Young Trustee finalist Leah Abrams, a senior, plans to use her nuanced understanding of the issues at Duke and Durham to be a voice for equity.
She is double majoring in public policy and history with a documentary studies certificate. In addition, she just finished her undergraduate thesis, a study on the potential effects of automatic expungement of nonviolent charges on criminal records on racial discrimination in North Carolina’s hiring practices.
As Young Trustee, Abrams would work to be “as responsive as possible” to issues brought to the Board’s attention, holding a “long-term vision” for the advancement of Duke and the Durham community.
“I think the Board of Trustees is going to have to think about how we address the realities of climate change, how we address the realities of displacement and gentrification in Durham,” Abrams said.
On campus, Abrams is the opinion editor for The Chronicle, also running her own opinion column, “cut the bull.” According to Abrams, this experience has helped her understand “the anxieties and tensions of this University and all of its stakeholders in a really, really distinct way.”
The position enabled her to become a broad thinker, having gained a deep understanding of issues at Duke. Editing and reading columns has allowed her to understand the various points of view on these issues.
“I’m excited to have the really amazing opportunity to take that knowledge to the [Board of Trustees], where I think it can be put to really good use,” Abrams said.
A native of the Triangle area, Abrams said she is “deeply personally invested” in the region and policies that may impact it.
“I think just recognizing the extreme inequality that exists in our community and how unjust that is, and seeing it on the personal level is really, really difficult. Once you see it from my perspective, you feel compelled to act,” Abrams said.
Abrams wrote for INDY Week during the Spring 2019 semester, focusing her pieces on homelessness, housing and politics.
She is also the president of Duke Democrats and has worked with activist group People’s State of the University. Abrams said that her activism within these organizations and her thesis topic were inspired by her work with the Community Empowerment Fund, a nonprofit providing financial services to support individuals transitioning out of poverty.
Outside of Duke, Abrams has served as a CEF liaison to the Durham County Rape Crisis Center. She volunteered at Legal Aid of Durham, translating documents into Spanish for domestic violence clients.
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Much of her early activism was influenced by the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, a series of protests in response to a Republican supermajority in the state and various laws passed by the General Assembly.
“I kind of learned about ways that you could activate and mobilize large groups of people in order to send a message and to try to resist some of the changes that were happening,” Abrams explained.
After graduation, Abrams will work at West Wing Writers, a speechwriting firm.
She finds that it can be easy to feel “very removed from being on campus” in the Young Trustee position. In order to stay on top of the dialogue and conversations at Duke, Abrams plans to maintain strong relationships with the incoming Duke Student Government president and new opinion editor of The Chronicle.
Senior Quinci King is a good friend of Abrams, and he worked with her on a DSG project that helped Durham youth gain access to professional opportunities. He lauded her abilities to listen and call attention to the injustices suffered by others.
“Her interest in social welfare and truly helping people and deeply caring for them has never wavered,” King wrote in a message.
For three semesters, Abrams was a teaching assistant for Public Policy 155, the introductory course to the major. Nick Carnes, Creed C. Black associate professor, taught the Fall 2019 class. When selecting a TA, he wanted someone who was intelligent, a diligent worker and a good role model for the students. Carnes said that Abrams possesses all of these qualities.
Carnes respected how Abrams deeply admires Duke but also refuses to shy away from the issues that need to be addressed.
He described Abrams as an “incredibly optimistic, positive and upbeat person” and “a great example of what a student can be.” He said that he can always turn to her whenever he wants to learn about an issue on campus because of her deep understanding of the University and its students’ perspectives.