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Too wild? Duke program changed after students caught naked on natural waterslide

A Duke University program designed to foster strong bonds and trust among students that was suspended in 2016 after students got naked is being reinstated and redesigned.

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DURHAM, N.C. — A Duke University program designed to foster strong bonds and trust among students that was suspended in 2016 after students got naked is being reinstated and redesigned.

Project Wild is a pre-orientation program that involves students setting out on a two-week wilderness trip. Last year, nearly 25 students were issued citations for public nudity and illegally blocking access to the Appalachian Trail at Pisgah National Forest.

According to a report by the Duke Chronicle, which was confirmed by university officials, students on the retreat were cited for sliding naked down a natural water slide. Those on the retreat said it was an optional event.

University officials suspended the program for a year.

Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, said some of the more risqué actions of the group had apparently become tradition over the years, without the knowledge of university leadership.

He said Project Wild staffers were held accountable but not removed from the program.

"There was no deliberate attempt to bring harm in a situation like this. I'm not trying to minimize the behaviors, but I also don't want to overreact to them," Moneta said.

Some other students who are familiar with the program said the one-year suspension was enough.

"You draw a difference between something like this and something like hazing? Yeah, I would. I know there was no mal intent. It was very optional and no one had to do that," said Vanessa Medrano.

Going forward, Project Wild and other pre-orientation programs will be required to have a staff member present at all times. They will also require more clearly defined risk management activities, more training for crew leaders and more stringent evaluation of the programs.

The program director for Project Wild told WRAL News they met today to discuss the incident and figure out how to respond.


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