First-year Jamal Burns is looking to shake up Duke Student Government and promote inclusivity on campus through his campaign for president. 

He said he hopes to provide a unique perspective as a first-year student who has the longevity on campus to follow through with his potential projects. 

“I recognized a need to go against the status quo,” he said. “I recognized the structure of DSG promotes a hierarchy that I wish to expel. A hierarchy at any system is inefficient because people’s voices tend to get drowned out.”

Burns is currently the president of the house council for Pegram residence hall and a member of NAACP executive board as well as a David M. Rubenstein Scholar. He also serves on the social and first-year committees for Mi Gente and will soon be a tour guide. 

His platform revolves around three themes—expanding horizons, creating inclusivity and sowing sustainability.

Expanding horizons involves promoting more academic exploration through an extended add/drop period and less severe measurements to withdraw from a course. Burns also wants to create a reusable library for students who can’t afford textbooks. 

Burns said he hopes to promote more inclusivity on campus by changing the structure of DSG to expel the hierarchy. Rather than having senators report to vice presidents who report to the president, he wants a more “flat surface” with everyone working as equals and with more interaction across committees. 

“There’s a diverse set of committees on DSG, but that doesn't mean they can’t work together,” he said. “We can combine projects within committees that allow us to understand the intricacies of intersection.”

In addition, he wants to create a more environmentally sustainable campus through additional recycling and compost programs, as well as eco-friendly practices for food vendors. 

Burns explained that he decided to run for DSG president at the encouragement of his friends, who recognized that he had the motivation and grit to make a difference. 

His experiences on campus and involvement in student organizations have qualified him for the role, even though he hasn’t served in DSG, he said. 

“Historically speaking, institutional structures are best attacked by people who don't adhere to the status quo,” he said. 

His status as a first-year will allow him to implement his plans in future years, something that the other DSG candidates will not be able to do as seniors. He’ll also have the ability to interact with more Duke students moving forward. 

Burns noted that even though running for president as a first-year is uncommon, his status on campus as a low-income, first-generation student of color is also against the norm.  

“I faced a multitude of struggles to get to this point,” he said. “I’m not going to accept the idea that I am inexperienced.”

First-year Omar Raymundo, who met Burns through the Rubenstein Scholars Program, said that Burns is passionate about advocating for students and learning about new experiences. 

“He wants to break the stigma of people being divided at Duke,” Raymundo said. “He wants to open up conversations among students.”

He noted that Burns always tries to advocate for others to give them a better position in life and is a “social butterfly.”

Although there are parts of DSG that he will have to become more familiar with if elected, Burns said that many aspects of his life have been a learning curve. In addition, his experiences in leadership roles on campus will allow him to transition well. 

“I’m not fearful at all of a learning curve,” he said. “I’m excited to embrace the position wholeheartedly.”