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Letter: Boycott the Young Trustee election

letter to the editor

The system used to screen, campaign and elect Young Trustees is broken. The position is riddled with ambiguity and almost zero accountability. Every time the Board meets, it takes critical decisions that have a huge impact on the lives of Duke students—tuition and housing fee hikes, changes to Campus organizations, changes to educational curriculums, future of Campus resources and programs for students, funding for athletic programs, the list just goes on. 

Electing a Young Trustee is the only opportunity for the student body to assert power over its representative who will vote on these hugely consequential matters. And how do we decide who to elect? By watching their TikToks and judging their popularity based on the amount of people who changed their Facebook profile picture. 

I am sure there are a lot of people who actively seek out information on all candidates and try to make an informed choice. The problem with that is the information you use to judge their qualifications might not match with their duties on the Board. Take the official endorsements from student groups as an example. One visit to the Chronicle Opinion page and you will see multiple endorsements from organizations like the Duke Honor Council, Jewish Student Union, Catalyst, the Duke NAACP chapter—all claiming how the endorsed candidate champions the interests of different students at University. 

However, in an official email to all students, Secretary to the Board Richard Ridell clearly states that, “unlike voting for a student to serve you on Duke Student Government, when you vote for a Young Trustee you are selecting a fiduciary of the university, not an advocate or representative.” So, if the Young Trustee is not an advocate for students, why should we vote based on endorsements that “trust Ibby to enter the boardroom and speak on behalf of the student body”? If I am voting for a Trustee that needs to think broadly about the whole university, why does Sigma Apple Pi’s endorsement matter? How does a video of a candidate chomping down on vegan hot wings or dancing along to 2010 bangers aid my decision to elect a member of the Board of Trustees? 

The most serious problem is that these candidates are stuck in their echo chambers and refuse to engage in a dialogue with other candidates. Honestly, I see no difference between any of them. All of them run on absolutely identical ideas of inclusivity, accessibility, student empowerment. I’m not joking, go to their campaign pages on Facebook and you will find the exact same phrases being used by everyone. I could seriously flip a coin and decide who to vote for and it would make zero difference because they’re all the same person. Tell me how you differ from your opponents, tell me what your vision for Duke is 20 years down the line, tell me what problems you see with the current social atmosphere at Duke, tell me about your opinions on unpopular decisions taken by the Board, and tell me how you will vote when you’re sitting at that table. This illusion of democracy perpetuated by Duke must be shattered. 

The other problem with making these promises is that the position has no accountability. We don’t have access to the voting records of the people we elected, we have no access to the minutes of the meetings to judge how our elected candidates are doing their job. Imagine if outside of Duke you elected an official and your vote’s importance ceased to exist as soon as you cast it. You just trust the official to make the right decisions and do what they do behind closed doors. 

The students must demand answers from the people who represent them. I want to know how my Young Trustee voted when fee hikes or changes to our housing experience were discussed by the Board. I want to know whether my Young Trustee stood up to giant donors and capitalists who sit on Duke’s Board. Remember, it’s the students who make this University, not the administration. 

So, I call for a boycott. Boycott these elections to deny the University its talking points of how students are involved in all major decisions—because they’re not. Boycott these elections to set a precedent for candidates that we will not vote based on expensive photo-ops and flashy profile pictures. Deny these candidates an actual popular vote, for it must be earned and not taken for granted. We’re Duke students. We’re all going to do great things once we graduate and perhaps become influential figures in politics and administration. Show that you have respect for the values of accountable democracy that is truly representative of the people. Boycott Young Trustee elections.  

Ari Drabu is a Trinity sophomore.

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