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'Durham is Duke's home': Durham affairs VP Stelfanie Williams talks Duke-Durham relationship with DSG

Stelfanie Williams, Trinity '98 and Duke’s vice president for Durham affairs, told the Duke Student Government Senate Wednesday night that she hopes to strengthen the connection between Duke and the local community. 

Williams became vice president of Durham affairs last fall, taking over for Phail Wynn, who retired in June 2018. She said that one priority is helping community organizations navigate working with Duke. 

“I talk to community organizations all the time and they say, 'We don’t know which way is up or where the front door to Duke is,'" Williams said. “It is such a broad organization and our office really wants to be the hub, both for our internal partners and community partners.” 

Williams, the former president of Vance-Granville Community College, outlined three initiatives to advance her goals.

The first two are community health and workforce development. The latter is especially important given Duke’s role as Durham’s largest employer, she said.

The office’s third priority is working with nonprofits in the Durham community. Williams asked the Senate if anyone knew how many nonprofit organizations were active in the Durham community, excluding faith-based groups, government-run groups and groups with revenue of less than $5,000. One senator guessed that there were 129.

“Times ten!” Williams exclaimed, to a chuckle from the Senate. 

According to Williams, there are 1,492 such organizations in the Durham area. Duke works with about 50. In this work, Duke focuses on its own roles in the Durham community.

“Durham is Duke’s home,” she said. “Therefore we really need to focus on housing and issues of homelessness."

Other initiatives include education—including partnerships with Duke’s partner institutions, healthcare, workforce development in STEM fields and collaboration between organizations.

First-year and DSG Senator Jimmy Xiao asked Williams about the perceived “Duke bubble,” the idea that Duke students are not active in the local community. Williams noted that several on-campus organizations—such as  Duke Partnership for Service and Duke Habitat for Humanity—are working to bring Duke and its hometown closer together. 

There is also a house course called the Durham Giving Project that enables students to better engage in local issues, she added. 

Durham is our home, Williams said. The higher purpose of her work is to improve the quality of living in Durham. 

“We really want to make sure that we are able to both preserve the important traditions while also supporting progress and there is a sweet spot that you have to find when you’re really thinking about quality of life," she said. 

In other business

Sanya Kochhar, junior and DSG vice president for campus life, and Tommy Hessel, sophomore and DSG senator, delivered a presentation on the A-Team, a group of students and administrators who coordinate bench-burning on special occasions. Roles on the team include stokers, who start the fires; extinguishers, who put them out; and roamers, who perform miscellaneous security-related tasks. The team is looking for about four members of DSG to join. 

President Pro Tempore and junior Avery Boltwood delivered the first reading of two amendments to DSG rules, which are a change to the Student Organizational Finance Committee's by-laws and the other to the Senate’s House Rules. Both help clarify what constitutes an excused absence from a meeting of the respective organization. 

The Senate approved $12,600 in SOFC funding, including $4,950 for Jabulani, a cultural showcase hosted by DukeAFRICA, and a total of $7,650 for talks by Omar Suleiman and Aman Ibrahim hosted by the Duke Muslim Students' Association. 

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