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Stay relevant, DSG

East Campus is yet again plastered with campaign posters for Duke Student Government elections Thursday—in which 12 candidates will be joining the senate’s ranks.

While candidates’ eagerness is laudable, we question the unrealistic timeline for first year senator elections. Freshmen interested in running for DSG must declare their candidacies only two weeks after arriving on campus and then head to the polls one week later. Most during this time are still trying to figure out what it means to be a Duke student, much less formulate a cogent platform for change and advocacy on campus issues. The result is candidates who may be running for the wrong reasons—for example, joining simply because it is what they did in high school, or because it looks impressive on a resume.

The ins and outs of life at Duke come with time, and so does an understanding of DSG’s role in campus life. DSG should alter the timeline of elections, pushing freshmen elections back later on in the academic year, so candidates have time to acclimate to the University they will ultimately be serving.

It is too late for change in this election cycle. But as underclassmen head to the polls for this election cycle, it is worth contextualizing the role of DSG as an institution and addressing its past limitations as it looks to the upcoming year.

DSG has long battled accountability issues. Last year, The Chronicle reported startling absenteeism among members, even those running for vice president positions. Executive Vice President Abhi Sanka, a junior, addressed the attendance problem at the organization’s inaugural meeting two weeks ago, announcing that the attendance policy would be more strictly enforced this year. Ensuring that all senators are present and engaged in meetings is the first step towards establishing an effective DSG. We commend this move to increase accountability, and call upon elected senators to fulfill the duties of their positions.

If the first step is to get senators to meetings, the second is to reevaluate the internal DSG structure. What on paper purports a three-branch system is in reality dominated by a strong executive branch that exercises a top-down approach. Members of the executive branch have the potential to sway the legislature by driving the agenda and influencing votes. With VPs sitting at the front of meetings, senators could feel pressured to conform to the votes of their committee leader. The executive branch also potentially encroaches upon the jurisdiction of the judiciary. Establishing a system of checks and balances grounded in three distinct, independent branches will be instrumental in ensuring an effective DSG.

It is too soon to tell what role DSG will play in campus life this year, but there is reason for optimism in the pulse of campus political life. Voter turnout at last year’s spring elections drew 1,500 more votes than the previous year, for a total of 3,742 students. Last year’s 40 Percent Plan instigated a tide of student engagement, which we hope DSG will carry forth that momentum into this year.

The DSG Chronicle column tagline last year read, “we’re relevant, we promise.” We urge DSG to stay relevant.

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