Tomorrow and Friday, Duke undergraduates will elect a new DSG president to helm the organization for the 2018-19 academic year. Students will be tasked with choosing from a pool of five extremely talented and zealous peers: juniors Kristina Smith, Sean Bissell, Sabriyya Pate and Yemi Kolawole along with first-year Jamal Burns. Their respective platforms and visions for the University encompass everything from combating sexual assault to working towards structural reforms within DSG itself. After strongly considering the specifics of each candidate’s platform, we strongly encourage the student body to rank Kristina Smith, current vice president for services and sustainability, first when voting this week.
Jamal, while an outsider candidate because of his comparative youth and enthusiasm for radical change within DSG, came off as overly theoretical and less policy-oriented in his platform than his competitors. His campaign has instigated crucial conversations around badly needed institutional reforms within the undergraduate representative body, but the Board feels he lacks the organizational knowledge to navigate both the University and the inner machinations of DSG. Hierarchy and seniority—for better or for worse—are innately embedded within the daily functions and structure of student governments, and we strongly encourage Jamal to work with DSG in affecting change on campus if he is not elected. Yemi’s general ideas and platform areas were agreeable and easy to get behind, but we felt she lacked a necessary specificity required to put them into action. Unfortunately, her campaign promises felt more like generalized aims that all candidates could support, but did not represent a unique or practical vision for concrete implementation.
Sabriyya’s emphasis on housing reform in her campaign is no doubt extremely relevant given the current wave of support around the restructuring of the residential model. However, given the amount of mobilization around the issue of housing, change will likely come regardless of whoever holds the role of president next year. The wheels are already in motion and will likely progress outside of closed-door DSG meetings with the administration. Sean’s platform is full of exciting new ideas, but appears too idealistic and deprioritized given the time constraints inevitably faced by each president. Additionally, his choice to do a joint campaign, while unique and beneficial in some regards, makes it difficult to vote for him as a stand alone candidate because of how much his goals are connected to his campaign partner, Kayla Thompson.
The Board ultimately decided to endorse Kristina Smith for a number of reasons. Her demonstrable and rhetorical commitment to collaboration was refreshing and genuine. Furthermore, the specificity of her policy goals were clear and indicative of a breadth of institutional knowledge and insightful bureaucratic experience. Too often, DSG presidential candidates latch onto either extremely theoretical, or extremely impractical and specific campaign goals that cannot be met within the short span of one academic year. As someone who has listened and credited individuals within the campus community for helping her to affect concrete changes as VP—such as implementing the Daily Devil Deals and a career closet for undergraduate interviewees—we are confident that Smith will be the most promising DSG president if elected. Consequently, when ranking candidates this Thursday and Friday, we strongly encourage undergraduates to rank Smith first.
Note: Jamal Burns could not meet with the Board during the Tuesday night meeting time; the board attempted to reschedule but unfortunately we could not agree upon an alternative time. This editorial was updated Wednesday, March 7 at 9:30 p.m.
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