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'Y’all gotta pay more attention': Duke Student Government Senate bans laptop use at meetings

After finishing an impassioned speech in favor of the use of laptops in Duke Student Government Senate meetings Wednesday night, first-year Senator Jimmy Xiao faced an interrogation from DSG President Kristina Smith, a senior, on his own mobile device usage. 

“Would your opinion change if tonight you saw a senator on their phone watching a basketball game?” the president questioned.

Xiao confessed in response that he had been watching a basketball game on his phone. The use of internet has been a point of contention at Senate meetings in recent weeks, with Smith asking that senators close their laptops during a discussion of funding for the Duke Catholic Center in February. 

On Wednesday, the Senate approved an amendment to its house rules that bars the use of laptops unless the president pro tempore approves it. 

Junior Avery Boltwood, president pro tempore of the Senate, presented the amendment and spoke in favor of it. 

“We all know anecdotally that following previous meetings we’ve been a lot more engaged with laptops down,” Boltwood said. 

However, Boltwood noted that the amendment would be a temporary fix until the Senate found a permanent solution to regulating laptop use.

Junior Uwa Ihionkhan, vice president for Durham and regional affairs, said that even with the change, senators could use parliamentary procedure to ask to use laptops when necessary. However, she said that the amendment alone would not make all senators pay attention.

“Culture change…also does need to happen,” Ihionkhan said.

First-year Senator Kyle Melatti spoke against the legislation. He said that the Senate’s projector screen is not adequate for displaying legislation for all senators to read. He said that vision problems make it difficult for some senators, including him, to read what is projected on the screen. 

“Senators should be allowed to have legislation readily available to them, in front of their faces,” Melatti said. “It is not guaranteed that everything is captured on the projector.” 

Xiao was not alone in distraction. During Wednesday's debate, The Chronicle observed at least one senator checking their email, one scrolling through news stories and one responding to Snapchats. 

In his speech, Xiao argued for a change to the amendment’s wording. He proposed allowing laptops but give the president pro tempore the power to temporarily ban their use. However, the Senate voted to abandon this change. 

In their final vote, the Senate approved the legislation with 31 senators in favor and 11 opposed. Three senators abstained from voting. 

For his part, Xiao had been watching North Carolina Central University play North Dakota State in the NCAA tournament.

“The last two minutes of the game that I was able to catch were action packed, and I was hoping our neighboring school in Durham would be able to pull off the comeback," Xiao wrote in a text to The Chronicle—after the meeting.

Before the night was over, the Senate had another reckoning to face, this time from Gerald Harris, DSG adviser and director of student involvement. Harris said that pieces of legislation have passed without a single senator asking a question about them.

“Y’all gotta pay more attention in Senate, period,” Harris said. “Some of the things that I’ve seen pass in Senate this year would have never walked in years in the past.” 

In other business 

The Senate approved $17,493.31 in SOFC funding, including $9,300 for Blue Devils United’s Triangle Queer Conference, $6,172.50 for Duke Chinese Theater’s end-of year production entitled “To Live" and $2,020.81 for the On Tap Showcase. 

However, the senators tabled until next week a request from the Asian American Alliance for $5,000 to host a speech by G. Yamazawa entitled “Roots of Durham.” 

The chamber approved the charter of Diavoli Blu, a group that aims to “promote understanding of and engagement of Italian culture on Duke campus.”

The Senate passed a budgetary statute approving $70 in funding for a “Real Talk” meeting hosted by the First-Generation/Low-Income Caucus.


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