Editor's note about the debate format: Each candidate had 90 seconds to introduce themselves and give an opening statement. Then, we asked each candidate three candidate-specific questions, 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 Kristina Smith and my pronouns are she/her/hers and I want to be your next DSG president. In these past three years I have really fallen in love with this university. I have had the opportunity to engage with the very issues that affect us every day and in this time I have realized that Duke on its own will not provide us with everything that we as an undergraduate body need—not without a push from student leaders. As DSG president, I want to continue to prioritize affordability and accessibility on our campus because I care about the unnecessary barriers that some students face. I want to broaden the reach that Duke students have, not just in the world but also in our local community. And I want to challenge the unhealthy parts of our campus culture. I know that I can achieve these goals because I have a body of project work that was inspired by listening to rarely-voiced, rarely-heard student voices. From Daily Devil deals, to the lowering of flex increments to the K-Ville farmers market, to the banning of the languages building as a meeting space for recognized student groups, each of these projects was inspired by student voices. And I am so grateful to those student voices who allowed me to not only advocate on their behalf but also to advocate alongside them. I care so deeply about these issues and more so than any other candidate. I know how to connect active listening to concrete action and policy on behalf of our student body. Thank you I’m also very excited to hear our questions today."
The Chronicle: In your platform, you state that you intend to “work closely with Dr. [Phail] Wynn and his successor to concretely improve Duke undergraduates’ understanding of, respect for, and role in Durham.” What do you see as Duke students’ role in Durham? How is that different from what it currently is?
Kristina Smith: What I really want to focus on is partnering with North Carolina Central University because right now, we don’t have an established connection with them. As DSG or as a university, I think they are so knowledgeable about Durham, so right now I don’t think we have an established connection with them. They have this wonderful activist culture that we haven’t really tapped into. So, I think there’s so much we can learn from them. I think there are events we can host with them to just form an established relationship so that we can go into Durham and have an understanding of what it means to be a Durham community member, but also to not overstep those boundaries.
TC: Unlike some of the other candidates, your platform does not mention specific ideas for DSG reform. Do you think the program needs any? And if so, what are they?
KS: Yeah, I think this year what we’ve done a really great job of is communication of what projects DSG is working on. I think moving forward what we need to do better with is connecting with student groups and making sure they’re included in any initiatives we’re taking. This year, I’ve worked a lot in terms of being the vice president of services and sustainability with the Green Devils on a reusable to-go container project and also with Duke Disability Alliance on a resolution that was sent to the Board of Trustees that advocates for the immediate renovation of the Languages Building. So I think moving forward, what I want to see DSG do is to reach out to student groups, to be more proactive about that. I think it is our job as the representatives of the student to take the initiative ourselves. Student groups shouldn’t have to come to us when they see something exciting that pertains to their purview that they’re working on. We should be reaching out to them to learn the knowledge that they have.
TC: On your campaign Facebook page, you’ve posted, “I've listened to my peers and thought critically about how to positively change Duke, but words aren't enough” with a link to your website. Accompanying that caption is an image that says, “Duke students deserve real policy on the desks of Duke’s top administrators. That’s why on my first day these memos will be on their desks.” Do you think sharing policy memos with administrators is enough to enact change?
KS: So I think I’ll speak to first a project I’ve accomplished where I had to first write a policy memo, which is why I think that’s so important. So the Daily Devil Deals, which are meals under $5 at every on campus vendor that make eating on campus for affordable for all students and all staff members, is a project I first started with a policy proposal that I then sent to Dining, and then that is what led to multiple sit-down meetings with administrators where I had to advocate for this project and I advocated because I knew the barrier to food was too great. So what I value in a proposal, what I value in proposals being ready already is the idea that immediately they will be sent to administrators so that administrators will know next year these are my priorities. After the second step too—after sending a proposal—is we’re going to have sit-down meetings. Because I think that once a proposal is written, administrators understand, where you want to go with that. They understand the logistics and the history of the project and they understand really what you want to do moving forward and that is what leads to a productive meeting so administrators aren’t as resistant to your ideas.
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TC: You receive a draft of the administration’s housing plan and it is very different from what students have been advocating. Do you release it to the student body?
KS: I think that if administrators are saying that it is not for public use, I think that it’s very important to first speak to those administrators in person. I think that often a lot of policy important to DSG is relayed through emails, so I think it’s first important to ask the administrators why that is. Obviously, it is the administrators’ decision of the housing policy moving forward, so I think that we really have to weight that concern. However, I do think it is alarming the idea that policy changes could be being made without input from student voices.
The job of DSG president is to be a liaison from students to administration. I think the only reason the administration would hold back on a policy, from releasing that information to a student body, is because they think students would feel concerned or upset about that policy. So I think the next step is then setting up a meeting with administrators where they can be then face-to-face with those students, so we have access to many student groups, many students, that is our job. And so I think what housing, the housing discussion has lacked, is face-to-face conversations from administrators to students, the students who are most concerned with housing reform. So I think that that is the first step. I don’t think the smartest move is just to release that to the student body, especially if I have been told directly from the administration not to do so.
TC: A student organization requests funding to host Stephen Miller, Trinity '07 and a senior policy advisor to President Donald Trump, on campus. SOFC approves the allocation and the organization threatens to sue through the DSG judiciary if funding is not approved by the Senate. Another group on campus expressed their intent to protest the Senate meeting if the Senate approves the allocation. How do you respond?
KS: I think that obviously we have a lot of different student voices here, and I think something DSG has lacked before is bringing these concerns directly to the Senate. We have 60 senators who all have different backgrounds and identities and positions on things and SOFC allocations in particular. I think it is our job as DSG to hear each of those positions. One, I think that the group saying they want to protest has to be reached out to ahead of Senate to see if that protest can be discussed with the Executive Board of DSG and to see if those concerns can be raised by senators in the meeting, or by exec members themselves. I think, two, that the group that is wanting this funding allocated should come to public forum to speak and give their compelling argument about why they think this event should be funded. But I think it is ultimately up to the senators to listen to the people they are representing and to use their best discretion about what is best for the student body.
TC: Would you veto that legislation or would you sign that legislation?
KS: I think that if the Senate passed the legislation and I had listened to the student groups and the arguments, I would most likely not veto the legislation.
"Thank you again for listening to all of us. I think I really want to emphasize that I care about really deeply issues of affordability, accessibility, and broadening the reach of Duke students, and challenging what I believe to be are the really unhealthy parts of our campus culture, and I encourage you to check out my website for more information on those, and to read the proposals that I have already written that will be on the desks of administrators. I think that I, more so than any other candidate, have an ability to again connect actively listening to concrete action and policy on behalf of the student body. I’ve created a lot of tangible results and products. I’ve talked a lot about a lot of issues here and I think I have an active track record of accomplishing and answering those goals. So, as your DSG president, I will listen to you, and I will learn from you, and I will continue to achieve lasting and concrete change for you, and so I hope that I’ve secured your vote for March 8th."