Every March, right before the start of spring break, Duke undergraduates have the honor of ranking their choice(s) for DSG president. Facebook becomes inundated with campaign photos along with personal and group endorsements as junior DSG candidates seek to curry enough votes to claim the crown of DSG president on March 8th. As the official undergraduate student government at the University, DSG has in the past been criticized for its lack of diversity, poor attendance on the part of elected student representatives and for perpetuating a cut-throat, resume-boosting culture among its members. Criticism aside, the role of DSG president holds with it many responsibilities, including being a representative of student voices and concerns across Duke’s diverse campus community. This year, as always, three very talented and exceptional student leaders compete for election in the race to be DSG president: vice president of academic affairs Saheel Chodavadia, vice president of services and sustainability Liv McKinney and vice president of equity and outreach Daisy Almonte.
The independent editorial board of The Chronicle met with each candidate individually to discuss their platform and to ask various questions related to their candidacy. All three presented compelling and interesting platforms, and emphasized their previous experiences serving as the leaders of their respective DSG committees. In the end, after careful deliberation, the board has decided to endorse Daisy Almonte for DSG president.
Saheel presented a realistic, feasible platform based on his previous projects as vice president of academic affairs in DSG, condensed into the acronym ACT: Access, Community and Transformation. Some specific agenda items of his platform include organizing DSG town halls with the involvement of marginalized student groups, creating a 1:1 peer mentorship program for the first-year class beyond problematic FACs, and connecting CAPS mental health resources to East Campus. Among all three candidates, Saheel’s platform seemed the most concrete and practical given the time constraints faced by sitting DSG presidents to meet their goals before graduation.
Like Saheel’s platform, Liv’s platform is based upon three ideas: to make Duke accessible, to hold Duke accountable and to reimagine student life. Pointing to the first-year meal plan reform she led, Liv emphasized her ability to keep Duke’s disconnected administration aware of student concerns, including the “shocking” revelation of food scarcity at an $8.5 billion institution. Moreover, Liv also highlighted other, concrete concerns that she wished to tackle as DSG president, such as connecting first-years to institutionalized financial resources on campus and restructuring Duke’s sexual assault education program.
Finally, following the trinity-style platforms of her running mates, Daisy presented a set of campaign objectives based in equity, student activism and securing a two-way conversation with administrators. More specific agenda items within Daisy’s trifecta of presidential goals if elected include forming a student-led advisory committee for financial aid, and reorienting DSG’s culture more toward service and inclusion, instead of representing a social space for well-connected students. In particular, Daisy envisioned her role, if elected president, as being a voice for marginalized communities at Duke—voices who are often not included within important campus spaces.
Legitimate critiques can be made that the role of DSG president should be based more upon a candidate’s managerial, political abilities rather than an activist commitment aimed at changing the status quo of campus life. However, campus institutions and their leadership roles are never fully set in stone, and can be flexible depending on the goals of whoever wields the reins of power. The role of being an activist for marginalized groups, whether it be undocumented students or lower income students, is a bold reimagining of the DSG presidential position. Yet, at a university that still struggles immensely with diversity and inclusion, it is certainly a goal that has the power to question the status quo of what it means to serve as a student leader in seemingly staid, rigid campus institutions, including DSG and The Chronicle.
This Thursday, we strongly encourage the student body to rank Daisy Almonte first when choosing the next DSG president. As outsiders to a complicated, seemingly closed-off group, student voters are somehow expected to competently choose the next president of Duke Student Government, though most Duke students are unlikely to be able to name every executive board member of their student government. Again, putting aside this anti-establishment, black-coffee criticism of DSG, the organization does accomplish meaningful work for the student body, and the president of DSG is able to be a true voice for student concerns and frustrations on a divided campus. Based upon our interviews with the candidates, Almonte seems to be the leader best suited to take up the mantle of DSG president for the 2019-2020 year.
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: Olivia Simpson and Doha Ali recused themselves from this editorial.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.