Editor's note about the debate format: Each candidate had 90 seconds to introduce themselves and give an opening statement. Then, we had three candidate-specific questions for each candidate, with one minute to respond to each. Any candidate that is mentioned in another candidate’s answer had 30 seconds to respond. Each candidate had two scenario questions with 90 seconds to respond to each. We reserved the right to follow up on candidate’s responses. Candidates had 30 seconds to respond to the follow up question. Then, each candidate had 60 seconds to give a closing statement.
"My name is Sabriyya. I’m a junior Program II major studying conflict and negotiation studies, originally from Nigeria. One thing I have to say is that I believe fundamentally that this University has an obligation to provide us with the resources, skills and networks that let us use experiences we receive here to make an impact on the world and serve others with what we are receiving. And so with that in the past three years that I’ve been at Duke involved with student government I’ve seen a lot of inequities that I want to address I can talk about those later when we have the discussion but just to touch on those briefly now.
"First, we need to address the independent housing at Duke. It’s something that I feel very personally about as somebody who has lived in independent housing my entire time at Duke and to see a lot of ways where we can institutionalize support for students so everybody has a place to call home where they go in the common room and know people and feel welcomed, they’re not brushing their teeth next to strangers. I think it’s about time our Duke Student Government is working to fundamentally address those issues and those concerns. As for my time as the attorney general, it’s a position that I joined because I recognized that DSG is not representative and I’ve made a key point of my platform and my work for the past two years to make DSG more diverse and increase voter turnout and that’s something I really fundamentally believe we need to do better at.
"The second part is intellectual and academic engagement, Program II, that’s been so rewarding for me, I see so many ways we can expand on that. And the third is DSG reform—how to make a government that’s actually transparent and held accountable. I look forward to hearing more and discussing with you guys further."
The Chronicle: You have been heavily involved with Duke Students for Housing Reform, but that commitment is not listed on your website. What is on your website is that you want the University to invest in independent communities. As a current member of an SLG, what do you think their role should be on campus and how do you plan to advocate for the needs of independent students when you’re affiliated?
Sabriyya Pate: Actually, I haven’t paid dues since I’ve been involved. I don’t think I’ve gone through the formal channels, but I’m not involved with my SLG and the Students for Housing Reform is listed on my website. But, in terms of what it means to be a student who has lived in independent housing my whole time at Duke, there are so many tangible ways where I see we can have progressive change. So, from reforming the RA and House Council curriculum, so we’re actively forming communities in independent housing—that’s something we’ve done very successfully in Avalon where I live. Last year, I had the idea of Kilgo Rush—what if we had a month full of daily programming to counter the stigma against independent communities and also foster a community within ourselves. It’s been so rewarding to see that we have residents in Kilgo who rushed Kilgo as freshmen and now feel like they can have a home at Duke. And I really want to work with administrators to expand that. This past January, I worked with HRL to expand that with different quads getting a $1,000 grant for each quad. I want to work in my capacity as DSG president to further those initiatives. Another idea I have is hiring another HRL program coordinator to help facilitate with that—to help take away that burden that RAs and House Councils face. What if we had a retreat at the start of sophomore year for all independent students to foster those tight-knit communities that you see happening when people do pre-orientation programs. I could go on forever.
TC: Sabriyya, in your platform you talk about a new faculty mentorship program, which would be separate from academic advising. How would you implement such a program and how would you get faculty to participate as another burden with their already busy schedules?
SP: Yeah that’s a great question. That’s actually an initiative I’ve already begun talking to administrators about, specifically Dean Arlie Petters. And we’ve talked in particular about how do you incentivize faculty to want to do this. He’s given me some suggestions, and I’m really confident that we’ll be able to have some incentives for faculty and that he’ll be able to encourage faculty members to sign up. We’ve also done the calculations on like how many faculty-to-student ratios, and we highlighted with the first year, given the thousands of faculty that do exist on this campus, not all students would be signing up for this program, and I’m confident in his ability to help with this.
TC: As attorney general, you made increasing student participation in DSG elections a priority. Last year while you were attorney general, turnout dropped to 23 percent of the student body. In the recent young trustee elections, turnout was higher. To what do you attribute this change?
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SP: Thanks for asking that question. So I’ll start by saying Duke Student Government, across other universities, has really, really high voter turnout. Like I’m always getting emails from attorney general equivalents of other schools like 'Hey, how are you getting so many people to vote and turnout?' So I’d just say I’m really proud of the fact that a lot of students on Duke’s campus, relative to other universities, are actually turning out. This past year, what happened, I’d attribute that to the creation of that board of elections, that I oversaw. To have a group of senators who are actively committed to making sure that DSG is representative and that we’re creating an empowered resource for students to get involved.
One of the projects that we worked on this past year was 'the Blue Devil’s Guide to Joining DSG.' Sometimes there’s a lot of obstacles to actually joining as a first-year if you’re not in a pre-O or have mentors early on, it can be intimidating. And DSG also hasn’t always been the most representative of international students, of engineers, of black students.
So that’s something we’ve been very critical and I’ve overseen as attorney general, this past year in particular, reaching out to different groups of all backgrounds to encourage them to participate, but also with working with candidates, encouraging them to reach out to more than just selective groups. So telling them, 'Hey you need to reach out to independent groups. I created the meet and greet last year so candidates could meet with the presidential and [Young Trustee] candidates. So that’s just the culmination of a lot of continuous efforts I’ve been leading.
TC: In your platform, you talk about making DSG representation on boards and panels more transparent. During your tenure as president, the Board of Trustees decides to make a surprisingly sharp increase in tuition, resulting in student outcry about the decision and lack of transparency. What is your response?
SP: I mean that’s pretty much what we saw recently with the increase in the tuition and it’s so important that we have low income students being represented and heard. And I think as DSG president, one thing I would be keen on advocating for is having those voices heard, but also having that delivered in a very tangible way. So I’ll draw on my experience with the menstrual hygiene products initiative in the Bryan Center. Interacting and dealing with the various voices on that—very similar to the conversations going on and how much we increase our tuition by, by what margins—a lot of administrators also articulated very confusing, contradictory claims about why we should even value women’s rights to having these menstrual products.
So looking at it in terms of how I can be the most effective leader, the best ways to empower the voices of students is doing outreach to student groups and then working hard on comprehensive memos we are able to produce to administrators. When it comes to something like how are we having a lack of student input on our tuition increasing, just think about the committees that are being represented. So DSG senators and VPs have the opportunities to serve on different boards institutionally and there’s not much transparency. I think that connects to what the first part of your question was referring to—where are the student voices being heard?
TC: A member of your executive board has been a vocal critic of you since the beginning of your term. She challenges your ideas at every meeting, but so far, everything has been respectful. Then, you launch an initiative you think is very important. As per usual, she voices dissent. You find out from a trusted source that she has been secretly working to make your plan fail by dissuading senators and other key stakeholders in making this initiative work. How do you respond?
SP: One of the major elements of my platform is DSG reform and accountability, and what does that really mean? That means having a work environment within the DSG exec that holds senators accountable, and I have different ideas of how to do that for senators, like transparency through the DSG website with weekly updates about projects and encouraging coverage from The Chronicle at committee meetings. For how you get a cohesive committee meeting, I think the best way to respond to that is to talk about my RA team. My boss has the philosophy that if we work together as a team and have the resources and relationships to work together and cultivate that initially, we will be able to resolve conflicts that do arise. Personally with that scenario, I value criticism.
I think it’s important that we bring issues to the forefront with whatever policy I would be advocating on and I would welcome that. You said she was being respectful, so I would definitely encourage that. You mentioned her undermining initiatives, so that would definitely be a situation where I would want to bring in the full DSG exec board together.
I am confident that my leadership, from the beginning when we convene as a committee with all the members that are elected, we would have the rapport established before then so when these challenges and these disagreements do arise, we will solve them diplomatically. My whole Program II is called Conflict and Negotiation Studies, I study this all the time, and I’m really confident that I would be able to do the same within this organization.
"Thank you so much for having us and for asking these thoughtful questions that really convey the intricacies of identities and issues that students face on this campus. At the end of the day, student government is an activist organization, but we’re supposed to be actively working to address these issues consistently and constantly. This is something that I prioritize everyday as I think about my own identities and how student government can better represent those ideas.
"From my experiences as an RA living in a very diverse community, I’ve seen how the institution has failed us and on those observations that I’ve had, I’ve concretely proposed and implemented very tangible solutions to actually address those issues from building more inclusive and independent communities to actively and successively creating menstrual hygiene product dispensers in the Bryan Center.
"I know that I have the leadership abilities to do and execute as I’ve said. I’ve worked with DSG presidents closely in the past and understand what the role entails, but I’m not already in DSG exec, where that’s been an expectation, and still without an executive title I’ve been able to lead change, and also leading at the ways we need to critically examine the institution and have it work more effectively, have it work more transparently with more accountability. I love this university and all the opportunities it’s given me, from my Program II to the amazing community, and I want make sure everyday I’m working hard to help every student feel at home, supported, empowered and engaged to take on our roles as future leaders. Thanks."