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Young Trustee finalists address DSG Senate

The four candidates for Young Trustee gave speeches to Duke Student Government’s Senate meeting Wednesday night. 

Here’s what they said in the order they spoke, edited for clarity. 

Brian Buhr 

I think the quickest way to understand a little bit about me is for me to tell you the story about what Duke has done to my understanding of family and home. For those who don’t know much about me, my family has hopped around a lot through my life and through past generations. 

So they started out in Asia, but faced political persecution there, showed up in Latin America but faced political persecution there. Snuck into the United States, where it hasn’t always been too great. So we’ve lived in places like the Mississippi delta, Hawaii, the south side of Chicago and now Philadelphia. Each generation is chasing opportunity, and my story is no different. 

So my contribution to my family’s way-faring narrative comes up when I come to Durham. I remember I wrote my “Why Duke” essay about how Duke is really going to shape my life and I’m going to go do great things because Duke has done great things for me. But then, I show up eight days early, do this thing called Project Build, and I start to fall in love with Duke. It’s a community that really gets me, I feel like I belong. And I had never really felt that before. 

This continues and I meet more Duke students. I meet someone in my Blackwell hall and we start an intramural soccer team together, and we’ve done that every single semester since. We won for the first time in seven semesters last semester, so we’re not very good. But what happened there is I started to understand community building, and that was another novel thing for me. And so my time began to skew away from my course work, much to the chagrin of my mother, and towards community building. 

This started with Duke University Union. I joined the Last Day of Classes committee and had a blast there. To me it’s not about a big party at the end of the year, but it’s a community celebration. I continued as a vice president in DUU, and there my job was to connect DUU with other student organizations and campus offices to build that collaborative element. Finally, when I assumed the role of president of DUU, my vision was to create spaces for everyone to find the community that I found, regardless of their background or privilege. 

Of course, as you quickly find out, Duke is not without its flaws, many of them significant. So I stepped up to help my community, because I realized that I can't just sit here and let things poor happen. So I joined the Women’s Center as an intern, and in addition to that I figured out how we make civic engagement more of an element with Duke students. So I worked with quite a few people here to make Duke Votes happen this year, and we broke on-campus voting records here… 

I’m no different than any other Duke student. You can find me at K-Ville being subjected to line monitor sirens or you can find me at Vondy pretending to like that stuff they pass off as coffee. But I just want to say it’s my relationships and experiences above all else that make me qualified to be a Young Trustee. For me, Duke is my home and my peers are my family, and I’m really excited to have the chance to represent my peers and my family at the highest level. 

Trey Walk

I’m a senior here studying history, human rights and urban policy. I’m originally from a smaller town in South Carolina, and I'm a first-generation college student. I’ve been told to let people know that my state has more to offer than just Myrtle during beach week. I just want to tell you one quick story to get to know me a little bit better and talk a little bit about what the role of Young Trustee means at this moment at Duke. 

First story, I want to tell you about my hero, who’s my papa. He’s a short man with a really big voice, and he’s spent his life as a construction worker. When I came to Duke, he said ‘Trey, we’re so proud of you, but this isn’t just about you.’ So I came to Duke with a charge to make sure that my education was bigger than myself. 

I’ve really taken Duke’s mission for knowledge in the service of society personally, so inside and outside of the classroom, I’ve been learning how to make the world better for others. That involves on-campus advocacy and organizing for People’s State of the University. I’ve advised senior university administrators through President [Vincent] Price’s working group on community and dialogue, I’m on the new search committee for the vice president for campus life. 

On campus, I’m involved with the Black Men’s Union, I just joined the Duke University Saxophone Studio, which is really fun. So that’s just a little bit about me. The second thing I want to go into is what I think the role of Young Trustee means at the moment. 

I believe that we need a Young Trustee whose change that they’ve made on campus is really grounded in relationships. So when I worked with other students on the ‘Ban the Box’ policy—in which Duke University is no longer going to require job applicants to disclose their criminal history—which is an equity issue that disproportionately impacts African-Americans across the state of North Carolina. We really listened to community voices, and that’s how that issue was raised—same with a lot of the other issues that we’ve been advocating for. So for example, we’ve gotten working groups created where we were able to get students in the room to work with administrators on Board of Trustees transparency initiatives, and also intersex surgery and standardizing the best practices for that. 

So all the change I’ve been involved in means my perspective is grounded in relationships, and that’s what I think we need in our next Young Trustee. I won’t just go in the boardroom and see numbers and spreadsheets, but I’ll see names and faces and I’ll think of the beating hearts and the lives of all the people who are impacted by every single decision that’s made in that boardroom. 

Another thing that I think is important to say in this moment is that it’s really important to be strategic as a Young Trustee. There’s a reason why it’s a three-year term, and I’ve really learned what that means. I’ve been speaking with the current sitting Young Trustees and learning from them what it looks like to build those relationships with the other Trustees.

I also serve on the board of directors for a local nonprofit and, in that situation, I’ve learned what it means to balance finances and values and really think about organizational structure with long-term wishes. It’s important to bring that strategy into the boardroom, so that when you are there, you are effective with your time.

I believe that I’m the candidate who will go into the boardroom, and other Trustees will tune their ears in to listen because they will trust that I’m bringing a perspective that hasn’t been in the boardroom before. They will trust that I’m saying something that matters. I’m the candidate who has spent his time insisting that Duke be at its best because that’s what loving a place means. I’m the candidate who came to Duke to serve.

Archana Ahlawat

I’m a senior from central New Jersey, and I’m majoring in computer science and political science, and I’m incredibly excited to be running for Young Trustee. I’m running because I believe I can offer a unique and fresh perspective to the Board based on my depth and breadth of experience as a community builder and a strategic and authentic leader. 

My brand of leadership is based on integrating both bottom-up and institutional approaches, as well as empowering those around me to invest deeply into those very same communities. So for the past three years, I have worked deeply with the Office of Undergraduate Education to expand Duke Conversations, leading it as president last year. 

I managed an executive team of 20 members and we developed and hosted more than 70 dinners, attracting a unique 500 Duke students every year. And through this experience I developed a love for facilitating conversations, and especially facilitating conversations between [members] of the Duke community where I can really get together a lot of different types of people and engage them all in productive dialogue where we can bond over some common ground that we have—whether it’s academic interest, personal interest or, most importantly, our common community values.

As a Young Trustee, I would bring this holistic perspective to the Board, which I think is really crucial to understand what policies and what decisions we might want to make at an institutional level as we go forward. 

Beyond that, I have also been working with the Office of Undergraduate Education. I have worked with former Dean [Steve] Nowicki, as well as Vice Provost Gary Bennett, and engaged deeply with the questions of how to embed academic engagement deeply into a university’s infrastructure going beyond just Duke Conversations. 

Along with my leadership at Duke Conversations, I have also been really invested in promoting women in technology, and diversity and inclusivity within business in Business Oriented Women as well as Rewriting the Code, which is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to serving thousands of college women interested in technology. So as I mentioned before, I’m a computer science major, so that means I’ve been in a lot of kind of unwelcoming environments because they can be very unrepresentative. 

For me, the reason that I’m able to thrive in these situations is because of the empowering communities that I am a part of and the mentorship opportunities I’ve had with communities such as BOW. Last year, I began to recognize the inaccessibility of these kinds of environments—professional environments particularly—for marginalized individuals, and especially marginalized women. 

Recognizing this, I rallied together a lot of people in BOW and proposed and created a new chair position of diversity and inclusivity, and I served as the first chair—leading conversations with a lot of different BOW members and trying to understand how we can provide better support programs for all types of people within BOW. 

So my experiences within BOW, serving as a student council member in Rewriting the Code, engaging many college women all over the country in women and technology, and leadership of Duke Conversations has given me a lot of experience engaging in productive dialogue and joining together various coalitions of people as well as effective institutional leadership. That’s what I want to bring as a Young Trustee.

Luke Farrell

I’m super excited to be here, thanks for having me. My pronouns are he/him/his, and I’m a senior from Hauppauge, New York, [studying] neuroscience, computer science and math. Currently on campus I advise President Price on investment responsibility. I’m super involved with research, and I write a really nerdy Chronicle column called “By the Numbers.” I’m formerly the chairperson of SOFC, so I was the less attractive version of [current SOFC chair] Ben [Hubsch], and the cultural engagement fund. I’ve also already served you as a voting member of the Board of Trustees’ Business and Finance committee. 

Growing up in New York, my mom, who is this tiny little feisty woman, was a public school teacher, and my poppy, who was this really enormous figure in my life, was janitor at my high school, instilled in me an understanding that my time here and my education were never to be taken lightly. 

So at Duke, I jumped all in. I love what I study, I love my research, I love the communities and the friends that I found. But it’s precisely because I love this place so much that I’ve worked so hard to try to change it. 

I get that Duke is not always at its best. As chair of SOFC, I made it my mission to meet with all 300 student groups on campus, every single one. Through that effort I met Jay, a student over at the disability alliance. He told me that him and hundreds of other students with physical disabilities on campus could not attend hundreds of events funded by SOFC every single year. So I changed that. I introduced accessibility guidelines and hired ASL interpreters. For the first time ever, every single event on campus was physically accessible for all students. 

When I write for The Chronicle, I make sure to keep my relationship with Jay close to me. So I leaned into my relationship with President Price and other members of the Board of Trustees, and I foresaw the financial aid crisis and the decision to remove healthcare for over 1,000 students. One of those students losing their healthcare was my friend Lizzy. She was really scared, because without health care she couldn’t afford to go to CAPS or student health. 

So I changed that, I wrote an op-ed in The Chronicle that outlined the decision, the budget, and laid a very clear path forward for how President Price can change that. The very next day, I got an email in my inbox from President Price that he had written an op-ed, reversing the decision and giving health care back to more than 1,000 students, including my friend Lizzy. I was so excited. 

When I moved over to the Board of Trustees, as a member of the Business and Finance committee, I made sure that sitting across from CEOs would not deter the voice and conviction I had. Surrounded by people like Tim Cook and the [co-chairman] of Bain Capital, a vote came to the Board to increase tuition. By the time it was my turn to vote, there had been no opposition in the room. So I changed that, I voted no. That was scary, that was really, really scary. But what I understood was that no student outside of that room would support increasing tuition. Definitely not my friend Tyler, who works two jobs to pay his student loans. 

We have to ask ourselves "The Board of Trustees already has 35 members, so why does it matter that they added an extra chair for us?" We have to make it matter, we have to change the conversation. We have to vote when it’s unpopular, and that’s what I’ve done. I did it when I voted against an increase in tuition. I did it when I voted to divest from fossil fuels. I did it when I wrote the Board transparency policy, and I did it when I helped save healthcare for over 1,000 students. This is the kind of work that keeps me up at night, and I want to be able to continue to do this work as your Young Trustee.

In other business

DSG also chartered Duke Gaming, an organization that aims to create a campus community around gaming and compete in eSports events.

“We really center around eSports,” said senior Joshua Gabay, president of Duke Gaming. “We have a couple of games in line. We’ve already had a couple tournaments at Duke, and we’re already scheduled for a couple of tournaments as well against other institutions.”

The Senate provided $2,534 in funding for the campus group All of the Above, a group that organizes an annual all-women monologue show. The February performance will mark the show’s 16th annual performance.

The Duke Amandla Chorus also received $2,228 for a February concert that will focus on celebrating African history.

The Senate also funded an upcoming show for the Duke comedy group Inside Joke, providing $2,193.63 for materials, labor and contingency cost.

Sophomore Ivy Jiang was confirmed as a senator for services and sustainability, and junior Akanksha Ray was confirmed as a senator for Durham and regional affairs. First-years Priya Parkash and Charlie Zong along with junior Ivan Robles were confirmed as senators for equity and outreach.

Correction: This article was updated Thursday to correct from "gym teacher" to "janitor," and to clarify the frequency of SOFC-funded events. The Chronicle regrets the error. 

Editor's note: This article was updated to include the names of the senators confirmed during the meeting. An earlier version of this article included a quotation in which Farrell stated he was involved the Duke Men's Project, but he has since informed The Chronicle he only attended one meeting. Due to the consensus of Farrell and the Duke Men's Project that this was not an accurate representation of his involvement, the original quotation was removed.

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