Undergraduates will be able to vote on a proposed bill of rights.
The Duke Student Government rules committee proposed the addition of a bill of rights to the DSG constitution, presenting the legislation before the Senate Wednesday night. The goal of the bill is to provide a mechanism for students to address wrongs committed to them by student groups. The proposed amendment received a two-thirds majority of support in the Senate. It will be added to the ballot for the undergraduate Young Trustee election, scheduled for Feb. 7.
The idea for including a student written bill of rights was originally announced in a Senate meeting last October. The proposed bill describes the rights of all undergraduate students at Duke, including freedom of expression, ideology, privacy and the right to vote.
“To some extent we are trying to be preventory rather than patch up a hole after its opened,” said sophomore Nikolai Doytchinov, vice president for academic affairs.
The main goal of the bill is to clarify what students should expect from the Judiciary, DSG and other student groups, Doytchinov said. Although other universities also have bill of rights, DSG’s proposed bill differs in that it is designed to be enforceable rather than theoretical, he said. Currently, student rights are ambiguous, making cases that go before the judiciary difficult to resolve. With the new legislation, a student who felt that his or her rights were being infringed upon could contact the chief justice of the judiciary, who would then take the appropriate actions, Doytchinov explained.
Executive Vice President Patrick Oathout, a junior, noted that the presence of a bill of rights would greatly benefit the community and improve student life on campus.
He added that the proposed new bill of rights is more comprehensive than the University’s current non-discrimination policy—a document that reinforces Duke’s commitment to maintaining an environment free of discrimination and harassment.
But some Senate members questioned the purpose of the amendment as it serves a very similar purpose to the University’s nondiscrimination policy enforced by the Office of Institutional Equity.
“I agree with everything that’s written in [the bill], but I don’t know if that’s where our time is best spent” said junior Stefani Jones, vice president for equity and outreach.
But adding a new set of rights does not harm anyone, Oathout said, adding that to not have the bill would be to maintain the status quo. That the document is written by students will provide additional benefits and accountability, he added.
“Not only is it a set of rights that we ourselves have written, it gives us [the right of] enforcement of our own policies,” Oathout said.
Other senators are concerned that the bill will eventually become irrelevant to the student body. Junior Marcus Benning, senator for Durham and regional affairs, urged the Senate to consider ways to market the bill to maximize its efficacy for students.
“I fear this resolution will end up like a lot of our other resolution—in a black hole,” Benning said.
In response to this concern, Doytchinov proposed that Senate members play an active role in spreading awareness and sending reminders of the bill’s existence at the beginning of each term.
“The committee has done a great job putting this together. We should think carefully—I hope the Senate takes this week to think about what it means for the student body,” sophomore Derek Rhodes, vice president for Durham and regional affairs, noted.