In March, junior Kristina Smith was elected Duke Student Government president for the upcoming year. She spoke with The Chronicle to outline her goals for improving DSG and its ability to work alongside the Duke community. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Chronicle: By this time next year, what specific objectives do you hope DSG will have accomplished?
Kristina Smith: I think first and foremost, I really want DSG to work on being known as an organization that works with student groups. I want DSG to be the organization that listens and learns from our peers to make positive change for this university. DSG cannot make impactful change alone, and we certainly can't come up with ideas to make impactful change alone. There are already student groups working on issues that pertain to each committee purview, and I want to ensure that each committee has reached out to and incorporated those groups into their project goals and work for the year.
I'm also incredibly excited to pursue the ideas that are on my platform, and I hope by next year these goals are finalized—and if not finalized, at the very least that we have made tangible steps towards coming to an end. A few of those projects that I campaigned on were course cost transparency, expanding gender violence prevention training and increasing opportunities for non-traditional career paths.
TC: What do you think your biggest challenge will be in the upcoming year?
KS: I think that one large challenge that I will face—especially because I want to prioritize working with student groups next year—is the difficulty of balancing working with students, rather than just working for students. Our job is to be representatives in administrative spaces, but I think that it can be a challenge to incorporate student voices as much as possible. So this is something I really want to encourage vice presidents to do next year and something that DSG should be continually striving to overcome, which is the challenge of remembering that a student representative must work alongside students on projects and policy.
TC: There has been a lot of discussion on campus lately about housing reform. What do you see as DSG's role in facilitating that conversation?
KS: DSG's role is to be the liaison between students and administration—in practice, that means DSG must be aware of all the student concerns and opinions related to housing on campus, so we must take the initiative to have conversations with students to discover what those opinions and those concerns are. I think this also means creating opportunities for students to have discussions with the administrators who are making the housing decisions because while it is our job to advocate for students, we must also do what we can to give students the opportunities to advocate for themselves.
TC: There have also been some issues with DSG attendance this year. How do you plan on addressing that during your term as president?
KS: I think what I've learned in my time as being both a senator and a vice president is that in order for people to feel the desire to attend Senate and to work on their projects, they have to feel accountable to someone or to something, which can be a project or a policy. I think the way you inspire people to care about what they're working on and to care about their input in the Senate is to have strong, one-on-one relationships with vice presidents, with the [executive] board, with the older members of Senate.
What I've done a lot this year that has been really successful is having one-on-one conversations with my senators where I can show them that I care about them outside of DSG but also in DSG. It makes it easier to motivate them, so next year I really want to encourage all vice presidents to do the same—to develop one-on-one relationships with their committee members so they can really motivate them, inspire them and encourage them to make sure that they're being vocal in Senate.
TC: Next year, sophomore Jake Hoberg will be executive vice president and sophomore Avery Boltwood will be president pro tempore. How do you hope to work with them in advancing your policy goals?
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KS: I'm incredibly excited to have the opportunity to work with both of them because they're such dedicated and passionate individuals. I've had the privilege of working with Jake this year on my committee, and I know that our vision for Duke very much aligns. I expect him to be someone that I can continually bounce ideas off of so that we are taking actions that are well thought out and have the intention of benefiting the entire student body.
I think that Avery is going to be phenomenal for leading the Senate and ensuring that senators—especially first-year senators—feel heard. He values equity in a way that is crucial for not only making DSG welcoming of all students, but also a space where students can advocate for inclusion of and action for marginalized communities on our campus, so I'm very excited to move forward with both of them on my [executive] board.
TC: At its most recent meetings, there have been several amendments to the DSG Constitution presented. What is your opinion of these, and are there any other changes you would like to make?
KS: I'm very proud of the work that [current President Pro Tempore and junior] Jackson Dellinger and the Internal Affairs Committee have done this year in regards to the Constitution and making amendments to it. They've really read through the documents, through our bylaws, through our Constitution with such detail, which really speaks to their commitment to DSG's effectiveness and something that I want to continue prioritizing moving forward. The specific changes that we made last [Wednesday] about clarification and syntax are important for ensuring that DSG is carrying out our duties to the best of our ability.
The amendment to the attendance policy will hopefully—in conjunction with the executive board's leadership—encourage senators to prioritize their attendance at Senate. And their changes to the non-discrimination policy really prove that DSG is critically thinking about how to make itself representative of all students' opinions and concerns. Next year, I really want to continue making sure we have an Internal Affairs Committee and that Avery Boltwood, who will be leading that up, will continue the work that Jackson has done in critically looking at our documents and making sure that they are clear and concise.
TC: Some have criticized DSG for being opaque. Do you think these criticisms are fair, and how do you hope to combat the idea that DSG is not transparent?
KS: I think that it is fair to criticize DSG for being opaque because there's of course always room for us to improve. I cannot commend [current DSG President and senior] Riyanka [Ganguly] and our communications team enough for the strides they have made this year in making DSG policy and projects more visible to the student body. Our DSG blast and our social media have been considerably more popular than they have been compared to my first two years on DSG.
Moving into next year, I want to continue to utilize our social media initiatives to increase visibility for what we're working on. I think what's most important is that our work directly reaching out to student groups can only help increase our transparency. If your organization is partnering with DSG on a project or on a policy, then you have a better idea of what DSG is doing. Hopefully those partnerships and the collaborations that I plan to have with student groups will often motivate and inspire students to join DSG.
TC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
KS: I think I'm very excited to start work for next year and very excited to see the results of the election next week—who else is on the executive board and who's going to be shaping the leadership of DSG next year. And, I'm very excited to work with student groups and students moving forward because I think we have many, many opportunities to create some positive, lasting change for the Duke community.