The Duke bubble is real. For the humble price of $70k a year, Duke creates a little world in which all of our needs are filled. With libraries, gyms, food points, and gardens all within walking distance, it would be very easy to spend an entire academic year without ever leaving campus. Besides journeys to Shooter’s or runs to Harris Teeter, very few of us actually experience Durham. When Duke students do venture downtown, we frequent trendy restaurants or overpriced coffee shops. This leads to a distorted view of the city; we imagine Durham to be a thriving modern city, reborn from the ashes of the tobacco industry. In reality, much of Durham is still stuck in the 1980s. Through DukeEngage, I’ve been able to work in the impoverished neighborhoods of East Durham and experience the overlooked side of the city
The most obvious aspect of the neighborhood is the age of its buildings. Downtown Durham is bustling with cranes and burgeoning high-rises, symbols of the city’s newfound prosperity. However, this prosperity has not trickled down to East Durham. Many homes and businesses appear dilapidated, and very little new construction is occurring in the area. I’ve also noticed that the residents of East Durham are far more conservative with money. One dollar isn’t much to the typical Duke student. However, this small amount of money can make a huge difference to some. I’ve seen some members of Threshold, which is located in East Durham, walk miles in the summer heat just to avoid paying a bus fare. Despite the poverty of the area, its residents sustain a thriving community. Murals and street art adorn the sides of many older buildings, and I commonly see musicians performing on the streets of East Durham. Also, the residents are friendly and pretty talkative. They often seem genuinely surprised that a Duke student is taking the time to talk to them! Through my time in DukeEngage, I feel that I’ve broken through the Duke bubble and gained a much deeper understanding of Durham and its citizens.
So for my fellow Duke students, I encourage you to burst the Duke bubble. This doesn’t mean just going downtown for a meal at a nice restaurant. Hop on a Bull City Connector and explore a new side of Durham. I can guarantee that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.