Campus Council stays in shadows

Amidst campus-wide discussions about improving the Duke experience to "create open spaces" and "foster community," Campus Council has an increasing role in advocating change in the realm of residential life.

In recent years, however, Campus Council has faced criticism for remaining under the radar for much of the undergraduate population, lacking innovative programming and adhering to the status quo of past agendas.

Although members said it has taken a new and more effective turn this year, students said they are still largely in the dark regarding the organization's mission and work.

The organization's mission statement says it is one of the leading campus groups working to generate effective policies and programming for students.

"As the primary governing body of residential life issues, we strive to enhance campus life by implementing fair and thoughtful policies, in addition to providing quality programming throughout the year," the mission statement reads. "It is our goal to make living on campus a safe, educational, and enjoyable experience for all."

Under Fire

Campus Council President Ryan Todd, a senior, said the organization is an intermediate between Duke Student Government, the campus' chief policy-lobbying organization, and the Duke University Union, the major student programming body.

"Despite the fact that we are a much smaller body with [fewer] organizational resources [than DSG and DUU], we manage to make just as much of an impact," he said.

Some students said, however, that Campus Council is less prominent than these other major student bodies.

"There's DUU and there's DSG, and Campus Council is sort of a hazy organization that you hear about come election time... and then you never hear about them again," said junior Ashley Dunfee, a resident assistant in Kilgo Quadrangle.

Several students said they have remained unaware of the purpose of Campus Council since they first set foot on campus.

"As a freshman, I didn't even know Campus Council existed," junior Qing Wang said. "I'm not quite sure what the function of Campus Council is-what is [its] mission?"

Wang said though she was a member of her quadrangle council last year, she only hears about Campus Council through the smaller organizations in which she is involved. She added, however, that she has noticed a rise in the number of activities Campus Council has hosted over the past years.

Junior Odera Umeano, president of Duke Africa, said though she has worked with Campus Council on charity event "Mission for Darfur," she is unaware of any other work the organization is involved with.

"I don't really know what Campus Council does on a larger scale, but as far as what they did on a particular event, I think it was a good job," she said.

Other students said they know so little about the organization that they did not understand how Campus Council could be of use to them.

"I don't really know what the point of it is," sophomore Nadine Gloss said. "My life is fine without Campus Council, to be honest."

Todd acknowledged that the organization has struggled with student awareness, adding that last year was more "stagnant" than usual.

He added, however, that its relatively small size-22 elected members-contributes to the organization's lack of visibility.

Campus Council has only one-fifth as many members as DSG and one-sixth the budget of the Student Organization Finance Committee.

In addition to comments about Campus Council's low visibility, some students said the organization fails to foster a sense of community at their events.

"If their idea is to create community, they should make efforts to that end as opposed to constructing the whole idea of an event around free stuff," Dunfee said. "Standing around in a free T-shirt line for hours doesn't... create community."

Making Changes

In order to have a greater impact in the undergraduate community, the organization has recently made efforts to be more responsive to student interests.

"We sat down at the end of last year and talked about the successes and what we need to change," Todd said. "We've done more policy, programming and structural changes."

The organization has streamlined their budget of $45,000 per semester to focus on events that are "more organic and spontaneous," he added.

Todd cited the annual "Welcome Back" event Campus Council hosted in August as such an event, which included an "Endless Summer" theme this year and was well-received by students.

He noted that organizing larger-scale, less frequent and themed events-instead of last year's weekly Fridays on the Plaza that he said were unsuccessful-allows for each program to have a "degree of novelty."

Campus Council has also made an effort to collaborate with other student groups in order to make programming more appealing.

"We really felt that there's an added value [to] general campus community to coordinate events with other campus organizations," Todd said, noting that Campus Council has worked with more than 30 organizations thus far this year.

Of the student groups with which Campus Council has partnered this year, it has most significantly strengthened ties with the Union, Todd said.

He and DUU President Katelyn Donnelly, a senior, said they meet frequently to coordinate programming, and representatives from both groups form committees on joint events.

"Every other programming we've turned out this year has been pretty much in concert with the Union, and if it hasn't been in concert with them, it's been with their full attention," Todd said, adding that Campus Council has been able to solicit a more diverse array of student input on programming by working with DUU.

Donnelly added that many students on DUU do not usually run for Campus Council.

"Having more opinions and collaborating on programming allows you to access a broader, more diverse opinion so you can have a better gauge on what events are going to be successful," Donnelly explained. "Campus Council is an elected body and DUU is a larger group of students interested in programming [who are] generally artistic and creative and art-focused. So, by working with the Union, I think Campus Council has accessed a more diverse base of students."

DUU has garnered praise for revamping its programming, budget and overall approaches to planning events this year, which Donnelly said was comparable to the restructuring of Campus Council.

Last year, Campus Council launched the Legislative Intent program to encourage members to set individual goals that the public could access, but many of their agendas fell through because they were too ambitious for one year, said Vice President Kevin Thompson, a junior.

This year the program has been retooled so that the Executive Board will choose three or four practical projects from the ideas submitted by members, he added.

Todd said Campus Council has also attempted to increase visibility in a number of new ways, including distributing pamphlets at the beginning of the year, meeting twice per semester with quad councils and inviting students from outside the organization to sit in on programming committees as "ad hoc" members.

The Future of Campus Council

The recent release of the Interim Report on the Undergraduate Experience in September has led to an increased focus within Campus Council on the residential experience highlighted in the report.

The organization's policy committee is currently drafting a response to the Interim Report that will be presented to administrators, Thompson said.

"The [Campus Culture Initiative] basically opened a door for us to look at the housing model and see if it was actually working," he said. "At the time [before the report was released], we were satisfied with the status quo."

Joe Gonzalez, associate dean for residential life and co-advisor to Campus Council, said the group is currently discussing the best ways of improving the housing experience.

"The work they're putting into that is really going to pay off before the year is over," he added.

Jay Ganatra, Trinity '07 and president of Campus Council in both 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, said the organization has grown considerably since its inception in 1995, and particularly in the last four or five years, from the number of activities it hosts to the size of its budget. He added that the presence of many newcomers this year will steer the group toward focusing on larger issues like campus community and quad identity.

"Last year we had a lot of veteran leadership, [and we] might [have been] too far deep in to get a picture of everything," Ganatra said. "Now is the time the administration is definitely going to have a big responsibility of taking on some of these bigger picture issues. It's tough because you're not going to see immediate results."


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