The stage has been set: four finalists will vie to become Duke’s next undergraduate Young Trustee.
Seniors Archana Ahlawat, Brian Buhr, Luke Farrell and Trey Walk will run for the three-year position on Duke’s Board of Trustees in an election from noon on Feb. 12 to noon Feb. 13.
The Young Trustee Nominating Committee chose the four finalists from a pool of nine semifinalists. YTNC fielded open applications and chose semifinalists from that group. The senior who emerges will serve on the Board of Trustees for three years, one year as an observer and the following two as a voting member.
The four finalists started a group chat together recently—Ahlawat said they want the campaign to be “positive” and “healthy.”
Who are these four finalists, and what do they think the biggest issues facing Duke are? Here's a rundown of the candidates, listed below in alphabetical order by first name.
At Duke, Ahlawat has gained a better understanding of the power of community, she said.
The senior studying computer science and political science was formerly the president of Duke Conversations, an organization out of the Office of Undergraduate Education that hosts dinners with professors in faculty homes. She is also the former technology chair of the Duke Association for Business Oriented Women (BOW) and the founder of its diversity and inclusivity initiative, which she began after noting the organization’s homogeneity.
The Duke Technology Scholar and five-time computer science teaching assistant says she has brought people from different backgrounds together with BOW and Duke Conversations.
“I’ve had a cross-sectional experience where I’ve gotten to see a lot of different students who may not interact normally at Duke, but they’re able to connect on some sort of common ground,” Ahlawat told The Chronicle.
One big issue facing Duke is the experience of marginalized people on campus—there is a lack of support for them once they arrive on campus, Ahlawat said. Another issue is how to restructure the housing and campus model to facilitate different types of people meeting each other—not just in residence halls, but also in places like the Brodhead Center.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Buhr is no stranger to the Board of Trustees.
For the past two years, he has served as a student representative to the Board of Trustees’ External Engagement Committee. The public policy major is also the president of Duke University Union and the former program director for pre-orientation program Project BUILD.
Buhr, who also looks to graduate with minors in political science and history, has interned for the Women’s Center and is a Mount Vernon Leadership Fellow. He also served as a Duke Student Government senator for Durham and regional affairs, something that he says allowed him to become more aware of Duke’s relationship with Durham.
“For me, it was, 'I would love to get involved to help Duke realize its institutional responsibilities and possibilities as well',” Buhr said Monday.
As for the issues facing Duke, Buhr sees three major groups of challenges. First, Duke’s relationship with government and financial institutions is important. Second, Buhr argues regional and community development issues face Duke. Stanford University’s relationship with the San Francisco Bay Area has contributed to homelessness and gentrification, he argues, something that Duke can learn from. Finally, with Duke soon to be a majority-minority campus, Buhr said, the University has to evaluate how it interacts with the “humans of Duke.”
Duke has inspired gratitude for the University in Farrell, but his time at Duke has given him a sober understanding of where the University is and how it can change for the better, he said.
The former chair of Student Organization Financing Committee now advises President Vincent Price via the Presidential Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility. He has also been voting member of the Board of Trustees' business and finance committee.
Farrell, who studies math, computer science and neuroscience, says he has written transparency policy for the Board of Trustees and fought for fossil fuel divestment.
“I’ve worked deeply in the institution and learned the levers you need to pull to make change,” Farrell said. “As Young Trustee, I would like to continue that work as an advocate, but work as an advocate born out of a profound gratitude for the University.”
Farrell, who is also a columnist for The Chronicle, argued that financial aid is an issue that needs to be addressed, as he wrote about in a column in October 2018. The proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project and Duke’s housing model—in terms of building inclusive communities on campus—are big issues, according to Farrell. Other important issues include investments abroad, like Duke Kunshan University, and hate and bias on campus, which Farrell says will be a difficult problem to solve.
Growing up, Walk’s parents and grandparents instilled the importance of getting an education that could help make the world a better place.
The Robertson Scholar is involved with many on-campus organizations, including People’s State of the University, Black Men’s Union and Duke’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Executive Committee.
Walk, who studies history and human rights with a focus on urban studies, has served on the President’s Working Group on Community and Dialogue, the search committee for the new Vice Provost for Campus Life and the Undergraduate Student Conduct Board. Walk is also a leader in People’s State of the University group and a columnist for The Chronicle.
“The common thing throughout all my experiences has been listening and learning from other students, seeing Duke at its best and seeing where Duke gets it wrong,” Walk said.
A lot of the issues that are facing Duke are similar to ones that challenge the country at-large, Walk said. Mental health and wellness are some of the issues that Walk sees, and one that is exacerbated for those of marginalized backgrounds. The University will also have to deal with racial justice issues, Walk said, in addition to making “dollars work” with financial aid to make Duke accessible.