Dear Class of 2023,
Welcome to Duke! During orientation week, you will explore campus and discover the Duke Difference. Few people will delve into how to actually thrive at Duke beyond academics. As a first generation scholar at Duke, I have had to work overtime and recruit allies to overcome the challenges students face. I’m also Black, queer, and here to offer some strategies for navigating life and spaces at Duke. When I was a freshman, the biggest obstacles I faced dealt financial support, time management, nutrition, and mental health. Through those challenges, I learned a lot about myself and what I need to thrive here. So far, my journey has motivated me to advocate for myself and to forge the W.I.R.E.S. every student needs to navigate life at Duke.
W=Who are you?
Being at Duke is like being in your own mini-country. It has its own notions of politics and power. I realized what fires me up, frustrates me, and fascinates me just by existing in this space. Duke is a social laboratory where you get you to explore and experiment with who you are and how you move in this world. In my time at Duke, the most important question I’ve been asked is “Who are you?”. I had no clue who I was before Duke. I just knew who wasn’t or who I didn’t want to (i.e. Booboo the Fool). It took me four semesters to come up with a genuine and authentic answer to that question. For me, figuring out who I was meant changing the name that I responded to and owning what I was proudest of which was my resilience. Thinking about who you are reveals what spaces you want to be in and who you want around you. I found a site that suggest looking at your V.I.T.A.L.S, which stands for values, interests, temperament, around-the-clock-activities, life mission, and strengths, to assess who you are and what you need to thrive. Knowing who you are helps with fleshing out your purpose. Your purpose is key in mapping your unique pathway at Duke as you connect passions and interests to shape your education and future career. Although Duke culture is highly comparative, college is not race! We will all get the degrees we put in the work for.
Being at Duke is like being at a four-year long Student Activities Fair. Any given week, minus finals week, there is always an engaging event to attend. Every department, every organization, every club is hosting events, general body meetings, or discussions throughout the semester. So, no matter what you are interested in, you’ll have the chance to explore current interests or unearth new ones. Duke provides premium access to art, research, and remarkable speakers. Students have numerous opportunities to intern or do research. And if the only extracurricular you want is a job, there are even on campus jobs that offer work study and non-work study positions. At Duke, I realized that I want to be everything from teacher to social worker, poet to lyricist, rapper to comedian, dancer to actress, math genius to film director, and the list goes on. As Duke students, we have so many dreams to pursue that it’s practically a nightmare because we fall into the trap of pursuing them all simultaneously to achieve the infamous notion of “effortless perfection”. Many of our peers try to be in every XYZ club to build their resume and stand out like we did in high school. However, Duke classes hit differently because the work of learning doesn’t end when the class ends. At Duke, you need to mentally devour textbooks, tackle problem sets, occupy help rooms, and attend office hours to get the average level of understanding for most courses. So, what you dedicate your time outside of class needs to matter to you. Pathways should be fueled your personal passions and interests, not ones you feel obligated or pressured to have. There is an “I” in interests, so you should look to who you are and aspire to be when choosing what to dedicate your time to.
While we are exploring our identities and chasing our dreams at Duke, we are bound to hit roadblocks or get stressed out. During my first two years at Duke, I reached out to many resource centers on campus including Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), Academic Resources Center (ARC), and Nutritional Services, to work through each crisis. Not every center works for every student, but they’re all available for students to use while enrolled. If you encounter any issue, you can research centers independently, or look to Duke Reach to get connected with other resources. Two overlooked resources are the financial health counselors and the Women’s Center. The financial health counselors can assist with managing savings and expenses, like providing guidance on building credit or paying off loans. The Women’s Center has a primarily Black staff and they also provide counseling services along with gender violence prevention training. Overall, when you need it or even before you need it, seek help because it’s here and you deserve it.
Being at Duke is like being thrown into a comic book world because students feel like they are surrounded by superheroes with immense talent and intelligence. You may feel the same way about peers you see flying through courses and assignments you’re getting stuck on. Remember, every superhero has a mask that we can’t see through. And, despite the myths, success at Duke is not effortless and requires substantially more effort than high school. Most work at Duke takes long hours for one assignment or project. All pathways at Duke will take commitment and consistent effort like any good dream would. As you explore who you are and your interests, you will come to decide what work is worth the effort for you and for your future. As you take classes, you will learn where your effort level is and where it needs to go to achieve whatever your dream is. If those levels aren’t equal, students have spectacular resources and faculty that can support your efforts.
Being at Duke is like being an entrepreneur with your education serving as your start up company. And it’s up to you to develop your vision for that education and what fuels it. Similar to a business, you need a Board of Directors to help you manage your academics and support your efforts as you pursue your degree. At Duke, your Board of Directors is made of professors, deans, and counselors that provide insight and/or advocate for you. As you take advantage of resources, your Board will expand and evolve to continue fit your needs and help your thrive at Duke.
Finally, Duke is an overwhelmingly beautiful and stressful place. As Duke students, we have access to resources, advocates to guide us, and agency to pursue vast opportunities. It's okay if we forget that some days because we have counselors, faculty, guardians, and our peers to remind us. Remember, nothing in college is effortless. The journey to your Duke degree is about passion, persistence and progress--not perfection. Class of 2023, you’ve all committed Duke. Now is the time to start forging your own W.I.R.E.S and commit to yourself!
Resident Queer Blacktivist
Duke Queer Blactivist