“Community”, “support”, “commonality”, “comradery”, “unity” – these words represent universal ideals. They are things we strive towards and yearn for but are often difficult to find, obtain, or maintain.
This struggle is especially true at a place like Duke where each individual has their own passions, creeds, beliefs, and values. Yes, this breadth of interest and knowledge is incredible and has great potential to impact the world. But, when surrounded by so many talented individuals pursuing impressive feats, it is all too easy to feel lost and alone. We feel like a little fish in a very big pond, and it is challenging to keep swimming. We have organized groups to foster a sense of community, but there is no guarantee that membership in these groups will lead to feelings of support. Sometimes, membership just further emphasizes the divides between individuals or groups.
During my time at Duke, there have been few instances when I have felt an overarching sense of community within the student body. The first case is Duke Basketball; I have never felt more united with my fellow students than I have while watching a Duke Basketball game. It is difficult to describe the comradery that forms between students while watching a game. We are all deeply invested in the outcome and our feelings of excitement build off each other. Whether squished together in Cameron or huddled together in Krafthouse, there is a noticeable synchronization of our cheers, yells, screams, whoops, and groans, and it feels as if we have become one united body.
A second instance is Me Too monologues. At this event, students come together to hear the stories of other students. Students show up and offer a space for their fellow students to share their experiences, struggles, and vulnerabilities. At Me Too, individuals show support and take the time to consider the battles that other people are facing. The program facilitates a commonality by emphasizing that we all have struggles, pointing out the fact that we never know what other people are dealing with at a particular moment. Me Too reminds people that they are not alone in their struggles, that they do not have to fight their battles alone.
But, I have recently realized that these feelings of comradery and commonality do not last for long. When the clock runs out, everyone claps and cheers for a bit but almost immediately after, they disperse and return to their respective locations—literally and figuratively—on campus.
Similarly, we give a standing ovation to the actors and writers of Me Too, showing our support for their stories and experiences, but then we leave East Duke and continue on with our lives. How soon do the vulnerabilities and raw emotions we hear and experience leave us? How quickly do we forget our internal commitment to focus less on our own struggles and more on those of our friends and fellow students? How soon do we return to the feeling that we are alone in our battles? It is disheartening for me to consider how quickly my thoughts, emotions, and priorities returned to what they were before the show. I was barely on the bus back to West before I started thinking about the next event on my schedule for the night. Regrettably, I was immediately re-consumed by the hustle and bustle of the “Duke lifestyle.”
So, the question remains: why is this sense of comradery and commonality so short-lived?
While there is no concrete answer to this question, I cannot help but wonder whether the temporality of these feelings relates to insincerity. We all jump to express our inner Cameron Crazie or our ardent support for a production like Me Too, but I suspect we do so out of a sense of obligation. It is almost as if it’s a Duke requirement to be a basketball fan or to attend Me Too monologues. As a result, we are not intentional in our support, which limits its effectiveness. If we truly desire to develop a lasting sense of community, we must be deliberate in our search, looking for commonalities with others outside the structured times in which commonalities are temporarily found. Finally, it is important to note that I am not arguing to shut down things like Duke Basketball or Me Too monologues. However, I do believe it is crucial to consider where feelings of unity and support originate from as well as why they never seem to last.