opportunities to all students.
The plan’s keystone is the creation of new residential communities, centered around seven West Campus Quads, that will support students throughout all four years of their undergraduate experience. East Campus residence halls housing first-year students will be permanently connected to quad communities on West Campus, allowing students greater opportunity to connect to one another and to the many resources Duke offers.
In addition: QuadEx will:
- Empower students to build their own identities and traditions for each of the quads. Students will also have stronger say in shaping opportunities for programming intellectual and co-curricular exploration, developing life-skills and career interests and social activity, all created and organized through their quads.
- Increase university resources and support for quad programming, social events, and other community building activities.
- Enhance access to faculty, alumni, and other sources of mentoring.
- Allow students to develop a wider and more inclusive range of personal connections and experiences.
Parts of the plan have already been implemented, but the major elements will be operational beginning in Fall of 2022 with the arrival of the Class of 2026. Full information about the plan can be found on the QuadEx website.
In announcing the new residential system, Bennett and McMahon said QuadEx furthers the university’s long history of making residential life an essential element in fulfilling the promise Duke makes to all students to provide a transformative undergraduate experience. But they also emphasized that the plan doesn’t tear away at Duke traditions, but builds upon the many existing strengths of student life here.
A central consideration was that current students are looking for a different residential experience than when the present housing system was developed.
“We are a very different Duke today than we were just a few years ago,” Bennett said. “And yet, that distinctive Duke identity binds us across generations. We are spirited, hard working, fun and committed to our passions. What we want to do is make sure that everyone who comes to Duke is supported so that they feel the same spirit that have always characterized this community.”
Students and administrators both pointed to two long-standing concerns that QuadEx will address.
One comes from years of survey evidence from students that some of the strong community feeling built during their first-year by the common residential experience on East Campus gets lost when they move to West Campus. By connecting East Campus houses permanently to West Campus quads, the hope is that sense of community will carry over to the sophomore year and beyond, aided by special programming during the transition to West and the new Sophomore Spark program designed to meet the developmental needs of that class.
Secondly, for decades, independent living students – those not in selective living groups such as fraternities or theme houses – routinely reported a lower quality of student experience. QuadEx will emphasize inclusion over selectivity, McMahon said.
“What we’ve heard is that selective living groups (SLGs) provide good experiences,” she said. “But the ones who are left out – which is the majority of our students - miss out on those opportunities. And even the ones who join SLGs miss out in being limited in their relationships, their connections and activities. Students themselves are telling us they want to see our system evolve.”
Under QuadEx, students will continue to have the opportunity to rush and join Greek and non-Greek SLGs during their sophomore year. However, the university will no longer provide housing for SLGs including Greek groups after the 2022-2023 school year. Instead, university support for these groups will shift towards mentorship, leadership development and organizational advising.
For senior and DSG president Christina Wang, the benefits of QuadEx begin with building a stronger community. Wang, who helped develop the plan, said QuadEx should provide students with the sense of community that they seek while also fostering “more diverse and inclusive communities.”
“But this model helps with certainty for students as well,” Wang said. “There is no stress related to deciding where to live and who to live with for independent students, and there is certainty upon arriving at Duke that there will be a community that is already welcoming and including them in social events and bonding—including upper-class students who lived in the quads before them, as well as faculty affiliates who support the Quad structure.”
And there will be fun, she added. “Students will still be able to join selective social groups such as Greek Life and SLGs but will also have more opportunities to host fun events on campus with other groups of friends that can be funded by Quad councils.”
McMahon said one strength of QuadEx comes from empowering students to take responsibility for developing the social and co-curricular activities that they want. “Students will be driving the agenda,” she said.
QuadEx is the result of several years of research and stakeholder engagement, which began in 2018 when President Price charged the Next Generation Living and Learning Experience (NGLLE) Task Force to develop a vision for the future of residential life at Duke. This past spring, a follow-on committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, known as NGLLE 2.0, carried the vision forward and made recommendations to the administration, which formed the basis for QuadEx.
“Throughout the entire NGLLE process, we conducted extensive interviews with alumni, students, faculty, and staff across the campus,” said Bennett. “Students were involved in the review and decisions throughout the multi-year effort.”
Both students involved in the project and administrators believe QuadEx will shape how students experience and remember Duke for years to come.
“I’m hopeful that this becomes an identity that students can tie themselves to Duke,” said Jeffries, who helped contribute to the plan through the NGLLE 2.0 committee. “Duke does a good job of tying student identity to Big Duke, but hopefully through easier access to academics and social engagement through the residential quads, they will also become part of that identity.”
Said Bennett: “I hope in the future when two Duke alumni meet anywhere in the world, their first question to each other will be, ‘what class were you?’ And I hope their second question will be ‘What quad were you in?’”