This semester, Duke Student Government has worked on several major initiatives, including eliminating the statute of limitations on sexual harassment reporting at the University, finding a suitable replacement for Tailgate and facilitating the implementation of gender-neutral housing on West Campus, among other things. The Chronicle’s Jack Mercola sat down with DSG President Alex Swain, a senior, to talk about the body’s successes so far and goals for the rest of the academic year.
The Chronicle: What do you see as DSG’s most prominent successes of the semester?
Alex Swain: I think we have had a few really exciting successes this semester, the first of which was the elimination of the statute of limitations for incidents of student harassment. That is going to have a great impact on the culture here at Duke. It sends an important message about how sexual harassment is treated at the University. It was a good example of student collaboration-—it was an issue people got really behind.
I think we’ve had an amazing football season and pretty good pre-game celebrations to match. We’ve had celebrations in front of dorms—-groups could have pre-game celebrations by their sections. Then there was the Tailgating on Main Quad on West Campus. We had a pretty good turnout on that, and we’re looking into how we can tweak that model some and reevaluate it to make it even better for next Fall.
Also, we’ve gotten three more gender-neutral houses on West Campus, which is a huge sign of progress for the University. There were three levels of gender-neutral housing accessibility. Level 1 means that it could very easily be turned into a gender-neutral house-—those were Kilgo and Few. All selective students there will be able to have the choice of whether or not to become gender neutral.
TC: Talk to me about the elimination of the statute of limitations. How did the success come to fruition?
AS: This was an initiative started by Ebonie Simpson [Trinity ’12] who was the vice president for student life last year. She worked with people from the Women’s Center, [women’s issues blog] Develle Dish and others to put together an awareness campaign on the issue. A lot of my advocacy has been taking the momentum she built around the issue, doing more research on the topic, looking into loopholes through which we could get around the [U.S.] Department of Education’s civil rights office’s mandate. We worked to reignite student interest on the issue. It was really great that Ebonie laid the groundwork for our advocacy. We fine-tuned her advocacy and maintained the relationships that she built.
We had a student group together that met weekly to discuss the issue. It included three DSG members, including Stefani Jones [vice president for equity and outreach and a junior], interns from the Women’s Center, people from Develle Dish and a few other passionate non-affiliated students. So we were working with organizations that were great at spreading awareness on the issue.
TC: How do you see the result of your success with the statute of limitations, and what does this say about the University?
AS: It sends a strong message that if students are passionate about something and have a strong argument, things really can be changed. This changed the University’s culture for the better. It sends a message that if you’re a victim of harassment, Duke supports you-—we’re going to do what we can to make you more comfortable.
TC: Another point you mentioned was the thriving culture around the New Tailgating. Tell me about the genesis of the idea, how DSG implemented it and how you improved it throughout the semester. What do you plan to do in coming semesters to improve it?
AS: We had a student tailgating team and a tailgating advisory board that was made up of students and administrators from all different parts of the University—student affairs, parking and transit, sanitation and groundskeeping, police, athletics and recreation. We met and discussed how we can support the football team and football culture better than we had in the past. In the future, we want to get that group back together and start talking about the things we want to change. From the Old Tailgate, people really appreciated that it was a place where students could come together, and it didn’t matter your affiliation. With [New Tailgate], students were able to register for locations on the Main Quad and for pre-game celebrations by their sections. So this year it was a bit more segmented. We picked up on that feedback, so we’re looking at ways to make sure this is a chill and fun event but also maintain the community feel that was missing this year. Overall, I’m happy about the way things turned out, but we’re always looking for ways to make the student experience better.
TC: What is on your plate for this year that you have not yet accomplished—such as finding a solution to the issue surrounding freshman parking?
AS: We want to work on measuring how students use their cars on campus by getting some numerical data from a student survey. That information can be applied in years down the road in discussions about freshman parking and parking in general. We can relieve some pressure from Duke Parking and Transportation. We can look to those numbers to see what areas of parking can be improved. Right now there are needs from a parking standpoint and sustainability standpoint that are not being fulfilled. We’re in conversations with senior administrators about the scope of the issue. We want to find ways to meet those needs without having to take away freshman parking.
We want to evaluate how student life at Duke works—we want to get more information about parking, get more information about how our Tailgate model works. We want to get more information about social culture. We need to look into the alcohol and event policies and see what the student body and student group leaders think about those policies and make sure the policy expectations are clear. We need to clarify the qualifications for a section party—what types of events are on campus and what are the expectations for each type of event from the administration.
TC: What do you believe that will change about social culture?
AS: We’re looking to make sure that the expectations are clear so that student groups are not expecting one thing and then experiencing another thing when it comes to implementation of policy. I’ve heard there has been a little grey area when it comes to student expectations and administration implementation of policies.