by Katie Becker (T’17)
A little over one year ago, at my convocation, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag told my class that we represented “the final culmination of the most selective admissions process in [Duke’s] history.”
There is a reason that Duke’s administrators, printed materials, and website all boast about record low admission rates. It is why we offer hundreds of campus tours each year and send out thousands of glossy admission brochures. It’s why we encourage everyone to apply, knowing full well that there are already far too many qualified applicants for the number of available beds. The underlying assumption is that exclusivity is synonymous with quality.
Indeed, the message of Guttentag’s speech to us was clear: because so many people had not been accepted into the Class of 2017, those of us that had made the cut must be, you know, ***flawless.
Now, part of me is as attracted to exclusivity as the next girl. Did Duke’s low acceptance rate play a part in my decision to attend? Absolutely. I understand that my criticism of the exclusive = good mindset might seem hypocritical, since I myself have benefited from it (and will, no doubt, benefit from it in my future endeavors).
But I am beginning to recognize that there’s something dangerous about groups and institutions that define themselves more by who is rejected than by who is accepted. There are plenty of groups on this campus that recruit, recruit, recruit…solely for the purpose of being able to reject, reject, reject. Would this campus’s “top” social groups be as highly regarded if other people weren’t tricked into thinking that they themselves are not worthy of inclusion?
Ultimately, this is damaging for those who are excluded and for the members who feel a constant need to prove themselves. There is a point where group membership is desirable only because it’s exclusive, not because it’s valuable.
This is why I’m so thankful that my most treasured community at Duke is not based in exclusion.
Rather, it is a community that holds steadfastly to the value of inclusion, emphasizing that there is a place for everybody to come as they are.
This is a community that supports its members in the happy times, like sharing summer memories and welcoming new members with ice cream and icebreakers. But it is also a community whose magic truly comes out when one of its members is struggling and needs support.
This community is Presbyterian Campus Ministries.
Now, if you had told me one year ago that my closest community at Duke would be a faith group, I might have laughed in your face. I’d never been to a Bible study, and contemporary Christian music puzzled me (the former of these has changed, as I now attend “B-Stud” semi-regularly, but the latter hasn’t). I’m a doubter at heart, and I’m instinctually skeptical of religious groups that are new to me. I’ve always put a lot of effort into distancing myself from the dominant images of what it means to be Christian in this country – I’m a staunch liberal and a third wave feminist. I’m also not a Presbyterian; I’m a confirmed member of the United Church of Christ (though, as I’m learning, we’re not that different).
And yet, something drew me – and continues to draw me – to PCM.
Maybe it’s because Katie “The Rev” Owen is overflowing with humor, wisdom, and joy. She advises me on anything from my most profound theological conundrums to my most banal boy troubles. Or maybe it’s because I’ve met people here who, though we sometimes disagree, seem eager to listen to my thoughts, ideas, and doubts. I like to think that I push this group, and it pushes me. Or maybe it’s because I know that I can always find a fellow PCM-er to laugh, cry, or laugh-until-we-cry with me in the chapel basement.
At Duke, at least in my experience, a group like PCM is as special as it is rare.
So, here’s my advice for the Class of 2018 (for all Duke students, really, because finding these communities can take time):
Find a community that defines itself not by how many people are left out of it, but by all the wonderful people who are welcomed into it. Find friends who lift you up not only when you feel effortlessly perfect, but also when you feel effortfully flawed. Find and cherish people who will love you unconditionally, whether or not you meet the mainstream Duke metrics of success.
This advice applies as much to atheists as it does to the most devout among us. Not all secular communities are exclusive. All faith groups are certainly not universally accepting (in the interest of ecumenism, I won’t name names). But when you find friends that do accept you as you are, in the good times and the bad, no strings attached…invest in those relationships!
Ask someone out to coffee to chat and catch up.
Put as much effort into your relationships as you put into Orgo II. Your dean won’t tell you this, but organic friendships are just as important as organic chemistry.
And, please, no matter what selective groups you join, don’t forget about the friends who loved you even before you wore Greek letters or moved in with your SLG.
Looking for friends like that? I might know of some…
Katie is a sophomore studying psychology. This year, she is serving as PCM’s interfaith council representative.