DSG uses summer for project preparation
Between the last day of classes and the first, many on-campus obligations fall to the bottom of most students' priority list. For the leaders of Duke Student Government, however, the summer is a time to get a head start on projects for the Fall.
President Lavanya Sunder, a junior, said she has focused this summer on building a sustainable model for student cookouts before games, creating a campus-wide female mentorship program and communicating information about the on-campus construction.
“My main goals for the coming year are to make the construction on campus as well explained and manageable as possible, to try to expand Duke's Prevent. Act. Challenge. Teach. training program and to, at least for the first semester, really working on making sure voter registration is an easy process for students,” Sunder said.
She said she will also work to ensure that DSG is an efficient and accountable organization. She hopes to roll out a new DSG website in coming weeks that will contain a weekly blog by senators.
"We're hoping that, in addition to making Senators more accountable, the new website will also make students feel more connected to DSG,” Sunder said.
The vice presidents lead seven respective Senate committees—academic affairs, Durham and regional affairs, equity and outreach, facilities and the environment, residential life, services and social culture.
The academic affairs committee, led by vice president Ray Li, focused this summer on developing an idea for “Bookbag Sunday”—a proposed event on the Sunday when bookbagging begins where students and professors could interact in a social environment.
Li, a senior, said the event—which would include food and entertainment—is part of the committee’s larger effort to develop academic traditions on campus.
“We want to develop the kind of strong traditions that we see at our peer institutions,” Li said. “And we think this would be a fun way to get students excited about academics outside of the classroom.”
Li also said the committee is working on creating a Durham education Focus program, which he explained could incorporate everything from North Carolina’s history to current information about Durham.
“All students benefit when they learn not just about Duke, but also about Durham and North Carolina,” Li said.
He emphasized the importance of student interaction with DSG in the coming year, encouraging students with any academic complaints or ideas to reach out.
“Everyone has different concerns, and one of our main goals is to really follow through on everything that’s brought to us,” Li said.
Durham and regional affairs
Senior David Robertson, vice president of Durham and regional affairs, noted his committee has developed several core goals for the coming year. The first is forming a coalition to increase student political involvement in the coming elections.
“We hope to bring together majors' unions, partisan and non-partisan groups to find creative strategies for increasing voter registration and actual voting,” Robertson said.
He said that his committee has been working with Duke’s Office for Civic Engagement to give students’ perspective on how to revamp the idea of civic engagement.
Robertson says he will also focus on continuing to revise the “Knock and Talks”—when Duke police go door-to-door checking in with off campus students—as part of a larger effort to have better outreach to off campus students.
Another focus will be increasing marketing for Durham among Duke students.
“This includes solidifying the Duke-Durham discount program, providing students with a central location to access Durham resources and working with local programs like the Bull City BUCKS program,” Robertson explained.
Lastly, he plans to outline what a student internship program in Durham would look like—addressing potential problems like transportation and funding.
Equity and outreach
Junior Keizra Mecklai, vice president of equity and outreach, has been working with the office of student conduct and women’s center over the summer to create a sexual misconduct fact sheet.
Mecklai said the sheet will include charts from both offices explaining what their processes are in working with victims of sexual misconduct. She said she also hopes to include misconduct statistics from the last three years.
“As far as this year goes, I want to try to get Duke Vans to take students to local pharmacies on the weekends when the Duke pharmacy is closed,” Mecklai said.
She also hopes to run the “What I Be” project—where students are photographed saying they are not their insecurities—again this year with the help of Blue Devils United. She said she also would like to put together a mental health awareness week to coincide with the project.
“Blue Devils United and the equity and outreach committee also intend to work together to put on Greek ally week two and have a huge showing at the NC pride parade,” Mecklai said. “Finally, I hope to put together diversity awareness training for the recruitment chairs of all selective living organizations.”
Facilities and the environment
Senior Ellie Schaack, who leads the facilities and the environment committee, says she has worked this summer to ensure that channels of communication are kept open throughout the community about ongoing construction projects.
“We're in the process of ensuring that the people in charge of the projects are communicating with students, sharing both annoying updates on the inconveniences caused by the projects and exciting updates about the projects themselves,” Schaack said.
She emphasized that the committee would like students to have a voice in the projects.
“We have the ability to really influence these projects in a positive way, and we want to make sure that opportunity is there,” Schaack said. “To that end, we're developing a centralized construction web platform where students can see info about the project goals, stay current on day-to-day changes to campus, and submit their thoughts to the people behind the projects.”
Shaack said her committee will continue to make sure campus is as sustainable and accessible as possible. She said she will focus on creating closer partnerships with the many student-run sustainability-focused organizations and hopes to make the campus farm more accessible and ensure that changes to the recycling system are seamlessly implemented and communicated.
“As far as accessibility goes, we'll obviously continue to ensure that the buildings we're constructing are not only accessible but optimized for those with disabilities,” Schaack said. “And we'll make sure that those who are walking-impaired are not disproportionately inconvenienced by the temporary changes to campus that construction mandates.”
Sophomore Zachary Gorowitz, who leads the residential life committee, said the summer has been a productive one. In June, he met with Joe Gonzalez, dean of residential life, to discuss goals for the year.
“We have some lofty goals this year in residential life,” Gorowitz said. “First and foremost, we are always trying to increase the sense of community among independent students and my long term goal is for students to choose their house based on personality and community rather than location.”
Gorowitz said he will focus on getting Residential Group Assessment Committee reform done this year and settling on numbers that are acceptable for both the administration and the students.
“I would also like to continue a project I worked on last semester—the free assignment of dorm rooms,” Gorowitz said. “Currently, it is very rare for a female and male room to be next door to each other, or even in the same wing of a building, which creates problems in equity of room type between genders as well as a lack of community—something that definitely needs fixing.”
Over the summer, junior Billy Silk, who leads the services committee, has worked with Duke Dining administration and DUSDAC co-chairs on vendor selection for the Law School Café, applications from food trucks and updates to existing venues.
He said plans for the year include increasing student choice over the vendors, making Student Health services more accessible and implementing small and large-scale physical changes to campus so it better serves students.
Silk said the committee will work with President Sunder to implement a “food fair” at the end of the year where students can sample prospective food trucks and Merchants on Points vendors.
“The DUSDAC survey this year was a great idea, but to make it as successful as possible we need to give all students a chance to sample each of the applicants,” Silk said.
He emphasized the importance of making healthy options accessible, saying the committee hopes to create a database to show students where they can purchase what foods and then work with Duke Dining to add foods students say are lacking.
The services committee will also work with Mecklai, who leads the equity and outreach comittee, to create and implement a model for increased access to over the counter medications and contraceptives.
Silk said another goal is to use mobile technology to communicate parking updates, such as when lots are closed or students must move cars on game days.
Junior Tucker Albert, who leads the social culture committee, has worked this summer to improve the event registration process and improve the model for student cookouts before games.
Albert explained that the current event registration process—which requires student to register an event 14 days in advance—frustrates many students.
“Early in the summer I was in constant contact with UCAE, DUPD, and Dean [of Residence Life and Housing Services Debbie] LoBiondo to discuss possible changes to the process, including cutting down the registration period to five business days prior rather than two weeks,” Albert said. “While I’ve made some progress over the summer, it’s something I plan to see through this upcoming year.”
He also worked with the athletics department and President Sunder to create an effective model for tailgate for the future—which he hopes will improve students’ experiences and respect the administration’s guidelines.
Albert said tailgate will now feature “game day buses” to cut down on student wait times as they move between campuses. There will also be student moniters and tents that student groups can apply for.
“By keeping the tents in close proximity, we expect groups of all different kinds to interact to create the sense of community our tailgates have lacked for quite some time,” Albert said.
He said he has a number of goals for the coming year, including implementing pArts, a new pre-orientation program that would cater to artistic members of the incoming class, maximizing the umber of students who receive PACT training and continuing to improve tailgate.
Albert’s final project is a personal one—Fridays on the Plaza.
“After a long week full of classes, problem sets, and tests, the weekend can't come soon enough,” Albert said. “This year I want to have DSG fund a concert/performance on the first Friday of every month on the plaza for Duke students, by Duke students.”