With social media news feeds flooded with campaign promotions and candidate flyers smiling out from every bulletin board, campus election season is in full swing at Duke. Over the next few months, the student body will elect peers to serve in prominent student leadership roles in the University, including the Board of Trustees and Duke Student Government’s executive board. While not all students will be galvanized into participating in campus politics, the student representatives we elect play a role on committees and bodies that shape consequential issues for University life, including academic curricula, the affordability of a Duke education and sexual harassment policy. Thus, ahead of elections, we encourage students to think critically about the ways they want to be represented and the qualities they desire in individuals entrusted to act in their best interests.
Starting Monday, students will select a current senior to serve on the Board of Trustees for three years: the first as a non-voting observer and the next two as a full trustee. The Young Trustee is only one of 37 members of the Board; their biggest impact, consequently, lies not in acting on particular policy issues but in bringing perspectives to the Board that would otherwise be unrepresented. Given the nature of a Young Trustee’s role on the Board, we feel that character is one of the most important yet overlooked qualities of the position. Ethical judgment is not a trait that can be judged solely by the impressiveness of a candidate’s resume, but by their dedication to causes they have deemed morally important throughout their Duke careers. While the University emphasizes that the Young Trustee’s role is not one of an advocate, advocacy signifies hard-to-measure traits such as courage, strength of conviction and the ability to speak out about the moral direction of the University.
Second, we urge students, when voting, to consider how certain candidates would bring a unique voice to the Board or student government. Because of the numerical need to appeal to a broad base of individuals and groups on campus, DSG presidents and Young Trustees are often those who possess a wide breadth of campus experiences. However, we emphasize that depth of experience in specific aspects of University life is equally important to bringing issues to light that may otherwise be overlooked. While diversity defined solely as breadth of experience can be nebulous and overly general, the ability to highlight underrepresented experiences contributes to diversity in a real, meaningful sense.
Lastly, we emphasize the need for student leaders to stay connected to the student body after their campaigns are over. The aftermath of Young Trustee elections is often very much like a disappearing act—while trustees are elected with a great deal of fanfare, students know very little about their roles on the Board after their representatives assume their positions. Decisions by the Board of Trustees can be frustratingly opaque, even on issues that deeply affect students and families like the never-ending tuition hikes. As stakeholders in the University, students deserve greater transparency and knowledge of the decisions that impact their University experience. In this way, Young Trustees can serve as a critical bridge between students and the arcane procedures of the Board. Simple but powerful actions like continuing to meet with students and groups on campus after joining the Board represent essential actions that our elected Young Trustees can take to truly fulfill their roles we have ultimately entrusted them with.
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