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Vague wishin'

In the spring of 1975, Associated Students of Duke University presidential candidate Rick Glaser ran on the issues of increased communication, revamping the distribution of student fees and improving student services. Some called his ideas "vague."

Sound familiar?

Thirty years later, current Duke Student Government President Jesse Longoria ran on a very similar platform (although he didn't really see a problem with the way student fees are handed out). His campaign received the same criticism.

Glaser and Longoria won their respective races. DSG, the successor of ASDU, now faces the same problems Glaser spotted three decades ago. Most students don't know or don't care what DSG does, and DSG doesn't give them many reasons to pay attention.

Back in '75, Glaser told The Chronicle in an interview, "ASDU has no importance for students." He attributed this to elitism, to "the ASDU philosophy of having students coming to ASDU instead of ASDU going to the students."

Ring any bells?

The heightened sense of self suffered by most DSG members, especially under the influence of personal titles and parliamentary procedure, can be pointed to as one reason for DSG's elitism. But there's a more disturbing source of the exclusivity DSG exudes. DSG members, for the most part, see their organization as an entity separate from the rest of the student body. This us-versus-them worldview gives DSG a bad image and detaches it from those it was elected to represent.

To say DSG is hard to communicate with is an understatement. Finding out whether or not there's a meeting this week-let alone where and when-is harder than finding a spot in the Blue Zone's first lot. Getting information from the DSG website is impossible-well, unless it's the minutes from last year's meetings. I have to get most of my information on DSG from Chronicle articles.

But I have to give Longoria credit: He is definitely the most approachable and available of any member I've met.

DSG snobbery doesn't just create a personal problem for me, though. It means students-at least the ones who care-don't know what their representatives are doing in their name. And, as I've said before, DSG sees lobbying as its most important function. How can students make sure DSG is representing them in meetings with administrators if DSG imagines itself as separate from the mass of Duke humanity-and doesn't even bother informing the student body?

DSG elitism can't be solved by legislation or lobbying. It needs a massive and long-term public relations campaign, envisioned by Glaser three decades ago. This means writing biweekly editorials in The Chronicle to tell students exactly what they have been doing, holding regular forums that are open to all, talking to students one-on-one (and not just friends and frat brothers) and publicizing their meetings before they happen. And maybe if DSG continues the assault, more students will actually care.

Longoria has one-that's right, one-idea for increasing communication with students. He has repeatedly expressed an interest in setting up senator-constituent dinners. We have yet to see any action on this idea.

A student shouldn't have to spend days figuring out when and where the next DSG meeting is. A responsibility lies with DSG to make itself accessible and accountable to the students.

But responsibilities also lie with the student body. Go to DSG meetings, send e-mails to your senator and the Executive Board, write letters to the editor. Ask the hard questions and let it be known what you want changed.

I don't know how Glaser's term panned out. But I do know that ASDU, which before he took it over was headed down the same path as our current student government, lasted until 1993. It was then dismantled and replaced with DSG. Eighteen years added onto the lifespan of an organization like our current one, which is rumored to be near obsoleteness and death, says to me that Glaser made a big difference in ASDU's image and operations.

In my utopic Duke, students take DSG as seriously as it takes itself. DSG public relations and student reactions create a positive-feedback loop that produces a responsive, powerful and effective student government with a supportive yet inquisitive population behind it.

I hope Longoria delivers on his promise of increased communication. Otherwise, it'll be another year of wishin', waitin' and hopin'.

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


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