The sound of hands aggressively trying to turn symbols and numbers into pictures and systems. The sound of grunts of frustration every time the program fails to transform their codes. Three of my friends, all engineers of some kind, are sitting at a desk working together on their mat lab or their sapling or their extensive chemistry report. I am sitting in a desk next to them, trying to decipher the next line for my poem.
“Do you like how these two lines sound together?” I ask them, in hopes of a second opinion. I get are three glances up, and then three glances down signaling my dismissal. All of my friends, including the non-engineering ones, have already labeled me as the “part-time student.” It has become an invisible name tag that I just can’t seem to rip off. Some of them have even introduced me by saying, “oh this is Francesca, she’s a part time student.” Which I have to follow with a rolling of eyes and a self-validating explanation about how no, I am not an actual part-time student, but yes, I do like photography and poetry, and yes, Duke does offer these classes.
One of the things that excited me more about coming to college was the idea that I learn from people that were passionate about the same things I was. The fact that I would be around individuals who loved how the grain looked on the pictures shot with film or others that loved how some words would combine perfectly with others to create an image or feeling out of thin air had my stomach feeling some sort of way. I knew before coming to Duke that the creative community wouldn’t be the dominant one, as a matter of fact, that was one of the things I liked about Duke. I liked the idea of being part of a smaller artistic community, making it more specialized and tight-knit. What I didn’t know, or didn’t seem to notice at first, was that around Duke’s campus roamed a strong, dominant and indestructible ideal; a narrow understanding of success. I learned that my community thought the only way to success was through a career focused on economy, public policy, or computer science. During orientation week, I found myself avoiding the typical “what’s your major” question with the fear of receiving yet another unamused “oh” when I answered I was interested in VMS. There were times where I felt that everyone I met was either in prat, pre-med or interested in some sort of numerical career that my mind didn’t label as more important than the arts. When classes began I started to get a taste of that artistic community I was longing for. I fell in love with all of my professors and was inspired in how much they seemed to be interested in what they were teaching. I went to my first Spoken Verb open mic, visited photography exhibits in the Nasher, joined The Standard, went to the art annex, participated in the DEMAN weekend, and started to notice that Duke did have a strong arts community, it just maybe took some more effort to find, which was actually something good for me, as it pushed me to look for opportunities not just wait for them to prop onto my lap.
My passions are not worth any less or any more that the math student sitting next to me at lunch. There are different intelligences and that maybe I can’t run a program on my computer but I can run sentences together to create something else. I stopped trying to explain myself to those that did not see the point in all that I did and just let things be. Yes, I am a full-time student at Duke University that leans more towards the creative side. Yes, we exist.