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Lessons from the campaign trail

<p>The Trustees convened at the Washington Duke&nbsp;Inn and Golf Club to discuss a myriad of issues, including undergraduate tuition and Duke's affordability.</p>

The Trustees convened at the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club to discuss a myriad of issues, including undergraduate tuition and Duke's affordability.

This past Wednesday the Duke undergraduate community elected Trey Walk to be the next Young Trustee. When the Chronicle released election results, I couldn’t help but be happy for my friend, Trey. I have seen the hard work that he has put into making Duke a more aware and accepting campus and feel like he will bring a refreshing voice to Duke’s Board of Trustees. 

Despite my happiness for Trey, Wednesday afternoon brought an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. I was not on Trey’s campaign team. I was on Luke Farrell’s team. The decision that we got was nowhere near the decision that we wanted. Yet, at no point during the campaign did I lose faith in Luke or regret taking on the role of a campaign manager. Even after the air was knocked out of my lungs, I considered the three weeks I spent with Luke and our team a victory. 

Why’s that? It’s because this campaign opened my eyes to a side of Duke and a side of myself that I rarely see. For three weeks I was devoted to a cause that I believed would benefit Duke in the long run. Out of that came three important realizations:

1. Duke is a much more accepting community than I thought

Reaching out to every student group on campus—Luke’s goal for outreach—proved to be a pretty difficult task. Emailing presidents, treasurers, and point people was the least satisfying part of my job. Receiving responses from groups that were willing to meet was gratifying up until the scheduling of campaign meetings began. Running from meeting to meeting on what our team dubbed “Super Sunday” and managing to fit 22 student groups in a 12-hour block of time was nothing short of exhausting. In my sprints from WU 248 to Old Chem or the trek from Languages to BioSci, however, I realized that the communities that I often cast off as not being places for me are much more than the sum of their stereotypical parts. 

For better or for worse, my social Duke experience has been about finding places where I think I fit in. In this scramble for acceptance, I have had to make calculated decisions based on presuppositions. I supposed that, because majority-white Greek organizations historically have not been welcoming to black men, I was not welcome in those spaces. I supposed that because my interactions with other black men at home have been lackluster, that I would not feel comfortable entering a Black Men’s Union meeting. I supposed that I would not know how to receive, process, and empathize with the concerns of Jewish Student Union because I had not made my first Jewish friend until coming to Duke. I could not have been more wrong about assuming my place on campus. 

In each of my interactions with groups that I self-determined were not places for me, I found nothing but welcoming students. I found that people were willing to have a conversation about how to make this campus work better for all of us. What I learned on the campaign trail was to never discount the potential relationships I could have with an individual or a group based on superficial characteristics or overshadowing stereotypes.

2. Networking is more than a transactional interaction 

Along those same lines, Duke students have a lot to offer one another. When Luke reached out to me about joining his campaign, I immediately agreed. Luke is a friend of mine—now a close friend thanks to the countless hours we’ve spent together in a shared state of sleep deprivation. I agreed because he was and still is someone I trust to lead his community in the right direction. But, to some degree, I agreed in blind faith. 

I had no idea what this election would demand of me. Pretty early on I realized that the demand would be softened by the amazing team of people working alongside Luke and myself. Over the course of the campaign I was fortunate enough to meet amazing Duke students, each with their own polished set of skills, who would teach me the importance of building a real connection with your network. 

I remember walking into the first team meeting and being overwhelmed by the star power in the room. It was almost as if Luke recruited team members from the list of people I admire the most at Duke. It would have been very easy to use this opportunity to network with a Rhodes scholar, a Gender Violence leader, a social media content creator, and the most experience student campaign manager on campus. Thankfully, the sheer amount of time we spent together wouldn’t allow for that level of superficiality. In the three weeks leading up to the election, I formed genuine friendships with some of the people I admire the most on campus. Dealing with profile picture rollouts, a 24-hour deadline for a campaign video, and jokes about only having one collective brain cell really brings people together. 

We all walked into the first core team meeting as individuals with a lot of experience to bring to the campaign. We hung our hats once the decision was released as a group of friends willing to do it all again.

3. Time is better spent doing what you're passionate about

I wouldn’t trade the time I spent holed up in “war rooms” creating memos and prepping Luke for meetings for anything. The campaign took a lot out of me. I lost sleep, I lost out on my social life, I even lost out on a few grade points in more than one class. All of it was worth it, however, because this campaign made me realize that the people on the team are the people I need to be around to succeed. I realize, more importantly, gritty campaign work is what I want to do post-Duke.  

In the spirit of former DNC spokesman, Mo Elleithee, it was important for me to “do it” and “just go” on this journey with Luke. It taught me more about Duke, my peers, and myself than anything has in my time here.

That’s why I count this campaign as a victory. Independent from the outcome, who I met and what I learned along the way has set me up for a promising next two years at Duke. All thanks to one phone call from Luke Farrell. 

Ryan Williams is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.


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