With the academic year barely in its second week, many on East Campus are still in the midst of deciding which of the various extracurricular or co-curricular activities to join on campus. Quite naturally, these earnest freshmen—or at least a good number of them—will be turning their attention towards Duke Student Government’s annual elections for first-year senators. In a season characterized by aggressively shared Facebook posts, catchy slogans and endless campaign flyers, it is important to consider why so many Duke first-years feel so inclined to join DSG so early in the academic year.
To understand the underlying reason behind this uncanny obsession with DSG elections among first-years, it is important to consider the pre-Duke background of many of them. Among the large number of typically type A personalities who make up the freshmen class, a considerable number will have been involved in their high school student governments. Additionally, essentially all Duke students represent natural leaders in some capacity and as such cannot wait to showcase their leadership when they arrive on campus. DSG seems like a natural and immediate satiation to this desire as a tight-knit group of some of the campus’ most visible leaders. Finally and most admirably, many students possess a burning desire to contribute to the university and to bring about their own variation of change.
Yet, for those eager first-year candidates, it is important to reflect on one’s personal reasons and convictions before joining DSG. The commitment of a DSG senator is intense with weekly meetings that can go on for hours at a time. Historically, DSG has also had a considerable issue with attendance, along with a serious problem in diversity that fails to fully represent Duke’s multifaceted student body. As one of the most prominent student organizations, DSG remains a large bureaucratic body made up of over 200 members—a world away from the compact executive boards of many high school student governments. It is also worth noting that a desire to bring about change can be misguided when lacking an institutional memory, a key handicap of a first-year.
Moreover, Duke offers a diverse range of activities to participate in outside of DSG. For first-years who either enjoyed or loathed their O-week experience, joining the First-Year Advisory Counselor program will provide ample opportunities to provide a welcoming environment for next year’s freshmen class. To those who express a keen interest in journalism or writing, The Chronicle, Duke’s main independent daily student-run newspaper, is the perfect opportunity to pursue that passion in a collaborative setting. In contrast, DSG remains a huge organization that undoubtedly has its hand in a diverse range of campus issues, but remains, at its purest form, a generalist organization. Finally, it is important to remember that other, unexpected opportunities to become involved in campus life will present themselves throughout one’s four years at Duke. It is okay to survive a semester or two without holding a formal leadership position on campus.
Nonetheless, for those first-years who do decide to participate in DSG, one should not feel deterred by the aforementioned criticism. DSG and its politicians represent a meaningful force on campus and it is not without good reason that they remain one of the largest campus organizations. Nevertheless, when choosing to run for a position, it is paramount to consider critically the position’s responsibilities as well as one’s underlying motives for joining DSG. In addition, before dedicating oneself fully to a political agenda, it helps immensely to possess a well-developed institutional knowledge of the university. After all, understanding our campus community in both its current form and its past is critical to functioning governance.
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