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In defense of DSG

What do we want the world to look like in 50 years? A world without a gender binary; a world where migrants aren’t criminalized; a world where racism is a thing of the past.

I conceive of Duke University as a microcosm of our larger society, a small subset of the world where we can start working towards our ideal society on a smaller scale and within a more familiar ecosystem. 

Duke Student Government is the vehicle through which we can affect that change to push us, step by tiny step, towards the equitable vision of a more inclusive Duke and through that, a more inclusive world. I work on policies that affect our student body because I want our university to reflect the world I hope that we can one day build. 

I’m worn out from DSG elections, too. Yes, I think our student representatives sometimes look ridiculous as they wear business casual to their Wednesday evening meeting (and I realize they must be missing out on all of the Shooters pregames). But I also understand the value that the institution plays within our community. I appreciate the hours that they put in to push our administrators to incorporate important, yet sometimes unnoticed, student needs.

Students may make fun of their job titles and parliamentary procedure, but it is this official stature that lends them legitimacy when they lobby our administration on behalf of our undergraduate body.

Now, there are obvious parallels between a lack of faith in our student government and a lack of faith in its federal counterpart. But I would challenge you to not conflate a poor federal government with our activist body. 

I would challenge you to not fall into a trap of cynicism, but instead to harness your education to support institutions that are fundamentally attempting to correct the current inequities of their community, and to continue to resist those who ignore them. 

Right now, our federal government is taking actions that should inspire horror and an active fight back on behalf of our values. But our student government is filled with students who are working, week-by-week, to render this campus a more inclusive and equitable space where everyone, regardless of identity, can feel welcome. 

Sure, DSG may contain a few self-important future consultants. But almost all of our student representatives share one fundamental belief: that they can make this university a better place. 

Now, better is a vague term, and it can take many forms. It can mean making our university more socioeconomically accessible, like the $5 Daily Devil Deals that now populate every vendor on campus or the ongoing career closet project that would provide many students on financial aid professional clothing for interviewing season. 

Or it can mean making undergraduate life more straightforward, like the syllabus bank that allows us as students to have a better understanding of the classes we are taking before we step into the classroom the first week of school.

Better can mean easing access to menstrual hygiene products by placing them within every bathroom in the Bryan Center, or it can mean creating our campus’ first LGBTQIA+ invitational weekend for admitted high school seniors. 

Or it can mean helping to facilitate a positive relationship with Durham--which DSG has done through the Uber program, which allows students to take free rides off campus to Durham service organizations, and through their work bringing affordable housing to Duke’s campus, which brought our university into the community-wide conversation about how to create accessible housing options across socioeconomic levels in a gentrifying city. 

And that is not to say that these projects exist within a vacuum. All of them come out of collaboration with pre-existing student groups across this campus, and they could not and should not exist without the input of those relevant groups. At its best, DSG works as a collaborator, bringing individual groups together to make powerful, collective change.

Undeniably, in just one year, these projects have collectively made this campus a more inclusive place. Together, all of these projects represent core improvements to our university that the university would not have undertaken without a push from student leaders. 

Behind their navy blazers and power pantsuits, our representatives are (for the most part) working their a**es off to push for you, the student. Through careful work with student groups across this campus, Duke Student Government has effectively made this university more accessible, affordable, and welcoming for each student. 

Through all of these projects and so many more, DSG has converted these tiny steps into one giant leap forward for our university. The Class of 2022 will experience a different Duke than I did when I first stepped onto East Campus nearly three years ago, and that is a good thing.

At the end of the day, I’m worn out from DSG elections, too. But before we dismiss every member of our student government as self-interested, let’s give them a legitimate chance to affect positive change within our university.

Steve Hassey is a Trinity junior. His column runs on alternate Thursdays.

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