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Read the Young Trustee candidates’ speeches to DSG

<p>Candid photos of the candidates. Clockwise from top left: Tim Skapek, Maryam Asenuga, Ibrahim Butt, Leah Abrams.</p>

Candid photos of the candidates. Clockwise from top left: Tim Skapek, Maryam Asenuga, Ibrahim Butt, Leah Abrams.

The Young Trustee race is in full swing, and the four candidates stopped by Wednesday evening to speak with Duke Student Government. Read the speeches from seniors Maryam Asenuga, Tim Skapek, Ibrahim Butt and Leah Abrams in the order in which they spoke. Their remarks have been lightly edited for clarity.

Maryam Asenuga

Hi everyone, how are you guys? My name is Maryam Asenuga. For all of you who don’t know me, I actually served on the Equity and Outreach [committee] as a senator for two years, and I’m one of the current cabinet members right now, so DSG has been a huge part of my life, and another interesting part of my life is my status as a child of an African immigrant. My mom basically fled her country to America to give my sister and I a better life, and single-handedly raising two children by herself wasn’t easy. She experienced it all: racism, sexism, xenophobia. But through all of that, she really taught me the importance, and she always used to tell me, “Maryam, whatever successes that you get, and whatever challenges that you overcome, you should utilize that as motivation to uplift and support people in communities,” and that’s a huge reason for why I want to be chosen as the next Young Trustee. 

Her experiences, and also my experiences both inside and outside of Duke, have kind of cultivated three important tools that I’d bring to the Board, that first one being a commitment to inclusion. As a minority student, as a woman on campus, I’ve seen the difficulty that exists in trying to navigate spaces like Duke that sometimes lack in institutional support for certain communities, and I think we’ve all lived through the impacts of the Board of Trustees, a majority of whom think and look the same, so that type of energy in my experience is something that I’d love to bring to the Board to make it more inclusive. As a DSG senator, my second year I was able to create the first invitational for LGBTQIA students, and I did that to make sure Duke is more accountable and more responsible for all these different communities on campus, so just making Duke more accountable for everyone is something that’s super important to me. 

And the second of those three principles is a commitment to collaborative action. Through DSG I’ve been able to collaborate with different communities on campus, such as Duke’s [Native American Student Alliance], Duke’s Mi Gente, and I was recently appointed to one of President [Vincent] Price’s councils, and through that I’ve been able to understand how important it is to incorporate different communities, specifically different communities and perspectives when you’re trying to fight with, and sometimes fight against board members to make change on campus. 

As someone who is a child of an African immigrant, I have also volunteered to work within African cities and indigenous communities, and that’s really allowed me to broaden my understanding of global and international issues facing international students, undocumented students and just in general something that’s very important for a university like Duke that’s becoming more and more global. 

And that last part of that principle is a commitment to local perspectives. I’m not sure if you all are familiar with Urban Ministries of Durham; I’ve actually been able to volunteer with them, and my biggest role there is serving as a liaison between families who are victims of Durham’s housing crisis to the financial aid counselors. So understanding more about Duke and how they need to increase interaction and support of Durham residents has been something that’s very important for my experience, but thing that has really cultivated that experience for me is understanding more about the issues and the plights that affect Durham residents. We need to increase our support of them and our interaction with them. That’s something that would bring that would really bring support and something that’s really important. 

So yeah, I just want to leave you all with all of that. I know my time is up, but I just wanted to make sure again, as I said, that I’m the child of an African immigrant, and my mom really sacrificed everything to allow me to have platforms like Young Trustee to create that change, and I’m bringing that type of energy, that type of motivation to the Board to make it a much better place and a much better university for all of us. 

Tim Skapek

Hey guys, my name’s Tim. The first thing I just want to say is I’m not happy to be in this position running this campaign. I applied for Young Trustee because I think I have a really deep knowledge of the position, I think that my skill set really matches what’s necessary, and like all of you for being in this room, I actively seek to engage my community when I think I can have some sort of positive impact. And I applied for this, and I was genuine in that, and I do think I can do the job well. I also think the other three candidates can do the job well. So I’m actually going to push two things: myself, based on my experience, which I’ll give a little bit about, but more importantly, that I think this process needs to be changed.

I’ve seen it in depth over the last few years. I was on the [Young Trustee Nominating Committee] for the last two years. I’ve seen this from the inside out. I’ve served on the Board in different capacities over the last two years as well. And really, this is a political process. It’s become a political process for a strictly nonpolitical position.

It would be like hiring someone for a job, and getting down to the last four candidates, and saying, ‘We’re going to have all of you run a political campaign for two weeks, and then whoever wins gets the job.’ That’s how I see this. Because being on the Board is about solving problems collectively and coming to solutions, and then pushing for action and making something happen. That’s where my strengths are. I’m on the football team, I’m an engineer, I’ve started a company this year combining all my interests using 3D printers to make custom athletic protective devices. [I’ve] been mostly involved in Duke in the capacity as a student ambassador, giving tours, being part of programs with the development office, admissions office, things like that. I think I can communicate well, I think I can solve problems well, and I’m confident in those abilities. That’s why I applied. So I’d love your support in that aspect, if you get to know me a bit, and you’ll be able to ask me some questions in a bit, I think I can do a good job. Please vote for me. 

But if you also think that this is a really annoying time of year, because it’s a frustrating couple of weeks with too many profile-picture changes, that doesn’t really reflect what’s going on here, I’m serious about this. Please, my website is, and there’s a link right at the top that just says give me your NetID, because we just want to gather support from people who feel the same way about this. 

I know all the other three candidates really well. I know that any of the four of us would do a good job in this position. But what I’m more, at the same time, just as driven to do is drive for change here. Not just call it out, because I think everyone feels similarly about this, but actually do something about it, and frankly, I think that’s what a trustee should do: find an opportunity for positive change and make it happen. So, thanks. 

Ibrahim Butt

Hello everyone, my name is Ibrahim Butt, I use he/him/his pronouns and I am running to be the next Young Trustee. I want to start my story by explaining that my journey to Duke was unconventional. I grew up in the town with the highest rate of poverty in the entire United Kingdom. It made Duke feel like the complete opposite of the places and spaces where I existed for the first 18 years of my life. 

People from my hometown, from my community, from my family, they don't come to a place like Duke. My mum got a primary school level education in Pakistan and my father, a refugee, was never able to go to school. I've not taken their sacrifices to get me here lightly and every day I've tried to access the very best resources that this university has to offer. But Duke has thrown some barriers some way, and as a low-income, international and minority student I've had to overcome a lot of barriers at this university just to even be here. 

One I can remember is when I was first accepted to Duke, they refused to meet my demonstrated financial need because according to them, my admission as an international student is need-aware. So I had to beg the financial aid department to give me more money. I had to detail intimate aspects about my family's financial situation that I hope we can agree no student should ever have to do to come to our university. After weeks of agony, after weeks of thinking that I'm not coming to Duke, they gave me that extra—it was $3,000—that allowed me to be here in the same room with you. 

That's just one instance of a barrier that Duke has thrown at me before I could even step foot on this campus. But my simple mission as a Duke student has been to ensure that those same barriers don't exist for the next generation of Duke students. 

So I've served as the co-president of Duke LIFE, Duke's low-income, first-generation students club, and helped build a community of over 200 LIFE students now with a dedicated space to use on Duke's campus. 

Duke is my home, so Durham has also been my home and I've been committed to our promise in Durham and for members of the Community Empowerment Fund. I'm not only a friend and a confidant but I'm also a forceful advocate in their pursuit of affordable housing. I grew up in public housing, so I know how important it is to have good public housing. 

I sit on the Undergraduate Education Committee where I lobby Trustees about how their decisions impact students on the ground. And that's why I want to run for Young Trustee, to have a voice at the table. 

So, you know, I don't have an agenda, I don't have a platform, but I do want to leave you with one guarantee, and that's that in every single conversation I'm having, I'm thinking about the voices not present at the table and I'm trying to bring them to the table. That's been my simple mission as a Duke student.

Thank you. 

Leah Abrams

Hey everyone, my name is Leah Abrams and I use she/her pronouns. As many of you know, there used to be this bus line called the Bull City Connector. It was the only free bus route connecting Duke with the rest of the city and honestly, even though I grew up down the road from here, I probably rode it all of two times. But as an advocate with the Community Empowerment Fund, I worked directly with community members nearing or experiencing homelessness who once relied on the BCC every single day. And about two years ago, I was working with a woman whose husband was dying. Every morning, she would wake up at the crack of dawn, take the BCC to Duke Hospital, and sit at his bedside. And it was just after he died that the Board of Trustees decided to pull its funding from the only free bus line in the city. And as a result, just Saturday, the route was canceled. 

I honestly don't know what we should do now. And I can't stop thinking about this, because to me, it's indicative of the urgency of this moment. Because there are hundreds of thousands of people who aren't in this room right now, and who will never be in the board room, period, whose lives are intimately impacted by Board policy. 

I will be the trustee who knows how high those stakes are. And more importantly, I will be the trustee who grounds their decision-making in that urgency. I will be the trustee who asks what voices are we not listening to right now? Whose stories are not being told? And I will be the trustee who can articulate those perspectives because I've spent my Duke career using words to build power. 

A good trustee has the ability to speak up, the ability to build relationships and a deep sense of obligation to this place. So more than anyone else in this race, I know that I can be that person, because that's how I've lived my Duke career. It's the mission I've lived when I worked with the People's State [of the University], speaking up directly with administrators to get Duke to ban the box on job applications. It's the mission I've lived as opinion editor for The Chronicle, reading letters and guest columns from parents, alumni, faculty and staff and gaining deep knowledge of their perspectives. It's the mission I've lived with Duke Democrats, planning bipartisan events, building strong relationships with students with whom I vehemently disagree. And it's the mission I live every day, because this state is my home, and long after I've graduated, the policies that this Board sets will impact people that I love every single day. 

And of course they'll impact you, so I want to thank you for your time, and I'm excited to answer's y'all's questions.

Editor’s note: Abrams is the opinion editor for The Chronicle. Read about how this affects The Chronicle’s coverage policy here.

In other business

The remainder of the meeting was headlined by an animated 15-minute address delivered by first-year Zizai Cui. 

“Friends, countrymen, senators,” Cui opened. “Lend me your ears.”

Cui called on senators to support him as he works with Duke administrators to provide University aid to Wuhan—the Chinese city currently being devastated by the novel coronavirus. However, there was uncertainty among senators as to the specifics of what Cui was calling for.

Sophomore Senator Olya Kislovskiy pressed for clarification, asking Cui—who had yet to reveal his name—to provide his name and organization affiliation. Cui replied that he did not come representing any particular group.  

Senator Priya Parkash, a sophomore, asked Cui what he believes the role of Duke as a singular institution is in providing such aid to China. Cui replied that Duke should be willing to provide humanitarian aid and that the resources for doing so already exist.  

“The sensible thing is to go straight to the universities,” he said. “That’s why the first thing I did was email [President] Vincent Price. And there was a response, there was a connection and we are going forward with it.”

Cui asked for senators to support him in his work with administrators, adding that some members of the Asian Students Association, Chinese Students Association and Asian American sorority Alpha Kappa Delta Phi have pledged support. 

Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, also spoke at the meeting. 

“My name is Sue Wasiolek,” she opened, “and I’m running for old trustee.” 

Wasiolek reaffirmed her goal to improve student residential life on campus, reflecting on her own time as an undergraduate, graduate student and faculty-in-residence at Duke.

“Being a part of a residential community has been the most important part of my Duke experience,” she said.

Wasiolek added that in her new role, she will continue to examine ways in which Duke can enhance the housing experience through more “strategic thinking.”

Later, Parkash presented senators with a form to gather more information on the group’s selective living demographics—a component of her larger project to increase transparency regarding Greek life and Selective Living Group dues. She noted that although certain Greek organizations offer scholarships to cover the costs associated with membership, many SLGs do not have such programs in place and dues represent a significant barrier to membership for some students. 

Nine students were sworn into their roles as senators, and a revised version of the DSG Constitution was presented to the group. 

Student Organization Finance Committee funding requests for three student groups—Duke Amandala, Duke Business Oriented Women and the Jewish Student Union—were unanimously approved. 

Editor’s note: Parkash is a university news editor for The Chronicle.


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