After a year marked by high-profile racially-charged incidents, the Duke Student Government is planning to collaborate with the Black Student Alliance on several projects during the 2015-16 academic year.
In April, BSA—together with DSG—created a list of demands intended to reduce racism at Duke, including a revamped orientation curriculum, a pre-orientation program for black students and the publication of community safety and bias incident reports, all of which are in the process of being negotiated with administration through student-led efforts.
After the discovery of a noose on the Bryan Center Plaza, DSG passed a resolution and statute funding a Social Justice Fellowship, which is designed to fund student projects that create spaces for discussion and community engagement.
“The next step is to bring [the committee] together in the Fall to determine where the money will go,” said DSG President Keizra Mecklai, a senior.
The $6,000 fellowship is currently being held in the University Center for Activities and Events and will be allocated during the fall semester by a Social Justice Fellowship Committee composed of students from several different cultural groups around campus. The committee will evaluate student proposals on a rolling basis to ensure that the fellowship funds are distributed effectively.
In addition to the Social Justice Fellowship, BSA's other demands have moved forward as well.
Mecklai explained that in order for the pre-orientation program to come to fruition, progress would have to be student-initiated rather than administration-driven.
“The next step with the pre-orientation program is not a yay or nay from the administration,” she said. “The next step is to get students from BSA and other interested parties to put together a proposal and present it to the Office of New Student Programs.”
That process—as well as a plan to revamp the orientation curriculum—are already underway, said BSA President Henry Washington, a junior.
“I’ve had several meetings with Jordan Hale, the director of [new student programs], and he has committed himself to making orientation a space where cultural competency can be facilitated,” Washington said. “He has invited me to be a part of that conversation.”
Washington noted, however, that BSA will not be solely responsible for the creation of the curriculum.
“There’s a lot of responsibility which is going to be placed on groups like the BSA, but we’re students and an independent organization which has its own agenda,” Washington said. “I don’t envision a BSA which has to plan all the orientation programming around cultural competency.”
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Neither of the two programs will be in place for the Class of 2019’s orientation, Mecklai said.
The request to publicize incident reports related to bias and community safety met a different response from administration. Although BSA asked for the release of campus incident reports in order to increase transparency, administrators said this already occurs to the greatest extent possible.
“We share information regularly with semesterly reports on incidents published on the Student Conduct site,” said Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs. “We're bound by [the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] from ever releasing details and identifying students who may be involved in circumstances that may be subject to conduct review.”
FERPA requires student consent prior to the disclosure of any education-related records, which include conduct reports.
Mecklai outlined several other DSG initiatives still under development that she hopes will ensure that the voices of groups like BSA are heard, including assigning senators as liaisons to cultural groups on campus and inviting them to Senate meetings to give updates.
She also noted that DSG and BSA are planning to work together to create a “cultural competency” class which would be required for all students, inspired by a similar program at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Washington said he saw opportunities for collaboration as positive steps toward enacting change on campus.
“I was very pleased with the extent to which the executive board of the DSG worked with vigor and haste to help us establish the Social Justice Fellowship,” Washington said. “I’m absolutely willing to work with DSG or other organizations in the future who’d like to collaborate with the BSA to create a more inclusive and diverse campus space.”