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 Sean Bissell. I’m from a small town in southwest Virginia and I’m here to run as your future DSG president. Thank you all for either being here or tuning in tonight. It means so much to me to be able to speak to you about my campaign and what I envision to be our Duke experience in the future. Since the moment I was a member of DSG as a first-year, it has always been an absolute honor to serve the Duke student body. During these times, I have been able to personally witness areas in which DSG excels and aspects of DSG that could be improved. Next year can be a turning point for DSG. This election presents me the opportunity to use my knowledge in action and elevate my responsibility for one that is bigger, the opportunity to continue to make lasting change on the campus I love so dearly—a prospect to elect two partners, who are running together to make DSG the best it has ever been and the chance to make meaningful strides on the issues that face all Duke undergraduate students."
The Chronicle: On your platform, you list ideas for how to help rural and low income students through the admissions process at Duke. How do you plan to help those students once they are here at Duke?
Sean Bissell: I think it’s very important that we get students here from diverse backgrounds and diverse areas and we need to support them when they get here. So some things that I plan to do and change when these students get to campus is we need to really help students from all areas with mental health we need to make it destigmatized from the moment you step on campus when i was an RA I noticed that we don’t spend enough time introducing our first-years to the programs that we have in wellness and the programs that we have in CAPS and this is something that I really want to change.
I also think that working with the career center is very important. A lot of things are tailored to students who have what they want figured out and this needs to change as well. There needs to be more of a diverse set of programs and resources available for students who are just figuring out where they want to go and that really includes a lot of rural and 1G students. So I think those will really help students while they’re here and also rounding out the Duke academic experience including introducing students to a Duke 101 course that deals with issues such as wellness, identity, and inclusion is also important and will also make sure that Duke is a welcoming place for everyone.
TC: Sean Bissell, you are running with a candidate for EVP. If another EVP candidate wins, how do you plan on improving your working relationship with that candidate given that you campaigned against them?
SB: So, I’m very excited about that question. I’m very excited to be running with Kayla Thompson because I think it will really make DSG stronger and the executive board stronger. It means that we can focus on doing outward policies but also looking at how DSG can be improved internally. Kayla and I are a great team. We were able to improve each other’s ideas and put a platform together that is something that we both are excited to work on. That’s why I think running together is going to be a great culture shift. It’s going to make DSG more representative and stronger.
In terms of if Kayla’s not elected or I’m not elected, that’s not a problem because I can all everyone up here one of my good friends and I can call all the EVP candidates one of my good friends as well. And so we have that working relationship, we have that culture that can move on even if it’s not Kayla as the EVP. I’d also like to finish with even if she or I are not elected, we don’t just plan to stop helping the student body. This has been part of our Duke experience and we want to continue that.
TC: On your platform, you talk about access and equity, but you do not address students with disabilities. Do you have any ideas about how to improve accessibility for those students?
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SB: So I really like that question. I too also supported the resolution and Kayla also supported the resolution to renovate the languages and also the change to the SOFC guidelines to say that no events can be funded if they are in the Languages building. But we also need to look into making sure that students with disabilities have access to everything that they need in the classroom. There needs to be better best practices for professors who have students with disabilities in the classroom, better professional training.
There also needs to be a look at the social culture. So K-Ville was brought up, but other things are not as accessible for students on campus with disabilities other than K-Ville, including going to campus concerts or going to a lot of the different events that are happening on campus that just are thrown together, so I think that those things also need to be looked at by students for students.
TC: Upon the recommendation of this year’s line monitors, Senate passes a bill eliminating Walk-Up Line next year. Many students call on you to oppose the bill. What do you do?
SB: So I read The Chronicle article today and I’ve really thought about what the actions that need to be taken to make the Walk-up Line more safe and equitable for all students who choose to do it. I think that it’s not time right now to say that walk up line is banished. I think that would be a misstep and something that is a little too reactionary right now. I think we need to look as a student body together at policies the line monitors implement and policies specifically for the walk up line that make it a better experience for all—including the line monitors.
Some things that I want to do is sit down with the line monitors and understand what happened, why it happened, and also sit down with DUPD and the administration to look at what would be the best way to do crowd control during games like the UNC game. This is not a new issue; there are other venues that have to do crowd control such as this. I think setting out the standards before hand and making sure that the students and the line monitors understand these standards is very important. And then more collaboration with DUPD and more communication between all who are involved, making sure that K-Ville and Cameron is accessible to students who come is really going to be necessary. So I think having those conversations is the next step, and then creating a plan together is what needs to be done.
TC: Sean, for your last scenario: Your chief of staff informs you that he has been accused of sexual harassment. How do you respond?
SB: So the first thing that I do is that think it would only be fair and right to let the process that the Undergraduate Conduct Board and the Office of Student Conduct have go through. At the time, I would ask the chief of staff to step down and have a new chief of staff just while the process goes through the Office of Student Conduct. I would say that I would not be one be involved; I do not think it is fair for the DSG president to get involved on any of those concerns, especially if it’s a friend or one you’re working with. This is something that is very serious; this is something that the university needs to have a process for, and it does, and we as students need to allow that process to go out. Now, I will say, I know that there are some issues with the process we currently have; we need to look at those, but that needs to be separate. That wasn’t part of your question so, I would ask my chief of staff to step down and let the process go out.
"Next year’s gonna be a year of change. Next year’s the last year that we have Central Campus; next year’s the year that Duke finally raise the minimum wage to $15, and next year is the year we make change and have your DSG president and executive vice-president come into together as a team. I have also worked on projects by listening to the student body, and bringing those voices together. I have worked on a committee, than more so than any other committee has had to jump through a lot of hoops and has had to work with so many other administrators and faculty that progress is very slow.
I also have the most experience on the executive board of DSG so that I have those relationships with administrators. I think that it’s time that we make the change that we need; we make the change to DSG externally, so that students are able to come to DSG and that we reach out to them and get the opinions from them, and I think that this is something that will make it stronger and will make it representative. I’m not going to pretend that I’m the only expert on the issue; I’m not gonna pretend to be the one to say, 'This is the way it should be, and this is the way it has to be.' I want to bring student voices, to make the changes together as a student body, as Duke University. Thank you."