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Incoming GPSC President Travis Dauwalter talks Community Pantry, goals for the upcoming year

Travis Dauwalter, a Ph.D. student in the Sanford School of Public Policy, was elected Graduate and Professional Student Council president for the 2018-19 academic year. Dauwalter spoke with The Chronicle to reflect on his goals for next year and how he plans to address issues such as food insecurity and maximizing transparency. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle: What are your goals as next year’s Graduate and Professional Student Council president?

Travis Dauwalter: I put them into four categories in order of importance to me. The first one is transparency. I think [outgoing GPSC President] Rashmi [Joglekar] did a good job with this last year, and I’d like to continue the trend of increasing the transparency between the executive committee and the general assembly, and also increasing the transparency between the general assembly and the greater student body—our constituents. 

The second is resources. We have a lot of resources that GPSC offers to our graduate and professional students. I want to make sure that they’re getting utilized, and I want to make sure that we’re improving whatever programs we have in place and then piloting any new ones that would address the needs of our constituency. 

The third is engagement. Here, I’m referring to advocacy, like sexual harassment [and] safe workplaces, community engagement and alumni engagement.

The other goal I’d like to mention is student life. We want to increase the range of social events that don’t seem to have alcohol as the center point of that event. I think those sorts of events that can embrace all of our graduate and professional constituency are those that we’ll be thinking about this year.

TC: What were the most and least successful initiatives that GPSC enacted last year, and how will GPSC move forward because of them?

TD: There was a program started two years ago called the One Duke Access Fund [that] offered $200 grants to individuals, [which] were offered once a month. There were four categories: wardrobe, food insecurity—like being able to buy groceries—emergency travel—like traveling for bereavement—and conference travel. In the summer of 2017, [Joglekar] was looking at the One Duke Access Fund and said, "Wait, we can address these issues through different avenues." 

So she created the Community Pantry, which deals with the food insecurity issue, or at least addresses it. And we have clothing that is donated there—so the professional wardrobe aspect of One Duke Access Fund—is now being absorbed in the mission of the Community Pantry. 

Then, we were looking at how to handle the travel component. We relabeled it the Emergency Travel Fund, and now it focuses exclusively on giving $200 grants [twice a month] to individuals who had to travel for a medical emergency or someone who they loved passed away. It’s a lottery system for who gets selected.

The program has been really, really successful. It started in January [2018], and we’ve issued seven grants so far. Based on the interest and number of applications we’ve been receiving—we’ve received 14 eligible applications since January—the plan for this upcoming year is instead of offering two $200 grants per month, we’ll offer four $200 grants per month.

TC: How does the GPSC Community Pantry plan to continue and potentially expand next year?

TD: One of the great ideas that was developed by the Community Pantry Committee is the Weekly Bag Program. We’re rolling it out on [May 13]. The idea is that individuals will log in and answer a survey. We’ll create a weekly bag that provides some staples that they would need to feed their family for the next week. They get to choose things in the survey like the size of their family and if they need a baby bag, such as if they have a child for whom they need diapers. They also get to pick their grain, canned item–like tuna, chicken, or veggies–canned fruit and snacks. They essentially come once a week and pick up their bag and go. It becomes something like a subscription program. 

This is addressing two things to me. It’s dealing with a food insecurity issue that the Community Pantry is just addressing in general. It shouldn’t be the case, but, unfortunately, food insecurity has a stigma associated with it. So these weekly bags are a transaction of picking up food a little bit quicker, and it gives them anonymity, which I think is good.

This coming summer, we’re going to be finding some [Duke Graduate School] alumni who are willing to come on camera and share some stories of the food insecurity they had when they were at Duke University. We’ll include that in an updated video that we’ll be showing in August at this upcoming orientation. This will prime people to start thinking that food insecurity is an issue. It’s not something we should be embarrassed about. It just happens, and—when it does—GPSC has the Community Pantry there to help you out.

TC: At GPSC’s November meeting, GPSC voted to reduce its contribution to Duke University Union and to require DUU to hold a graduate-specific event each month. How has the relationship between DUU and GPSC been since that meeting, and how does GPSC plan to use the remaining funds?

TD: I think the relationship is very strong. [Outgoing DUU President] Lesley Chen-Young and [Joglekar] worked very well together, and I expect [DUU President] Brian [Burr] and [me] to work very well together this year as well.

According to some of the survey data we were collecting, the graduate and professional students weren’t utilizing the DUU events as much as we thought they were. [Consequently, Chen-Young and Joglekar] decided that a fairer amount would be $9 out of the $36.50 to direct to DUU.

We’ve put $10,000 into the Community Pantry, which is about $1.20 per student fee. We’ve put $10,000 into the Emergency Travel Fund and another $10,000 into the Alumni Engagement Fund. The Duke Alumni Association contributed another $3,000, so we actually have $13,000 to play with. The idea is to facilitate bringing alumni back, and individual alumni will come back and offer professional development. Then, we distributed the rest of that money [from the student activities fee] to student life and increased the amount of support we’re going to give to our student groups by 8 percent.

TC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

TD: I think what we sometimes forget about when we are dealing with finals, papers and research is the fact that we sit inside of this greater community. And the idea of the Community Outreach Program is to get us interacting with folks in Durham.

There are tutoring programs at local underprivileged schools. The two targeted are Carrington Middle School and Riverside High School. They have these weekly programs where tutors can come in and help these kids out. We’re hoping that graduate and professional students will donate some of their time in the fall and spring of next year to give back to the community, interacting with these underprivileged students who are really just looking to learn.


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