The Graduate and Professional Student Council approved a resolution at its meeting Tuesday that encourages the University to reduce smoking. 

A proposal for a smoke-free campus was first presented at the previous meeting. However, GPSC members amended the policy to make it less strict after some members raised concerns this week about such a policy’s effects on staff and students who smoke. 

Under the original proposal, which was recommended by the working group studying the issue, all combustible tobacco products would be banned on campus. A group of volunteers would be tasked with enforcing the ban by handing out cards with resources for quitting to people they see smoking. Some students were worried that would send a bad message.

“We would see the undergraduate students, who are fairly privileged by the fact that they'd be getting a degree here at Duke, telling the African American person serving them their coffee that they should not be smoking,” said Carolin Benack, a Ph.D. student in English. “Also I think that it produces shame on the part of the smoker that is counterproductive to them quitting smoking.”

Kushal Kadakia, executive vice president of Duke Student Government and a member of the working group, noted that the proposed resolution was not an affirmation of a specific policy proposal. Rather, it was a statement of student support for the effort. 

Walid Salah, a clinical research specialist and another member of the working group, noted that obtaining data about staff smoking was difficult but that it should be viewed as an addiction and met with compassion. 

Still, members of the committee maintained concerns about the resolution’s inclusion of specific policy language and the phrasing of a “smoking ban.” 

“I was talking to some of my constituents today and I think they put it in a really good way: this is pretty clear tyranny of the majority,” said Luke Fesko, an economics Ph.D. student. “What we’re doing is marginalizing an already marginalized group and imposing a huge marginal cost on them while giving almost no marginal benefit to anyone else.”

Ultimately, GPSC passed an amended version of the resolution that removed language about specific policy options for smoking cessation. It also added encouragements for increased services for smokers and sensitivity for marginalized groups. Duke Student Government will discuss a similar resolution at its Wednesday meeting. 

In other business

GPSC President Rashmi Joglekar, a Ph.D. student at the Nicholas School, presented about her negotiations with Duke University Union about changing the funding it receives from the graduate student activities fee. The union is responsible for setting up campus concerts and other programming. 

Currently, just under half of the $35.50 fee goes to DUU—approximately $144,000 each year. However, graduate students make less use of DUU programs. DUU data showed that in 2017, approximately 1,200 graduate and professional students attended Last Day of Class festivities, down from approximately 1,800 in 2015. 

Under a proposed agreement between Joglekar and DUU President Lesley Chen-Young, GPSC would instead purchase 2,000 student DUU “passes” for a total of $76,000. The remainder of the student fee would revert to GPSC’s operational funds.

Members had questions about the proposal and proposed amendments to clarify certain aspects. It will be brought up again at GPSC’s next meeting.

GPSC also voted to raise the graduate student activities fee to $36.50 from the current $35.50. An inflation-only rate increase would have been 78 cents. 

Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, received GPSC approval for her resolution encouraging the University to create a confidential reporting system for incidents of sexual assault and harassment. The method would have the Office for Institutional Equity investigate if they noticed patterns in the reports. 

GPSC gave final approval of the Emergency Travel Fund proposal discussed at its last meeting. 

The committee will also host a 5K run/walk event around East Campus for hurricane relief on Nov. 4. Proceeds will support aid to Puerto Rico.