Every February, students huddle around their laptops to vote—or rather rank— their choice for Young Trustee. During the weeks leading up to election, student campaigns for finalists, rivaling the funding and intensity of local political elections, heat up as various candidates seek endorsements and support from student organizations on campus. This year, as always, four prominent members of the undergraduate community at Duke stand for election in the race for Young Trustee. They are Luke Farrell, Archana Ahlawat, Brian Buhr and Trey Walk. Like in the past, all four candidates are running on overly ambitious agendas that most likely will not make a significant impact on a Board of Trustees dominated by wealthy, out-of-touch white men and women. Aside from this disenchantment, however, we strongly encourage undergraduates to rank Trey Walk first for Young Trustee, this week.
In his interview with the Chronicle’s independent editorial board, Luke heavily emphasized his past and present roles in a wide variety of governing institutions within the University as a major factor in why he is qualified to serve as Young Trustee. Farrell certainly boasts a stellar resume as former chair of the Student Organization Financing Committee, as well as present membership on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Investment and Responsibility and on the Board of Trustees’ business and finance committee. Nonetheless, the editorial board found some of his agenda items in his campaign, such as advocating for a drastic expansion of financial aid, overly ambitious, considering the extreme limitations of the role in affecting genuine, significant changes in the structure of the University.
Likewise, Brian highlighted his experiences as president of Duke University Union, Project Build, the Women’s Center and the Board of Trustees external engagement committee as reasons why he would make an effective Young Trustee. He discussed how he envisioned the role of Young Trustee as being someone who can color the perspectives of data-obsessed trustees with the so-called “humanity” of the campus community. However, the editorial board found his position on selective living at Duke, particularly as a current member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity somewhat problematic. Perhaps, as Buhr admits, it is true that by virtue of being an institution seeped in bourgeois culture, selective living will always exist at Duke. Nonetheless, the wide-scale existence of an undergraduate social experience that systematically excludes less-privileged students is still inherently antithetical to the mission of a supposedly diverse, inclusive university.
Archana Ahlawat, a Microsoft-bound computer science major and the only female candidate running this year, underlined her leadership roles in Duke Conversations, Business Oriented Women (BOW) and Duke Women in Technology as experiences that make her a strong candidate for Young Trustee. In particular, Archana discussed her background as a minority, female-identifying student in a variety of homogenous, white male-dominated industries like business and technology, and her role in supposedly diversifying BOW through a diversity & inclusivity committee. Nevertheless, the editorial board found her platform to be somewhat vague and her campus leadership very niche in comparison to other candidates who boast experiences that are more inclusive.
Finally, Trey discussed his heavy involvement in student activism with groups like People’s State of the University (PSOTU) and the “Ban the Box” movement as experiences that make him a worthy candidate for Young Trustee. By far the most anti-establishment candidate, as someone who made headlines last year with PSOTU storming Page during Price’s alumni weekend speech, Walk will bring a fresh perspective to the Board. Moreover, in explaining his status as an anti-establishment candidate for the very “establishment” institution that is the Board of Trustees, Trey discussed his realistic expectations in confronting conservative, stalwart leadership. Nonetheless, drawing upon his past activist experiences, he vows to advocate for certain issues, like racial justice and mental health, that are representative of the interests of Duke’s underrepresented.
This week, we strongly encourage the undergraduate student body to rank Trey Walk first when voting for Young Trustee. In serving a short, three-year tenure on the Board of Trustees, it is unlikely that a Young Trustee will able to effect meaningful change regardless of their optimistic campaign promises. In fact, the role is officially as defined as being a “fiduciary of the university” rather than an actual student representative. Despite these limitations, however, having Trey, someone who has risked disciplinary action in advocating for the rights of students and workers alike, on a board of disconnected elites will hopefully signal an ever-so tiny wave of change here at dear old Duke.
This was written by The Chronicle’s Editorial Board, which is made up of student members from across the University and is independent of the editorial staff.
Editor’s note: The following members recused themselves from this editorial—Varun Prasad, Tyjair Sadler, Sydney Roberts, Mumbi Kanyogo, Doha Ali and Kayla Thompson.