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Zeroing in on DSG

What do you know about Duke Student Government?

“I have no idea,” answered a friend. “I know nothing about it.”

“Programming? I think they liaise with the administration…and I’ve seen events with ‘sponsored by DSG’ signs. And K-Ville,” said another.

Well, yes and no. DSG consists of five committees: Community Interaction, Athletics and Campus Services, Academic Affairs, Students Affairs, and the overarching Executive Committee.

Most students don’t know that DSG considers itself largely a lobbying organization—or, as current president Jesse Longoria put it, “DSG is a support structure for the students, primarily through the recommendation of policy to different sectors of the administration…. ensuring that students are capable of doing the things they want to do on campus.” DSG also controls funding for dozens of student-run clubs and groups, doling out over $575,000 last year under their Student Organization Financial Committee. And yes, they govern Krzyzewskiville.

But those who have followed DSG in the past see it as an all-talk, little-action organization. At the freshman activities fair last year, I asked a Campus Council representative what the difference was between CC and DSG. His answer? “We actually do stuff!”

While DSG can point to recent small victories, such as DevilDVD, the TVs in Wilson gym and the safety walk completed with DUPD last year, things like the Academic Expectations and Responsibilities Amendment enforce the characterization of DSG as a lame-duck government.

This column will have a brand-new kind of coverage of DSG. I am not a member of DSG, nor am I your traditional reporter. I will perform some reporting duties to bring the most recent news on DSG to my column, but I will also bring my own opinion.

The Chronicle simply cannot cover everything that DSG does, nor can it offer any opinion on it, aside from the occasional staff editorial. I want to alert non-DSG members of the student body to the actions DSG takes in our name.

DSG considers much of its work to be “behind the scenes,” yet they are also representatives of the entire student body.

These two facts are hard to reconcile, as we need accountability from our elected officials, be they members of Congress or DSG executives.

I will attempt to bring greater accountability to the “behind the scenes” side of DSG and turn an analytical eye on all their dealings.

What kind of issues can you expect to be covered this year? Well, there are the perennial issues of election controversy, professor evaluations, off-campus parties and student safety. Longoria says DSG has purchased new election software to be used in this year’s elections—an attempt to eliminate the need for divisive runoff elections.

The bylaws may also be amended to allow online campaigning, an issue that hampered candidate Emily Aviki’s campaign last spring. DSG is still trying to implement an opt-out program with incentives for professors to allow publication of evaluations; they are also working on a DSG-run academic website, independent of ACES, that could be a possible venue for evaluations.

And with the recent flurry of alcohol citations off East, attention is again on the strained relations between Duke and its neighbors-the “students’ right” to party. “It’s just important to be proactive,” said Longoria.

He wants to continue dialogue with Duke staff and Durhamites, always supporting and representing students in the process. As far as safety goes, he wants to provide times and places for informal meetings with DUPD where students can voice their concerns. He wants DUPD to keep students informed about incidents of crime on campus.

Other issues that DSG hopes to address this year are the renovation of Central Campus, the lack of dining options on East, follow-up work on the Academic Expectations and Responsibilities Amendment passed last March and, as always, the rules that govern K-Ville.

Said Longoria, “The most important thing we do is…serve students, to represent the student in situations where they would not normally be represented.” He aims to increase communication between DSG senators and their constituents with organized dinners. He also wants the Executive Committee, himself included, to be open to any student’s concern.

“We have to make sure we’re not dictating to students what they want,” said Longoria. “I feel that it’s really, really important for the student government to have a very good idea of what students want, not based on what they think students want, but by going out there and talking to students.”

We can only wait and see if DSG is able to fix some of the chronic problems on campus, or if this year will be another of impossible and incomplete projects, sprinkled with “small victories.”

Elizabeth Rudisill is a Trinity sophomore. Her column appears every other Thursday.

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