Amidst the controversy surrounding House Bill 2, which was been widely regarded as discriminatory toward the LGBTQ+ community, The Chronicle spoke with senior Steven Soto, president of Blue Devils United, about his goals for his tenure.
The Chronicle: What do you hope to accomplish this year as president?
Steven Soto: We had a recent executive meeting and laid out some big ticket items. I think at first we want to see how we as an organization can be not just a welcoming community—I think kind of baseline, if we’re not doing that, we shouldn’t exist—but question more what kind of community are we welcoming people into. I hope that we can work with more intersectional groups on campus than has been done historically. So whether that’s partnering with Mi Gente on more events or [Black Student Alliance] on more events, I think that’s really important to make sure that Duke is a safe place where all students can feel welcomed, safe and affirmed.
TC: What kinds of events do you plan on hosting this year?
SS: We are planning to host Jim Obergefell, which is going to be really cool. Jim Obergefell is the name in the [landmark marriage equality case Obergefell v. Hodges]. We’re also holding an event with Mi Gente. Another thing is that we’re doing a better job of kind of picking categories of events. For example, we have specific feminine-identifying, female-presenting events in order to call in traditionally marginalized groups to BDU. I think by keeping an eye out for groups that traditionally don’t feel safe and then having events where they can feel a community from within the large community is really important. And I don’t think that’s something that has been done well historically in BDU.
TC: Do you have plans to make the organization more inclusive? If so, how?
SS: I think not just the organization, we also have to make Duke more inclusive. And I think one way to do that is to pick up where the University left off on the president’s task force on bias and hate issues. That’s something that is important to not let fall by the wayside. We have to ask the question: what comes next?
TC: What did you think of the task force’s report?
SS: Before any action is taken, it’s always a question of if the report can prove that something is going on. So now that we have the report, I’m interested in what happens next. A report to me is just a piece of paper that gives credibility to what students have been saying, so now we have to see how far this credibility goes.
TC: What policies affecting the LGBTQ+ community does Duke still need to work on?
SS: One that we are talking about is policy for transgender identifying students: I know we have PASH, so making sure queer students and transgender-identifying students are supported with PASH. We want to make sure it has sexual resources for all types of students. The other thing is seeing what happened around HB2 at Duke. I think perhaps while [HB2] is not exactly for the LGBTQ+ community at Duke, voter registration is something that certainly affects us. BDU is going to be doing a lot this year with voter registration. BDU is really serious about voter registration because students should have the same say in the state that they are going to school in.
TC: How have you worked to advocate against House Bill 2?
SS: We’ve released pieces through The Chronicle, and we’ve also sat down with administration and pushed for a stronger response to House BIll 2. The first University response released on Duke Today was not publicized very well. I don’t think many students knew it was on Duke Today, and it had no teeth. And I think the second one was better, but as Duke University, I think we could show a little more courage in terms of House Bill 2 than we have before.
TC: What are your plans for the North Carolina Pride Parade?
SS: [The Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity] has a float so BDU and CSGD will team up and will be on the float. There will be lots of programming around that week. That weekend is when we will host Jim Obergefell. Later that week, we will have activities with our UNC equivalent, and we will also have our pre-pride, post-pride and during-pride events.