The Duke Student Government Senate passed measures Wednesday to make amends to Blue Devils United for historic discrimination.

Junior Max Bernell, co-president of Blue Devils United, spoke to the significance of the timing of DSG's actions.

“Part of it is it has been left on the wayside, but part of it is that gay marriage was legalized only a couple of years ago," Bernell said. "We are at a point where the opinions of most students and individuals in the United States have changed so that these amends are possible. We can definitely move forward."

The Senate's actions include a resolution, a budgetary statute for a $100 commemorative plaque to be hung in BDU's office and a House rules change to promote greater Senate communication with student groups.

About 35 years, Blue Devils United—formerly known as the Duke Gay Lesbian Alliance—was not chartered by the Associated Students of Duke University—Duke Student Government’s predecessor. In 1983, ASDU “suddenly de-chartered” the Duke Gay Lesbian Alliance on grounds that the organization “promoted ideologies and activities that were deemed illegal under North Carolina state law,” according to the resolution.

Remediating bad blood or promoting 'empty symbolism?'

Alongside Bernell, first-year Katherine Gan, senator of campus life, introduced the budgetary statute for the plaque.

Bernell explained that the plague would be to officially commemorate the making of amends between BDU and DSG, and it would be hung in the BDU office. He said that because of its prominent presence in the office and accessibility for view by all members of the Duke community, future generations could be more informed on the history of the relationship between DSG and BDU, so there would be “no more bad blood between the two.”

However, two senators were not persuaded by his argument.

Sophomore Avery Boltwood, senator for campus life, said that it was “really frustrating” as a member of the LGBTQ+ community to resort to “empty symbolism” when the Senate could be promoting more projects with the $100.

“You can be in two camps," Boltwood said. "You think $100 is a significant amount of money or you think it is an insignificant amount of money. If it is an insignificant amount of money, then why does this plaque matter?  If it is a significant amount of money, we need to be doing other things with it."

Gan pushed back on the idea that the funding for the plaque takes away from other relevant projects.

Senior Kevin Mutchnick, senator for academic affairs, gave a subsequent negative speech and argued that the Senate has been continuously working with BDU and referenced the cooperation between the two to create a map of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, and thus did not believe “bad blood” to still be present.

In a roll call vote, the Senate passed the statute.

Institutionalizing Senate communications and a resolution to officially make amends

President Pro-tempore Jackson Dellinger, a junior, presented a change to House rules to promote better communication between the Senate and student groups. If such a provision would have existed during the 1980s, Bernell said, it would have been more difficult for an “incident like the de-chartering [of DGLA to] happen.”

The change states that if a senator notes that an issue coming before the Senate is relevant to a student organization, they should notify them via email before the meeting and encourage them to speak.

Again, Mutchnick voiced dissent.

“[The House Rules change] would increase healthy debate in the short term," Mutchnick said.
"But in the long term it needs to be focused on electing people that are representative to the senate and if you can by-pass that with a rules change then it is never going to improve the representation of the senate."

The Senate passed the change with a hand-raise vote.

After being tabled in order to debate the budgetary statute and the House rules change, a resolution to officially make amends was passed with a hand raise vote and without negative speeches. The resolution promotes the creation of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students on campus and holds DSG accountable for its predecessor’s actions.

"DSG passing this and making amends is a very forward statement saying that we recognize our mistakes and we are ready to go forward supporting Duke students and at DSG we are fully aware of our past actions, and we are now a safe space,” Bernell said.

In other business:

Senate unanimously passed a resolution to make the Languages Building accessible by asking the Board of Trustees to prioritize the immediate necessary construction. Sophomore Jay Pande, president of Duke Disability Alliance, spoke in support of the resolution.

“Currently, the burden is on people with disabilities,” Pande said. “This resolution is a very important step.”

Junior Alex Murphy, associate justice of the DSG Judiciary, addressed the application of the Pearlman et al. v. Head Line Monitor holding to the responsibilities of senators.

“Every single person in this room is really passionate about an issue, or passionate about a student group, or passionate about something on campus," Murphy said. "Try to read the by-laws, and read the house rules, from the perspective of those organizations and see how we can make these documents better, to better protect student rights, to make sure they are fair, to make sure they are equitable, to make sure it is making the best Duke and best DSG for everyone."

Senate also funded $1,655.50 to Coalition for Preserving Memory, $1,637.38 to National Alliance on Mental Illness and $4,495.14 to Duke East Asian Nexus.