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In evaluating each of the two candidates for president of Duke Student Government (DSG) this year, we were explicitly looking for someone we felt could best embrace the role and ensure the best outcomes. While the candidates’ platforms were a part of our deliberations, we feel strongly that unlike the senators and vice presidents who chair committees, the core of a good presidency lies in managerial and advocacy skills rather than in project work.
The president is responsible for selecting people to fill their cabinet; they appoint students to sit on Board of Trustee Committees; they have an active role in convening the Young Trustee Nominating Committee; and they preside over the rest of DSG’s executive leadership. In other words, they control access to some of the most powerful spaces at the University. In our interviews with the candidates, this was first and foremost on our minds. Beyond that aspect of the role, we also believe that an effective president is one who is able to advocate persuasively. It is not enough to have well thought-out ideas or seek feedback from students—they must also be willing to use their influence to negotiate successfully with administrators.
In regards to these criteria, neither Valeria nor Tommy stood out to us immediately. Tommy demonstrated a greater understanding of the administrative aspects of the role, explicitly mentioning the importance of nominating the right people to fill vacancies. He was also very upfront about the perception of DSG as an opaque, out-of-touch body and stressed the need for greater transparency and more intentional outreach. Still, we are concerned about the narrowness of Tommy’s vision. We disagree, for example, that better advertisement of Committee vacancies or mandates that Senators work with student groups would have much of an impact on DSG’s perception problem. At worst, the latter would insert DSG into spaces where it hasn’t been invited. When asked about why he chose to address the problems with SOFC by introducing his crowdfunding project rather than investigating whether or not SOFC procedures could be improved, he said that he had not thought about that. This puzzled some of our members as to why funding of student programming would be privatized when existing funds are numerous.
Valeria fell in step with Tommy and also emphasized the perceived lack of transparency and accessibility with DSG. Her approach of doing research on what worked at similar schools and translating that to a Duke context clicked with our members. On the other hand, her responses to questions regarding her platform regarding support for student activists left us somewhat unclear about how she conceptualized “student activism” and how her desire to support student activists would fit into her presidency. We were also concerned that she did not recognize that her desire for direct, in-person involvement with almost all student groups is almost certainly beyond her capacity as a single human being.
Still, we unanimously chose to endorse Valeria because we feel that her imagination and her enthusiasm for student welfare are sorely needed in the organization. Valeria has demonstrated an ambitious and expansive vision in which she deeply desires a connection with a diverse range of student groups across campus and proactive initiatives. With extensive history of intentional collaboration across campus, Valeria has demonstrated care for issues that are critical to campus wellbeing, and we are hopeful that as president, she would fill her cabinet and make appointments with the same degree of care leading to a more intentional and inclusive DSG. We acknowledge that Valeria is not a perfect candidate—and neither is Tommy—but we feel that she has a genuine commitment to being the best President she can be and a more expansive vision of what is possible.
Editor’s Note: Ryan Williams has recused himself from this editorial.