Editor's note about the debate format: Each candidate had 90 seconds to introduce themselves and give an opening statement. Then, we had three candidate-specific questions for each candidate, with one minute to respond to each. Any candidate that is mentioned in another candidate’s answer had 30 seconds to respond. Each candidate had two scenario questions with 90 seconds to respond to each. We reserved the right to follow up on candidate’s responses. Candidates had 30 seconds to respond to the follow up question. Then, each candidate had 60 seconds to give a closing statement.

Want more? Read Sean Bissell's debate responses here, Jamal Burn's here, Sabriyya Pate's here and Kristina Smith's here.

Opening statement

"My name is Oyeyemi Kolawole but everyone calls me Yemi. I am also from the small town of Providence, R.I. Our big claim to fame is Brown University. I am currently chief of staff for Duke Student Government, co-head of content for TheBridgeIs.com and a [resident assistant] at 300 Swift. I am the current chief of staff for the Duke Student Government.

I would say my transition to Duke was not an easy one. Coming to Duke was definitely hard. I think there’s a universal sentiment that Duke is hard, but I attribute my survival and coming to this point to my community and my circle of friends. If there is one thing Duke has taught me, it’s the importance of community. If it wasn’t for those people, today I don’t think I’d feel empowered enough to run for a position like DSG president. 

I wanted to join DSG as a sophomore because I wanted to represent this community that got me here, however I came into DSG and didn’t feel like I had the agency or felt empowered enough to speak up and represent that community. I think it’s kind of a microcosm for the larger Duke community.  We’re not super inclusive. Angela Davis said it best in that how we like to focus on these buzzwords of diversity, inclusion, etc. I want to transform them like she said and think actively and critically about how we can make Duke a more inclusive space. As the DSG chief of staff I have really learned the ins-and-outs of Duke Student Government and I hope to be able to make a change if elected as president next year."

Candidate-specific questions

The Chronicle: In your campaign, you talk about wanting to be a catalyst as DSG President. Do you have an examples of how you have been a catalyst thus far as chief of staff?

Yemi Kolawole: So, like I said in the beginning, I joined DSG because I wanted to represent my community and I didn’t really feel like I had the agency to do that. I think it’s often unprecedented to join DSG as a sophomore and then become chief of staff as a junior. I think that role was definitely a different kind of change. I think in my role as chief of staff, I’ve definitely enjoyed the fact that I’ve been able to sit with the executive board and offer my opinions to the executive board as they’re making decisions for different groups and different policies and projects. In that sense, it’s not obvious change, but the fact that the executive board has a different perspective that is not traditional of a DSG vice president or chief of staff has definitely offered change that I hope can continue in the future.

TC: What safeguards would you put in place to ensure violations like those the Judiciary uncovered about Krzyzewskiville policy do not occur next year?

YK: I think that the disconnect between the legislative branch as well as the Judiciary is a gap that needs to be closed immediately. I think that if DSG is to truly act as a united group we need to have, for example, a judiciary member on the executive board of DSG. I think that will decrease the lack of knowledge between different groups and definitely advocating to the student body that we are truly here to help them. If they are in a situation like K-ville, having the accessibility and transparency for the line monitors to feel like they can reach out to the DSG president as well as the executive members to help them in that kind of crisis. And I also think that having a Judiciary member on the [executive board] will help the policies also and avoid situations like K-Ville. 

TC: You’ve said you think studying and improving community on campus should come before housing reform. Do you think current housing reform activism is misguided?

YK: I don’t think that it’s necessarily misguided. I think it’s almost necessary to bring it to the forefront of conversation as it’s been something that’s kind of been under the ground, not really spoken a lot of. The reason I say that figuring out how to build a community at Duke is most important is because as an RA, I have experience that building communities is honestly one of the most impossible things. Community is literally creating love and compassion for one another out of nothing. I think the idea of shuffling people or different housing models is to make these less homogeneous housing spaces, but I don’t think being necessarily next to someone who doesn’t look like you or think like you will cause you to engage with them. Which is why I think the idea of building community is more important than just changing the housing model in general.


TC: A senator presents an explosive study arguing that a few groups, including groups you’re involved in, receive a majority of SOFC funding. How do you respond and/or do you think SOFC’s funding process warrants revisiting?

YK: So I think my job as president, if elected, is primarily to be the voice of students and recognize that yes, I do belong in groups, but should not let that cloud my judgment if I were to become president. I think the SOFC guidelines were created in the past, and I think they are worth revisiting and are currently being revisited. I think it’s often that the funding application process is not clear to all students, and I don’t think that all students realize that they can come and ask for funding every single week. There’s no real limit or cap on the money they can ask for for their events. I would hope that no student group chooses to abuse that opportunity to apply for SOFC funding. If it’s true that any student group is abusing their position as a student group, I think that whoever is SOFC chair should definitely address those issues and penalize that group as necessary.

TC: Duke recently put out a statement saying protests against gun control would not hurt applicants’ chances. One student writes in his application that he vigorously protests abortion access but he fears Duke might disfavor candidates with conservative viewpoints. Would you, as DSG President, support a similar University statement and how would you think through that issue?

YK: I think that Duke University should definitely be critical about the students that they accept, however I don’t think that not accepting a student due to his viewpoints would be conducive to the University. I think that having a wide variety of thoughts is necessary to make a university a critical environment for all people to think. However, if someone’s views threaten the safety and well-being of someone on this campus, I don’t think that person should necessarily—not necessarily be on this campus, but not necessarily be around students who feel threatened by someone who believes certain things. 

I think Duke should move to accept students regardless of their views and expand the idea of not accepting students who are controlling gun control—they should expand that same principle to all students protesting any kind of thing. I don’t think it’s fair not to be universal and be selective about what we can and cannot defense or protest against applicants to the University.

Closing statement

"Hello everyone, I just want to thank The Chronicle again for organizing this event and giving us all the opportunity to speak publicly and in front of the University. As DSG chief of staff, I truly am right for the role of DSG, what the role of president entails, and what it truly means to be DSG president. One thing that I have learned and have taken away from watching Riyanka is that the role of DSG president is to truly be an advocate and to truly be a mouthpiece for the student body. To not necessarily push their own agendas, or think that they know best for the student body, but focusing more on what students want and what their concerns are. 

"I like to say that I’ve got my leadership by three main points: honesty, accountability, and loyalty. I want to be honest with the student body and remove the lack of transparency DSG has. I want to hold my VPs and senators accountable by not being afraid to show what projects they’re working on to make sure that DSG is not another resume-builder for students. And lastly—loyalty. I want to be loyal to the student body and their concerns, and not my own personal agenda. Thank you again for having all of us, and I hope you vote for me!"