Junior Lavanya Sunder will work to enact her vision as this year’s Duke Student Government president. Last year, as DSG vice president for services, Sunder led the Fix My Campus team in bringing together the concerns of the Duke community onto one Facebook page. During a time of great transition for the University, Sunder has worked closely with administrators to increase student access to food trucks and other dining options during peak meal times. She plans to continue these efforts in the Fall. The Chronicle’s Carleigh Stiehm sat down with Sunder to discuss what she hopes to accomplish this year as DSG president.
The Chronicle: If you could say anything to the incoming freshmen, what would it be?
Lavanya Sunder: I would say that the first couple of months at Duke are overwhelming, but the best way to deal with it is to dive in head first. Try out for the debate team even if you’ve never done debate, or join the ultimate frisbee team even if you’ve only played one game in your life. I always say that the best thing about Duke is the wealth of opportunities available, and I think as first-years, the best way to figure out what you want to do is by getting a little taste of everything. I’m still on random listservs for groups that I signed up for as a first-year but never actually joined, but I think that’s the beauty of going to college—you can try so many new things.
TC: What is the first thing you want to see done in DSG next year?
LS: The first thing that I want to see done in DSG is the establishment of the all-inclusive female mentorship program. I am already working with some students on creating a sustainable plan for the program, but I would love for it to be ready in time for the incoming class. I think it’s a really important addition to the number of women’s mentorship programs we already have on campus and a really important addition to any university. And, of course, creating a sustainable tailgate model so we start the season off strong.
TC: What do you see some of the biggest challenges facing DSG being?
LS: I definitely think a big challenge we will face is managing change. It’s no secret that the campus is undergoing extensive construction this year, and there’s going to be a lot of students that are shocked by the number of projects that are occurring. While we certainly cannot end these projects, DSG is definitely committed to making the student experience this year as fulfilling as it was in years past, but it will be a challenge to make everyone happy.
TC: What are you most excited about going into the new year?
LS: I’m probably most excited about the launch of the new bike-sharing program. It’s been my pet project this past year, and I’m really excited, and nervous, to see how the campus will react to the program. I’m anticipating that the program will be very successful, and I can’t wait to use the bikes myself.
TC: Were there any issues brought up in DSG that you would like to see again next year?
LS: I definitely think that there were a lot of issues brought up in DSG that I would like to see continued work on. I know that there has been a lot of great work done with eliminating the statue of limitations for sexual assault and making expulsion the recommend sanction. However, I think there still can be work done, like making students more aware of their Title IX rights and working on more widespread preventative measures, like more PACT training. Especially with the U.S. government starting a campaign to end sexual assault on college campuses, I really think we have a lot of positive momentum to make even more change.
I also think a huge issue we saw brought up last year, largely in response to the 40 percent plan, was the transparency of DSG as a whole. I’m definitely going to be doing a lot of work, along with EVP Abhi Sanka, on increasing the transparency and legitimacy of the organization. We’re going to be making sure that everyone knows who their VPs and senators are and making sure students feel like they know what projects DSG is working on. More than just DSG, however, I want to work with administrative groups to increase student voice in other aspects of campus life. For instance, a project I’m really excited about working on is transforming the dining survey I implemented last year into an actual dining fair, where students get to taste and have input on what food trucks will be on rotation.
TC: What else do you think students should be aware of before we start the new year?
LS: I think just to be aware of the fact that, although there is a lot of construction going on, it really is all for the best, and the Duke experience will be amazing regardless. We’re going to be working on making sure that information about construction is disseminated as widely as possibly, so people don’t wake up one day and realize that the BC Plaza is closed. But more than that, we’re really going to try to focus on the positive things on campus and work with the projects to integrate them more into campus life. I’ve been talking with some arts groups about doing some artistic installations on the boarded up areas and other projects to make the construction more bearable. Regardless of construction projects, it’s going to be a great year.