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The selectivity of SLGs





The selectivity of SLGs

Jen Semler


“We had an exceptionally large number of applicants this semester, and we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you a spot in Brownstone.”
I remember the first Brownstone rush event I attended. I had just dropped out of sorority recruitment. Despite telling people that, “I realized being in a sorority wasn’t for me,” my real reason at the time was that I had been cut by all sororities but one during the first round. I had friends as a first-year, some that I still consider friends today. Yet I had gotten most of these friendships from different places—I didn’t have a “friend group,” let alone a block of seven other people to live with. In search of a community, I reached out to a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, a member of something called a “selective living group,” to see whether it was too late for me to participate in the recruitment process.
Texting this random person, getting lunch with her, and ultimately rushing her SLG by myself, were not things I would have ever seen myself doing. I consider myself an introvert, and I was especially shy and socially awkward during my first year of college. In all honesty, I was desperate to find a living group because I, like many others, held the widespread perception that a sense of community was impossible—or in the very least difficult—to find outside of organized living groups. I feared the social stigma of being an independent.
And now here I am, sitting at my computer, typing those words that would have been my worst nightmare to receive when I was a first-year: “we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you a spot in Brownstone.” But don’t shoot the messenger, right? It’s not my fault that we can’t accept everyone. After all, “we had an exceptionally large number of applicants this semester.”
And we did. This year, over 300 first-years and sophomores registered for rush. I had to send that rejection email to over 250 people throughout our two rounds. SLGs are often dubbed a “less competitive version of Greek life” or “more relaxed”—as reflected in our “casual” rush process. But last year after our open houses, sports days, and game nights ended, after hours spent voting and deliberating, we were left with a new class consisting of roughly 9% of those who initially registered for rush. This year the percentage will be even less. The reality is that selective living groups are extremely selective—perhaps the most selective organizations on our campus.
So what should I do? Should I resign as president? Should I leave Brownstone? Should I exchange our democratic decision-making process for a random lottery? In Duke’s current housing model, none of these options seem practical.
I hate the rush process. I hate meeting so many people that I will have to cut from what I believe is the best organization at Duke. I hate that I have to talk to sophomores who tell me that they are rushing because they failed to find the same sense of community in their independent houses as they found in their first-year dorms. I hate seeing members of my rush class become inactive, knowing that there are so many people who would love to take their place and contribute positively to the group. But what can I do?
So I finish the email. “Nevertheless, I would like to say that we truly enjoyed the opportunity to meet you and hope you enjoyed yourself throughout the rush process. I encourage you to continue to foster the meaningful connections you’ve made with our members and with each other throughout this process. I wish you luck in your housing search and hope that you have a wonderful spring semester.”
I mean every word of it, but I can’t help but wonder whether the people on the other side of the email will understand the sincerity. I want to tell them that everything is going to be okay, that, having seen people on both sides of the rush process, I know for a fact that being rejected from an SLG will not hinder your ability to thrive at Duke. But I don’t say those things. I wonder what they would really mean coming from me, the head of the organization these people had wanted to be a part of, someone who will never understand what it is like to live in Duke independent housing.
So I hit send and head back to the common room to plan for post-rush activities, wondering whether it is even possible to have a universally satisfying housing system that includes a mixture of selective and non-selective living spaces. I think not.