A Tale of Two Switches

Campus Switch is a signature Robertson experience when Scholars take up residency at their sister campus typically during the spring semester of their sophomore year.

However, the 2021-2022 Academic Year was unlike any other in Robertson history. The global pandemic threw a wrench into regularly scheduled programs, resulting in year when two cohorts of Robertsons found themselves on Switch. The Class of 2023 went first switching during the Fall of Junior year to their sister campus. The Class of 2024 went second – spending their Spring Semester on their “home away from home” campus. A herculean effort coordinating logistics, fostering cross campus collaboration, and an unwavering commitment to this uniquely Robertson experience resulted in an amazing experience for Scholars – allowing them, and staff to put their transformational leadership skills into action.

Evan Finley (Duke ’23), Akiya Dillon (Duke ’24) and Van Adamson-Thompson (UNC ’24) share their thoughts on Campus Switch.

Tell us about Switch, what is it like?
Evan: For me it started like I think most Scholars on Switch feel, which is unsure of what was going to happen: where I was going to find my place and what’s the school culture? Then about 2 weeks in, I decided its time to make the most of it and I dove in head first and there was a real moment where I decided to stop resisting or being afraid of the Switch experience and gave in to all the amazing things that UNC offers. I had one of the best semesters in college so far.

Akiya: I had a lot of preconceived notions of what my experience would look like, and I feel like I have a tendency to resist change. I went into it not expecting to get involved on campus, but I ended up enjoying things more than I expected to and for different reasons than I thought I would. I was really excited about my classes and I thought that would be the highlight of the experience. But I really bonded with my roommate Haley (Duke ’24), and I actually realized that I have a stronger affinity to UNC basketball than Duke basketball, being on campus during the Final Four and rushing Franklin Street. I met Coach Davis at my job and told him I was a Robertson and he told me, “that’s so cool, what a great honor!” I just got closer to the community at UNC then I thought I would, and I really really enjoyed Switch. It forced me to see things differently as a person.

Van: Starting at Duke was definitely scary – I didn’t know what I was getting into. Really I only had one semester of “normalcy” at UNC and it was nerve wracking to start somewhere new. But I think I developed a greater appreciation for RSLP during and after Switch. It allowed me to figure out what I value as a leader, a student, and what I want for my career. I met some of my closest friends at Duke, and I’m planning to take two or three classes there this Fall. The classes are just amazing. I would get coffee with my professors outside of class – and I’ve never been that person, I would say I’m more reserved – but with Duke’s smaller classes and these niche topics, it helped me speak up in class and relate to my teachers. I spoke with professors about everything, whether I should take a minor, navigating passions vs a career, another professor was a major Duke basketball fan and we would just talk about where we thought the seasons were going.

What’s the best part of Switch?
Van: Duke’s food! But really the classes are great (that’s the main reason I want to go back), and the friends I’ve made while there I want to stay friends with them for a lifetime beyond Switch. I’m also staying involved on campus over there and am part of different organizations and Durham community groups. I’m really excited about my work with, “Audacity Labs” it’s basically a program where a cohort of high school students once a week have programming around skills or business and they have these ideas and coaches that aid in their training and facilitate of the training, and I believe the final project for them is them pitching like a startup or product. I didn’t even know about this group before Switch.

Akiya: I think the agency that UNC gives students is really something special. Sometimes I feel like at Duke you can be really isolated and secluded from the broader community you’re living in and in Chapel Hill, the community is so much harder to ignore because it’s integrated in campus and I enjoyed how easy it was to try new things in Chapel Hill and at UNC. UNC is so big and sometimes that’s actually really nice, because at Duke it can feel like there’s so much pressure because you know everyone and you’re doing the same things and it can feel daunting. But at UNC I felt like I could spread my wings without competing with other people in these small settings and I could explore what I really wanted.

Evan: First, I would say the classes. I took classes at UNC that I’ve never taken before, and there’s no way Duke would offer these classes. It was wild and now I regret that for the past two years, I hadn’t taken any classes at UNC. I took this one class, “Empires & Diplomacy” and all we did was read about ethics as if it were literature, and look at the concept of “empires” through a literary analysis of ethics and it was fascinating. I took a class on opium, and how the West used opium to colonize the East, and it was taught by a hilarious albeit I think a little crazy professor, but he was great and I don’t think I ever would have had the opportunity to take a class like that at Duke. And these classes were where I made my closest friends at UNC. And that’s the second thing: I took interesting classes as a way to reach out to interesting people who I thought I could be friends with in those classes, and we’re still friends to this day.

How does Switch add to your experiences as a transformational leader?
Akiya: As a leader you’ll be put in situations that you’re not comfortable with. I don’t think I’ve met a leader that I admire that hasn’t put themselves in places that they can be challenged or questioned, and I think Duke & UNC are the perfect climates to explore that. You think about, “what does it mean to be a Duke or a UNC student?” and now you’re at your “rival school” and it forces you to see things differently. As a leader those are the qualities you need to have, you have to be able to see things from different sides.

Evan: I think Switch adds to experiences as a transformational leader in a few ways. The first is understanding a wide variety of people, and especially people that you’re not as familiar or comfortable with. It helps you be a better leader because by seeking that understanding you can be more empathetic. I think the second thing is it makes you uncomfortable. Not knowing who you are in an uncomfortable situation and having your own sense of self, your presence and where you perceived you belong in a university hierarchy makes you a better leader because it forces you to be introspective and reflect on your own position of power and dynamics, and how you exist in relations with others. Learning about yourself and others is always going to make you a better leader.

What did you learn about yourself during Switch?
Van: Being at Duke on Switch forced me to take a step back and see what I wanted out my next two years at UNC and career, and how I perceived myself as a leader and what type of leader I want to be. I took classes that opened my mind to oppression and discord in the world, and it made me think about how I can help. Education classes helped me think about the educational system and how it affects students, families, and social outcomes – I hadn’t really thought about that before. In my ethics class we had a guest speaker every two weeks and they focused on navigating changes in careers, and that pushed me to reach out to our RSLP alumni community to learn how they connect their passions to their work. I think Switch provides Robertsons the unique opportunity to pull back and be at a different school where they’re not stressed to compete with their classmates. At UNC I feel like I have to fulfill requirements its get the grade, get the GPA, get the degree, I don’t feel that way at Duke I feel so less competitive and can embrace the educational experience.

The Class of 2025 is currently enjoying their Campus Switch semester, explore all of the unique opportunities that Duke & UNC have to offer!