Two weeks ago, Duke Student Government president Tara Bansal addressed first-years as part of Convocation. Standing at the podium, she offered them a piece of advice: “Whatever you do, never allow yourself to get comfortable.” As the 2016-17 school year begins, we, in turn, would like to offer that advice to the whole of DSG. It is our sincerest hope that by focusing on improving communication, restructuring internally and returning to its fundamental purposes, DSG can turn the tides of student apathy and remove the grounds many have had for perennial criticisms of it.
Problems of perception have been as frequent as they have been detrimental to DSG. Examples include the conflation of the upcoming Peer Advisory for Sexual Health Center with a sex toy shop and the poorly explained April referendum on Chanticleer funding. Flashpoints like these can be avoided if well-trafficked communication lines are established. In saying that, we applaud the release of DSG’s new website. Its centralization of key resources is what students have long deserved. If properly maintained, the website represents the foundations for everyday student access to DSG. As Bansal said in a recent interview with The Chronicle, “students [don’t] know if DSG actually does anything.” We appreciate both her recognition of that fundamental issue and DSG’s work so far in resolving it.
Beyond issues of public relations, DSG has much work to do internally. We applaud Bansal’s determination to halve the size of the Senate. It goes without saying, but we urge DSG to not forget repeated and very publicly documented semesters of attendance problems. Whether evolution comes through a size reduction or more severe penalties for lack of commitment, something must change if students are to have faith in DSG’s legislative organ.
On a cultural note, we have written for years that DSG sometimes has a mismatch of ambitions with deliverables. While we appreciate the many ideas that senators and vice presidents bring to the table, we maintain that being a good representative involves culling herds of projects down to those which offer the most value to students. We understand that personally drafted pet projects are exciting for senators to work on, but we hope that vice presidents will take on a much more direct role in focusing the energies of their committees on a smaller set of utilitarian projects.
Turning to composition, the unfortunate fact remains that DSG, according to its own demographics survey, over-represents whites, males and Greek/SLG-affiliated students, while underrepresenting minorities and engineers. Self-selection through the election and campaigning processes is not an easy problem to solve, but we hope to see outreach to different campus sections and the liaisons between DSG and different student interest groups pay off this year.
Ultimately though, no improvement is worth making without a return to the raison d’être of DSG: to govern and advocate for the student body in all University affairs according to the highest democratic ideals, as enshrined in DSG’s constitution. Shrinking from a condemnation of Executive Vice President Tallman Trask under the Community Standard last semester was a cowardly hesitation, and given that college protests and political debates are not going away anytime soon, we hope this year sees a bolder approach taken by our elected leaders.
We similarly hope to no longer publish “Fix my DSG, pt. X” editorials and issue “cautious” endorsements of candidates. A new year means a new opportunity for a revitalized and dynamic student government, and we look forward to see what DSG has to offer.
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