Junior Patrick Oathout, candidate for Duke Student Government president, is a public policy and philosophy double major from Houston. He is currently DSG executive vice president, a student representative on the Board of Trustees, president and founder of Duke Colloquium Fellows and a founding father of Duke’s chapter of Sigma Pi fraternity. His Chronicle column is on hiatus during the campaign. The Chronicle sat down to discuss his accomplishments, vision for DSG and the upcoming March 7 election.
The Chronicle: What defines you as a leader and qualifies you for this position?
Patrick Oathout: The position of DSG president is a couple of things—it’s an advocate, an idea generator and a representative for students. And I have experience in all of those areas.
To be an effective DSG president and a leader, generally you need to have a comprehensive set of experiences in academics. I have that, having started the Duke Colloquium on campus, which seeks to reduce credentialism and enhance professionalism, as well. [I have experience] in services too, in helping create Fix My Campus, working on the launch of TransLoc, among other things… [Also] in development affairs, having served two years on the Board of Trustees and worked on the development of the capital campaign, a [$3.25] billion goal to raise funds for Duke development. I also have a lot of advocacy experience within DSG.... This year, I worked on codifying our first official bill of rights, which is something we never had before.
I really have a track record of results all across the board, and I also have the experience in a diversity of areas to prove it. But to be a good DSG leader, you also need to have ideas and solutions to the problems that affect students, and you also need to be good at identifying the problems that affect students.... If you think there are problems on campus, whether it’s with alcohol policy, hazing or dining, you can’t just say “this is a problem that I promise to work on,” you need to have concrete solutions, too.
TC: How do you define the role of DSG on campus? Do you think DSG is an effective force for change on campus?
PO: DSG should be a facilitator of change and perhaps provide the resources to do it. But anyone who says that DSG should control all change and activism on campus misunderstands the role of government. I don’t think DSG should control everything. I think there are a lot of individuals within DSG right now that would like us to be the solver of all problems and to publicly solve them too, so maybe at the end of the day, we get credit for it. But at the end of the day, the most efficacious solutions... come from students.... What I do think DSG can do is it can facilitate discussion. If a student wants to create a campus entrepreneurship grant, they can go to DSG and ask for the money to make that happen, or they can go to DSG to ask for the publicity venue to make that happen. If there is a political group on campus that feels they are being marginalized in some sort of way, they can go to DSG to facilitate a discussion on the issue, facilitate a policy solution to administrators on the issue or the like. At the end of the day, we are representatives at our core. I don’t think we should be dictators or controllers, as well. The core of being a representative is knowing what your constituents want, too.
TC: How do you think it can improve?
PO: Some people say that DSG needs to be the voice for all students. I’d say that people who say that are taking away the voice of students because they are assuming again they know what’s right, and all of the students don’t know what’s right. DSG should be a way to amplify the voice of students and help them achieve the outcomes they want. For example, this year DSG has passed a lot of resolutions on issues—a resolution to affirm the identity of all students, a resolution condemning this event, a resolution supporting this event... And those all have really good intentions but they are not at all concrete solutions.... DSG needs to work on having concrete solutions. Not just identifying problems and saying, “We’re going to be your voice,” but often amplifying the voice of students, so it doesn’t always have to be the DSG president who marches into Allen Building. It can be a student with the help of DSG behind them that marches into Allen Building and says “This is a significant problem.”
TC: What is your proudest accomplishment as a leader on campus and why?
PO: I would pick Fix My Campus. It’s really not something that had necessarily my name attached to it. It wasn’t “Patrick achieves this.” It was collaboration with a lot of different people. In fact, a senator for services this year, [freshman] Lavanya Sunder, has taken the leadership of that. So I am glad to see that it is a project that isn’t just a one-year thing, but something that DSG will continue for years on. It also really changes the way DSG interacts with students. Previously, DSG bureaucrats would sit in their offices and say, “I think I know what’s best for students. I think students want this, that or the other.” And sometimes they were right, and sometimes they weren’t. With Fix My Campus, it outsources the idea generation back to students and it goes to students first and asks, “What do you think is wrong on campus?” It can be something simple like a maintenance request or it can be something big like... “I’d like to see an academic advising program that is more affirming of people who are pre-professional....” That project has the opportunity to not only change the way DSG interacts with students and removes the barrier and sense that we are internally focused, that we are going to students first. But it’s also going to be generating results not only this year, as it already has done, but for years to come.
TC: What is your top priority for next year if you win?
PO: I would like to work on pushing against the bartending alcohol policy proposed by the administration. I am going further than saying we need to keep BYOB because a lot of people and administrators do not think that BYOB is working. I would like to push for an open-door policy, which is what our peer institutions Stanford [University] and Yale [University] both have—and it works really effectively at their schools. It institutes a safer drinking culture because it outsources the enforcement of alcohol to [resident assistants]. With BYOB, the enforcement is outsourced to students, and with bartending, it’s outsourced to 35-year-old bartenders who don’t go to this school and sort of kill the mood at a party. By enforcing it to RAs and getting people who know the students to enforce the alcohol policy, they can make safer decisions for the students, since they know the students better. They might even know their drinking habits and drinking limits. They are also responsible individuals who have gone through training, as well.