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DSG presidential candidate Saheel Chodavadia discusses housing reform, approach to low-income students' needs

<p>Saheel Chodavadia | Special to the Chronicle</p>

Saheel Chodavadia | Special to the Chronicle

Editor's note about the debate: Each candidate had 90 seconds to introduce themselves and give an opening statement. Then, we asked three candidate-specific questions for each candidate, with one minute to respond to each. Any candidate that is mentioned in another candidate’s answer had 30 seconds to respond. Two of those responses for each candidate were included in their debate stories. Each candidate had two scenario questions with 90 seconds to respond to each. We reserved the right to follow up on candidate’s responses. Candidates had 30 seconds to respond to the follow up question.

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Want more? Read Daisy Almonte's debate responses here and Liv McKinney's responses here

Opening Statement

Junior Saheel Chodavadia: Hi everyone, I’m Saheel Chodavadia, thank you guys so much for coming. I’m also a candidate for DSG president. So, there’s a lot of things I want to talk about, but because this is an opening statement, I’ll focus on some specific things that I really want to emphasize. 

I spent three years in DSG and throughout those three years and throughout the three years I’ve spent in Duke University in general, the common thematic link has always been injecting student narratives to the top of the policy agenda. And in service of that, I have, from scratch, created a peer mentorship program for all incoming students in the Class of 2023 so that each and every first-year going forward from this point onwards will have access to a Peer Mentor before the school year even begins. 

I played a critical role in the transformation from the STINF form to the Incapacitation Form, making mental health a legitimate and valid reason to miss academic activities. And finally, I’ve developed on my own—and received approval from the Provost today actually, I would say this morning—for a platform for students to explicitly name faculty and describe experiences of hate and bias in the classroom. 

Some of my vision for Duke is summarized in these three simple words that hold a lot of meaning to me—access, community, and transformation. I can talk more about sort of what’s involved in each of those. So basically, it’s restructuring advising so it’s effective for students, it’s making sure we have a community on campus that’s robust to hate and bias incidents and making sure that DSG is doing what it was always meant to be doing, which is being a forum for consolidation, organization of thoughts and power of the student voice to the administration. Thanks. 

Candidate-specific questions

TC: As an independent student, what’s your stance on housing reform?

SC: Sure, I think that’s a great question. I think as the only independent candidate running for election this cycle, I have a lot to offer in terms of my own perspectives with independent housing. I think as an independent student for three years now, what I’ve seen is a lot of lack of community, lack of awareness that community might be possible, and I think to address that, one thing that’s really come out of academic affairs, my committee, something that we’ve supported throughout the year, something that was started a couple of years back, is the Living Learning Communities. 

So LLCs have, right now, people from Greek life organizations, people from [Student Living Groups], and they live together in a sort of academic common theme. And I think LLCs are a critical and really smart way to approach the issues of housing, the issues of Greek Life versus SLG versus independent. This is one thing—LLCs can be used to integrate all of those three together and have a focus on academics versus something else that’s social or exclusive.

TC: What policies or proposals do you have to tackle the needs of low-income students on campus?

SC: So, one of the things that I’ve worked on this year and for the past three years at Duke has been restructuring advising from the ground-up, making sure that it’s accessible, democratized, and available to all students regardless of their income background, regardless of their racial or ethnic backgrounds, regardless of their type of background. 

And so one thing to sort of tangibly say what’s going on: the one-to-one peer mentorship program that I talked about that’s being piloted this semester and implemented for the Class of 2023 next semester—that is focused a lot on making sure we get mentors from every single part of Duke, whether that’s Greek organizations, from low-income students, from different students of different backgrounds–and making sure that when the Class of 2023 does come to Duke, they’re not just seeing one identity group dominating the space in terms of advising. They’re seeing every single type of person from every single type of background there for them as mentors. I think that’s a critical way to address a lot of the things that are going around culture-wise in terms of income. 

Scenario question 

TC: A racist epithet is found painted on the wall of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture. What would your response be as DSG President?

SC: Sure, so I would take about four to five tangible, concrete steps. The first step is talking to the Mary Lou Williams Center, the people at the Mary Lou Williams Center themselves—the ethnic group or the racial group that’s been targeted–whoever’s representing that group, whether that’s Duke Black Men’s Union, Duke Black Women’s Union, [Black Student Alliance]–understand how they’re feeling, what’s going on in terms of their communities, because this is something that’s been targeted towards that community, get their narrative, bring them to the table as DSG president. 

The second step would be to talk to administrators. It’d be Vice Provost [for Undergraduate Education Gary] Bennett, [Provost] Sally Kornbluth, and whoever the new [person is in the] appointed position is for the Office of Institutional Equity—get those three in the same room, talk with the representative from the Duke Black Men’s Union, the Duke Black Women’s Union, and BSA, and myself in that room, talk those narratives that were heard by me when I talked to those groups initially, and explain that to the three administrators in that room. 

The third step is making sure that each and every single student in the student body knows that this happened immediately. So, after listening to the perspectives of the organizations and the groups that were targeted in this racial epithet, making sure that putting that narrative into an email or a resolution or something that’s available to the student body immediately and transparently, making sure that nobody is hearing about this too late and doesn’t know that it’s happening. 

And then the last thing, I guess the fourth step is to make sure that admin are actually doing something by making sure that I’m in the same room as every single conversation that’s happening regarding this racial epithet.


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