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A divided DSG Senate votes down 'selective social group' Hyde House

Hearsay, hypocrisy and housing were all hot topics of conversation as the Duke Student Government Senate rejected a plan to bring a new type of social organization to campus.

At DSG's meeting Wednesday, senators voted 23 to 19 against chartering the Hyde House, a selective social group seeking to provide an alternative to selective living groups on campus. 

After tabling discussion three weeks ago, the Senate—including newly sworn in first years and at-large senators—again debated the Hyde House chartering during Wednesday's session. The new members did little to change the Senate's skepticism about the organization, as members questioned various aspects of the Hyde House's constitution, from its rush process to its role on campus.

Sophomore Lindsey Lovitt, president of the Hyde House, addressed the Senate during public forum, arguing that Hyde House offers an alternative social experience to current selective living options. Hyde House Vice President Peter Candelora and Social Chair Heeya Sen, both sophomores, also addressed the Senate.

"We really just want to emphasize that our organization is about inclusivity and providing an integrated and well-rounded social experience for all students at Duke," Lovitt said.

Senior Ben Hubsch, chair of the Student Organization Finance Committee, cast the tie-breaking vote in SOFC's 5-4 approval of Hyde House's charter. He told the Senate that SOFC decided to approve the Hyde House on the basis of its uniqueness on campus and its long term viability.

Junior Saheel Chodavadia, vice president of academic affairs, spoke against chartering the Hyde House. He argued that the selection process laid out by the Hyde House was arbitrary and subject to year-to-year change. He expressed doubt that the inclusive principles of the Hyde House would remain over time.

Several senators voiced their reservations about the potential influence of the Hyde House on independent housing at Duke. Chodavadia expressed concern that chartering the organization would push the conversation around Duke's social scene further away from improving independent housing.

"I fundamentally disagree with paying to belong somewhere, especially when you can get it for free if the independent housing system is correctly utilized," Chodavadia said.

Hyde House members pushed back on suggestions that the organization would hurt prospects of housing reform on campus.

"I think housing reform works in concert with our organizational concept, especially because there's such a big push against coupling selectivity and housing," Lovitt said.

Another member suggested that housing reform is not a task that Hyde House should be responsible for addressing.

"It's not my responsibility to improve independent housing life," Sen said.

The Senate debate was at times tense.

Sophomore Kaitlyn Boncaro, senator for services and sustainability, was admonished for "hearsay on the floor" by junior Avery Boltwood, president pro-tempore, after she shared unsubstantiated rumors of the Hyde House recruitment activities with the Senate. Members of the Hyde House attempted to engage Boncaro in discussion without speaking privileges from the president pro-tempore. The Senate then went into “unmoderated caucus” for informal discussion of the issue at hand.

At another point, Lovitt suggested that criticism of the Hyde House's selectivity by Duke students was hypocritical.

"I think that's kind of hypocritical of us, given that all of us were individually selected to go to Duke," Lovitt said, responding to concerns about the selective nature of the Hyde House. "And a big part of the Duke community is feeling like you did choose to be here and that Duke chose you to be here."

The final roll call vote on the Hyde House charter was 23 opposed and 19 in favor, with 11 abstentions or not present. 

The vote was largely divided along committee lines. All but one senator for academic affairs voted against Hyde House, but the entire committee for campus life voted in favor of it. The Durham and regional affairs and the equity and outreach committees were split, but the services and sustainability committee members voted against it, except for two who abstained.

In other business:

The Senate allocated $2,700 to J Street U for a speaker event on the future of Israeli security, expected to draw 50 attendees. Chuck Freilich, former deputy national security advisor in Israel, is slated to be the speaker.  

The Senate also granted recognition to United Black Athletes, a new student organization of "black student-athletes who are committed to advocating for justice and equality in the realm of Duke athletics and the Durham Community," according to its charter. The group is open to varsity and non-varsity athletes.

Members of the Duke Student Government executive team addressed the Senate, laying out their projects for the year ahead. Several of the projects focus on improving internal DSG processes, while others aim to increases resources available to Duke students. President Kristina Smith, a senior, spoke about her plan to improve course cost transparency.

"I think that you should know exactly what course materials you have to buy and how much they cost when you sign up for a class," Smith said.

Sophomore Maya King and sophomore De'Ja Wood were confirmed to the President's Council on Black Affairs. Two other senators, sophomore John Honeycutt and first-year Shrey Majmudar, were confirmed to the Transportation Advisory Board. 

Senators Merrill O’Shaughnessy and Allison Bunker, both first-years, and junior Daisy Almonte, vice president of equity and outreach, were all confirmed to the Harassment Grievance Board. Wood was also confirmed to the Harassment Grievance Board. 

Senators Shirley Mathur, Victoria Pinedo and Meghna Mahadevan, all first-years, were confirmed to the Internal Affairs Committee. Senators Kyle Melatti, a first-year, and Valeria Silombria, a sophomore, were confirmed to the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside Almonte.

The Senate recessed for ten minutes for senators to discuss the recent defacement of a Latinx Heritage Month mural on the East Campus Bridge. Boltwood introduced the Senate to dsgHUB, an online portal for DSG materials, information and resources for senators.

Additionally, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Almonte in support of funding for Code Red, which places menstrual products in Duke's libraries so that menstruating students can access them for free.

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