Junior Riyanka Ganguly was elected Duke Student Government's next president in March. The Chronicle spoke with Ganguly about her plans for next year, including her ideas about student conduct, diversity and the surplus fund. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

The Chronicle: What are your guiding principles when picking people for your cabinet?

Riyanka Ganguly: I want to get a diversity of thought in the cabinet because it’s going to be my sounding board. I’m not sure how it would work out, because I want to make sure the students who are committing to the cabinet are going to be very dedicated and really understand what it takes to be a part of DSG. If those students are willing to do that, I would love to get non-DSG students in my cabinet. This is really with hopes that non-DSG students show that they understand what the role entails. 

TC: What is the most radical thing, in your eyes, that you want to do next year?

RG: To be very honest, the most radical thing is not something I’ve come up with yet because I need to have more conversations with my own Executive Board, and also with students in general during the office hours I want to hold. 

But, the one thing I can think of off the top of my head is really connecting the bridge between activists on campus and administration. I’ve had conversations already about the disconnect that’s felt and how DSG hasn’t been that bridge. It might spark some controversial conversations, but I think that’s what we need to get people to start talking. 

TC: What concrete outcomes do you hope DSG has accomplished by this time next year?

RG: I think the concrete outcome would be to be able to say that we have collaborated more with student groups, not just done things by ourselves. Because for me, that shows we are really connecting with the student body. In order to create more faith with the student population in general, we need to do a greater push to let students know what we are doing to increase transparency, but to also make ourselves accountable. 

TC: How do you think the student body perceives DSG and do you have any plans to change that?

RG: That’s a huge concern of mine because I think DSG presidents are realizing that if we don’t let students know that we are working hard for them and if we don’t have student input as an integral part of every step that we take, then we aren’t serving the students right. If they know that we’re working hard and they know that we’re holding ourselves accountable to the student body, then they’ll see that we can also be a resource to reach out to. 

This year, this was shown best with [junior and current Mi Gente president] Elizabeth Barahona running, choosing to join DSG because she realized there was potential for DSG to do cool things. I want to have biweekly—if it becomes popular, weekly—office hours in West Union where people can just come up to me and present me with issues to make it a more personal experience. 

TC: Who’s your biggest political inspiration?

RG: I’d say [Mass. Senator] Elizabeth Warren. I love her candor, and I love her ability to just stand up and say what’s needed. I don’t want to be the type of leader who plays a political game.

If I believe in a student group and if I want to advocate for a student and for a policy that might be controversial, then I want to be honest and a strong leader for them who isn’t going to just try and make both sides happy, but really focus on what the right side of the issue is. 

TC: What do you think is the purpose of the surplus fund and what are your plans for it?

RG: It’s important to remember that the surplus came out of the [Student Organization Funding Committee] and was through programming, so in essence it really is meant more for programming efforts. For me, I would love the surplus to be used more for collaboration with student groups. I don’t think there’s an official way to do that yet, and I would love to explore that more. That being said, I’m a little wary of making it seem that simple, so I’m still brainstorming how to make it a more formalized process. 

TC: Have you thought at all about any student conduct policies you’d like to work on during your term, and if so, what are they?

RG: I think right now there is just a huge disconnect with [the Office of Student Conduct] and student groups especially. I want to work on the alcohol policy. To be honest, I’ve heard every year [this is something] the DSG president tries to do, so I want to put my neck out there and see what I can do. I love the stories that I hear about alumni that the social culture was much more inclusive and much more open and less hidden in pockets of the school or taken off campus. I would love to see more alcohol policy changes but also clarifying student conduct and making it more transparent for those who enter. 

TC: There is a reoccurring issue with independent student representation in DSG elections. What plans do you have to engage independent students?

RG: I loved the op-ed that was published. I think it raised a lot of fair points. I want to work on more integrated housing in general. I mentioned this in my election, but I really want “independent housing” to be thought of more as a place for affiliated and unaffiliated students to really get to know each other. I want independent students to be given a larger voice during elections, but in order to do that I think what needs to happen is for there to be more of a community in “independent” housing. So that during an election, people feel obliged to go not only to this SLG, but also to this independent house that has a substantial number of students who will be engaged as voters and as potential people to collaborate with and also as potential candidates for elections.

I think that would be much different, if independent students also had a larger community within their residential experience, [because] that way when they’re going through the election process, it would be different because, much like an SLG, you know that you have this backing of a certain number of people. But it would be you having the backing of your independent house or dorm section. And I think the way to tap into that is the residential model, which is always very controversial. But there are ways we have talked about—like smart blocking—where it can be a good compromise with both the administration and the students to help build that community.

TC: Do you have any other comments?

RG: My big priorities going forward, to summarize, are to create that inclusive social culture, both academically and socially. To be a place where Duke is no longer a brochure of diversity, where there are stats of diversity of all different kinds, but really an integration of that diversity in social interactions. That’s something I really want to work on, and also DSG transparency and communication, especially with our marketing and things that we do to let people know that we are working hard for them and to also keep ourselves accountable. The third part would be to frame the rest of my agenda as something that’s framed by students and by their input and by student groups that want to collaborate.