Surviving and Thriving… As a Community

By Rachel Revelle

PChange-300x225We rounded up this year’s Project Change class Tuesday night to reflect on their time at Duke since we first gathered last August. It’s amazing how time flies – it was hard to believe a full semester had passed, and that these students were now shaping their own Duke experiences. We shared some observations about life at Duke:

  • Each week passes incredibly quickly, and can be filled with so many things that are basically up to your choosing.
  • It is exciting to be a part of Duke’s momentum! Even when you feel challenged, that is a good thing because you are a part of a collective effort of excellence.
  • Duke is generally an extroverted school and there is pressure to be social.
  • Time management is up to you.  Learning to say no is an important lesson.
  • You can always find a group of people to join you in a crazy activity.  Try something new!
  • Duke students generally do not take full advantage of the resources at their fingertips.
  • Duke students are overwhelmingly intense about their pursuits. Learn to invest in the things that truly interest you, and also be able to relax!
  • Experiencing failure is often a new phenomenon for Duke students. Remember that failure builds resilience!
  • Consider what you value, and act with intentionality to align with those values.

To me this list speaks of growing into independence – the excitement that that holds, as well as the hangups that can get in the way. Duke is a thriving place to come into adulthood.  What students make of it is largely up to them, and each way to make it can be right!

Growing into independence is of course influenced by the people and the community around you, but it ultimately means figuring out how you are going to live your life as a distinctive person. The list above mostly reflects an individual’s experience. What happens when these individual impulses aggregate into Duke norms? What responsibilities do we have for one another as fellow members of a Duke community? You might call our list a quick guide to survive and thrive, but what about the relationship to the larger whole?

A little bit of energy and awareness from multiple individuals to shaping their community for the better can go a long way. That may take the form of active leadership roles in organizations around campus, but these roles are also part of an individual’s driven path. I think we should also recognize the value of relational leadership, of purposefully connecting with peers about issues that affect the whole. Just as we did on Tuesday, a collective conversation can point out the things that overlap in what may seem like our isolated experiences.

A great example of an effort at collective conversation is the Me Too Monologues, which will be showcased this weekend for the fifth year at Duke. The Kenan Campus Grants program has co-sponsored this event for the past two years. The purpose is to create meaningful exchanges between students about identity, and how various personal narratives intertwine and relate. In a Chronicle article about Me Too, one of our Project Change freshman, Kari Barclay, was interviewed about his upcoming monologue performance, and the significance of the program. He sees Me Too “as a much-needed open forum for meaningful discussion between Duke students” and explains, “Me Too gets to a deeper level of reflection and talks about things you aren’t going to hear on the bus.”

We like to hear this from our PChangers! Another student, reflecting on how Project Change shaped her introduction to Duke, said that it raised her awareness of certain issues that she now finds herself gravitating towards on campus. We introduce incoming students to ideas of community and ethical leadership, and even though it may take time for them to fully understand the lessons learned, it is also gratifying to see the influence in more diffuse ways.  Hopefully Project Change alumni add to a network of people trying to be aware, thoughtful, and in dialogue with others about how we can survive and thrive not only as individuals, but also as a community.