On a warm spring afternoon, sophomore residence assistant Dena Levin is leading a half-dozen freshmen through a tour of their future home – Keohane Quad. “This is our beautiful third floor,” she says and, motioning toward a door, “This is where the graduate resident lives.” The students’ questions are the same as ever: Where’s the laundry? What can you do in the common spaces? How noisy is the hall? Which halls have the biggest rooms? The answers are pretty much the same, too.
Levin’s tour is part of the most easily defined portion of QuadEx, Duke’s new “residential living and learning model,” which has just finished its first full year of implementation. QuadEx represents a rethinking of how undergraduates experience life at Duke, starting with their arrival freshman year and continuing through graduation. And as more pieces of the QuadEx system take shape – a revamped dorm assignment process, new social activities, changes to orientation, special events for usually forgotten sophomores – students are responding and adjusting.
The residential living aspect of QuadEx is relatively simple. When students come to Duke for their first year, they are assigned to dorms on East Campus, as they have been since 1995, when East began housing only freshmen. But in the new structure, each freshman dorm is related to a particular West Campus quad and its residents become members of that quad for their tenure at Duke. Their quad is their community, their social network. This means that when sophomore year arrives, they already know where they and their quadmates will live on West Campus. The quad moves as a group, no longer having to face the daunting gauntlet of housing choices of the past – fraternities and sororities, selective living groups, or independent living, all with their own rules, hurdles and challenges. The students in Levin’s tour were residents of Blackwell and Randolph freshman dorms, so they have known since they arrived at Duke that they will move to Keohane Quad their sophomore year.
The reasoning behind the changes may not be what you think, says Jenny Wood Crowley, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education – intellectual community. QuadEx isn’t about dorm rooms. “It’s very much a wellness initiative,” Crowley says. “It’s an equity initiative. This is not a housing model. This is a holistic way of creating community at Duke.”
In other words, Crowley says, QuadEx originated in the awareness that Duke had become not only selective in its admissions but also intimidating to participate in once students arrived. “We would have exclusive living groups, exclusive social groups” that students needed to choose midway through their freshman year, Crowley says. At that point, the administration saw a downturn in student satisfaction and sense of belonging. Freshmen who had just gotten their feet underneath them suddenly had to make decisions about their second-year living arrangement. “So once you got to Duke, you had to continue to hustle to be accepted. What we’re trying to do is take that mindset away. Like, ‘You’ve got in here. You’re good. You don’t need to keep hustling to be accepted.’”
So now you live in Alspaugh or Brown? Second year you live in Kilgo Quad. End of story. Students are required to live on campus their first three years, and now that commitment is not just an obligation but a community. You can choose your roommate and try to block up with other friends, but you don’t need to try out for a Greek organization or a selective living group to know where you’ll sleep. While Greek life and selective living groups, now mostly disaffiliated from campus, remain selective, your quad is your Duke home – a place where you are guaranteed admission, guaranteed acceptance, guaranteed belonging.
Says Crowley, “We took the selective groups out of the equation for those first-year students and said, ‘We know where you’re going to live next year. You don’t need to panic about it. You’re going to live in this dorm that is connected to you.’” That first family you make in your dorm will in some ways remain your extended family at Duke.
Each of the seven West Campus quads connected to QuadEx has a member-driven quad council that organizes events for all members and works to forge community, identity and traditions. And there is a non-resident faculty fellow for each quad, in the belief that increased interaction between students and faculty is another way to extend community.
The life-enhancement goal of QuadEx is about much more than just living arrangements. For example, starting this year, experiential orientation – weeklong projects such as Project Change, where incoming students together explore some aspect of Duke and Durham – is part of every orientation. Previously, these took place the week before regular orientation, meaning they were available only to students who could arrive a week early and pay the extra cost.
Nick Visco, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from Chapel Hill who is president of the Edens quad council and program director for Project Waves, thinks integrating the experiential projects is one of QuadEx’s success stories. “I did Project Waves” as a freshman. “I absolutely loved it. It was absolutely integral in my first-year experience, just creating my community here.” Sharing it with every freshman seems absolutely right to him, for both the community and equity reasons Crowley notes. In fact, he believes in the entire project: “I think the idea of QuadEx is fantastic,” he says.
But true change takes time. “In practice,” Visco says, “it isn’t quite hitting the mark.” He brings up what some non-freshmen have shared – that some in the classes of 2024 and 2025, last year’s sophomores and juniors, feel slighted. There were hiccups in dorm-choice rankings that affected some juniors, he notes. “A lot of my friends were, I think, kind of imagining a Duke life that was like what their family members experienced.” Duke had a reputation as a school with one kind of social life and it’s now working hard for a different kind. “When we applied,” says junior Heidi Smith, a computer science and English major from Ohio, “we had no idea this would happen. It feels very different from the social scene that Duke advertised when we applied.”
That was conscious, Crowley says. She saw the selectivity model not just causing unhappiness for many students but driving them toward the well-known caricature other schools paint of them: Never stopping, focused only on accomplishment and success, the consultant-in-training-from-New Jersey. “We bring these wonderful, nerdy, quirky kids to Duke, and then there’s something about the social pressures at Duke that grinds them down to fit into these very narrow molds of what it is to be successful, to be accepted,” she said.
The QUAD ARCH SYMBOLOGY
Part of belonging is identity, and each of the seven QuadEx quads has created a specially designed arch – resembling a coat of arms – based on its architecture and experiences. Junior computer science and economics major Robert Sprung, from Greenwich, Connecticut, is co-president of the Crowell quad council, and he’s worked on the quad identity project, helping design the arch image for Crowell.
“The insight into student voices on the quad identities project, creating the quad arches and visualizing them, has been a completely amazing thing,” he says. “They’re really thought-out and beautiful. And the university has [used] a lot of resources getting student voices and perspectives and really creating something authentic that embodies the university.” Quad swag is already showing up around Duke.
The Crowell arch serves as an example, though each arch has a similar story. Crowell chose a slogan, “ambitio et humilitas,” and colors: yellow for daylight and ambition, black for night and humility. The image has a tulip poplar, seen throughout Duke Forest, and goldenrod, seen in Duke Gardens. A crow comes from the quad name but also represents the spirit of mischief the quad has adopted. The goldenrod in the crow’s beak symbolizes combined ambition and humility – the simple plant brought high by the crow, the bright color against the black bird. The crenellations of the Crowell clocktower instantly identify the structure, and the images of age teaching youth and youth teaching age come from carved stone architectural bosses found underneath the clocktower.
Principal Color: Deep red
Supporting Color: Warm white
Arbor: Willow Oak
Foliage: Cardinal flowers
Fauna: Common Raven
Architecture: “No Evil” corbels
Key Date: Oct. 9, 1928
Significant Numbers: 3 and 9
Motto: “Studia et Circenses”
(Studies and Circuses)
Arch Partition: Triple chevron
Principal Color: Deep purple
Supporting Color: Bone white
Arbor: American Beech Tree
Foliage: English Ivy
Fauna: White-tailed Deer Stag
Architecture: Edens Staircases
Key Date: Feb. 19, 1966
Significant Numbers: 7
Motto: “Descendens et Ascendens”
(Descending and Ascending)Arch Partition: Dancetty line per chevron
Principal Color: Dark hunter green
Supporting Color: True black
Foliage: Tea tree blossoms
Fauna: Eastern cottontail rabbit
Architecture: Kilgo Belfry
Key Date: April 1, 1928
Significant Numbers: 0, 1 and 8
Motto: “Pererratio et Repertum”
(Wandering and Discovery)
Arch Partition: Regular quarterly
Principal Color: Deep orange
Supporting Color: Deep navy
Arbor: Carolina Red Maple
Foliage: Red Maple leaves
Fauna: American Shorthair Cat
Architecture: Keohane Bridges
Key Date: Nov. 2, 2002
Significant Numbers: 2 and 2
Motto: “Levitas et Gravitas”
(Levity and Gravity)
Arch Partition: Bridge
Principal Color: Royal blue
Supporting Color: Warm white
Arbor: Eastern Redbud
Foliage: Redbud branches and blossoms
Fauna: Eastern Gray Squirrel
Architecture: Few Tower
Key Date: Feb. 8, 1938
Significant Numbers: 6 and 8
Motto: “Libertas et Disciplina” (Freedom and Discipline)
Arch Partition: Inverted chevron
Principal Color: Golden yellow
Supporting Color: Charcoal black
Arbor: Tulip Poplar
Fauna: American Crow
Architecture: Clocktower and bosses
Key Date: Sept. 22, 1930
Significant Numbers: 1, 3 and 7
Motto: “Ambitio et Humilitas”
(Ambition and Humility)
Arch Partition: Parapet crenelly
Principal Color: Silver gray
Supporting Color: Charcoal black
Arbor: Eastern Red Cedar
Foliage: Blue sage
Fauna: DeKay’s Brownsnake
Architecture: The Griffin and Serpent
Key Date: March 23, 1958
Significant Numbers: 5 and 8
Motto: “Audacia et Contemplatio”
(Boldness and Contemplation)
Arch Partition: Bend
Dena Levin, the RA giving the Keohane tour, agrees, for the most part. “Spring semester for freshmen can be really stressful” for all the reasons Crowley cited. “It was for me – it is for the current freshmen.” Just the same, moving Greek life and SLGs off campus did not make their pressures disappear. “I want to emphasize that,” she says. “It’s still here.” But by removing living arrangements from the equation, QuadEx “keeps people together in that sense. That’s what happened for me. All my friends are in different sororities, but we’re still all great friends because we all were in the same dorm” freshman year, building that first Duke family that Crowley and the administration want to make sure each student has.
Jillian Solomon is residence coordinator at Keohane and Wannamaker quads, and she likes what she sees. “I’ve seen a lot less roommate turnover, a lot less fights between roommates,” she says. “You’ll build community your first year [and] you’ll sustain that community your sophomore year, to settle it in,” and then when junior and senior years give students more options, they start from a more stable space. She recognizes the frustration older students feel with the change, but overall she sees good things. Duke Dining has gotten involved, inviting students from East Campus to join their quad at special meals at West Union, and next year there are plans for intramurals based on quad identities, and even a President’s Cup (a lot like the House Cup in “Harry Potter”), for which students will earn quad points for attending sports matches, playing intramurals, attending extracurricular events. Anything to build community.
Hanging With Faculty Fellows
Yue Jiang ’12 is assistant professor of the practice of statistical science and faculty fellow for Few Quad. Every Thursday at 5 p.m. he opens a few boxes of cookies in the Few tower common room, and students come to just hang. “I’m an alum,” Jiang says, “so I care a lot about Duke and the student experience. I loved interacting with my professors in more informal settings when I was an undergrad,” and he loves the opportunity to provide that casual interaction now.
One student who joins Jiang most weeks is junior Jason Liang-lin, from Wichita, Kansas. With a major in chemistry and a minor in classical studies, Liang-lin could get overwhelmed, and he values the down time with a professor to just talk with. “I try to go to cookies with Yue every week,” he says. “I can sit back and talk about whatever’s on my mind that way, and I feel like Yue listens very well.” Quads have worked with their dorms on East Campus to set up social events – from pizza to formals to ice skating – and he says people are already not just enjoying but ranking the quad-based swag.
And he says quad identities are already emerging. He loves being part of Few, but a friend of his lives in Crowell, so Liang-lin was invited to help Crowell with their first-year night, when they bused their freshman to West campus. They “dressed up in crow masks, and went up to the clock tower and said a pledge, inducting them into Crowell,” he said. No hazing, no selectivity – but belonging. A sense of community.
Freshman Grace Richardson, from Minneapolis, spent her first year in Randolph on East Campus and joined the Keohane tours. “I think it’s really great,” she says. Her experiential orientation, combined with her dorm friends, have provided exactly the comfortable social group Crowley describes.
“I think, honestly, the way I met most of my friends coming into Duke was through orientation and through my dorm,” she says. “I think those things initially helped solidify my place at Duke and I did feel like I fit in here because of those.” About choosing a roommate from the smaller pool of her connected dorms and planning to continue that community in Keohane, she’s perfectly happy. “We’ve made a really nice little neighborhood, gotten to know each other through events that house councils have planned. I think QuadEx will be a great way to continue living in community with the same people we met freshman year, but also adding in those upperclassmen we haven’t gotten to know.” With the explicit goal of improving Duke students’ sense of belonging, QuadEx has had a hectic first year. But most students understand its goals and even those upperclassmen with reservations recognize that change creates complex transitions. Says Visco, “Right now it’s hard to see quad identities, but 10 years down the line that’s just going to be what it is.”