Travis Gayles has spent the bulk of his undergraduate years discovering himself. The process began his freshman year when he came to Duke intending to be pre-med and then sophomore year changed his major to public policy and African and African-American studies. Now, his latest self-discovery has prompted him to run for president of Duke Student Government.
"I'm still trying to find my passion," said the Trinity junior. "A lot of the things I did back then were driven for the wrong reasons."
Gayles' vision for DSG is to ignite passion in the student body as well. His candidacy is partly designed to emphasize the role of the DSG president as somebody who can represent and lobby for the concerns and needs of student organizations and students at large.
Students can rally behind many of the issues the campus is facing, Gayles said, and it is DSG's job to provide that rallying point. "I feel that student voices often get splintered and don't really come together," he said. "If the administration comes back with things we don't like, I think we have the right to change it."
But Gayles' vision for DSG comes from an outside perspective. Although active in many other student organizations, Gayles has never served on the governing body.
Still, he said, his lack of experience is trumped by his ability to interact with various groups and types of people. He added that his years in non-DSG activities have enabled him to create valuable relationships that he can bring to his presidential role.
Parking is one issue that Gayles sees the student body rallying behind collectively. As DSG president, he plans to work toward allowing all parking passes to access lots on all campuses. He said these multi-lot passes will allow students who are desperate for parking spots to park on East if they must and then take the bus over to West.
However, the key to the parking issue, he said, is that all of the students must join together to address it. "Why don't we all band together?... I mean, where are we going to park?" Gayles said. "The real heart of the issue will come when we can get people to say, 'We are angry.'"
Gayles plans to have his DSG presidency focus more on current issues than long-term planning.
"We tend to focus a lot on the future.... At the same time, we have the tendency to ignore things we can fix in the present." Aside from the parking issue, Gayles also plans to find temporary solutions to problems such as the space issues in the Lobby Shop and the lack of social space on campus.
Gayles proposes expanding the Lobby Shop outward into the large space currently outside of the store. Then, while renovations of the Bryan Center are being completed over the next two years, at least a temporary solution can be achieved, he said.
He also wants to form what he calls a "get-on-the-bus" fund for groups holding off-campus social events. "It's not fair that because there is no viable social space on campus [and] you have to pay for buses. We can at least chip the cost down."
His experience working with a variety of groups, and his awareness of different student perspectives is an asset to his candidacy, Gayles said. He served as vice president of the sophomore class and president of Brown Dormitory; he is now vice president for financial affairs of the Black Student Alliance.
Shirin Odar, president of the class of 2001 both this year and last year does not foresee his lack of DSG experience being a problem.
"He reached a lot of our constituents," she said of her year working with Gayles, "which is important because we represented the entire class of 2001."
Gayles is also a member of the programming committee for the Community Service Center and has volunteered at the Comprehensive Cancer Center once a week for all three of his undergraduate years. That role has kept him humble, he said, and visiting "people who have concerns much larger than a chem test on Friday" has given him a different perspective on life.
Rob Leonard, student co-director of the CSC, also highlighted Gayles' ability to interact with people. "There were a lot of new people on our staff this year, and his personality helped to make everyone feel comfortable when they worked together," the Trinity junior said.
Leonard-a candidate for DSG vice president for community interaction-also discussed Gayles' ability to take on a project and follow it through to completion. "He is not the type of person you give a project to and then feel like you have to watch over him," he said.
Having interacted with various campus groups, Gayles sees the importance of connecting with the Duke community. "A student representative must be able to sit down and talk to people," he said. "You'd be amazed the conversation you can have with a random person at the bus stop."
Gayles said he is qualified to be DSG president for just this reason; it all ties into his goal of making DSG an organization that represents student unity and where the president serves as the voice of a collective student body.
"It takes the fire to burn in the student body," he said. "And nothing beats good old-fashioned student desire. I just want to make sure that [fact] doesn't get ignored."
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