Junior and Duke Student Government presidential candidate Tommy Hessel plans to foster a collaborative campus environment and expand access to student resources.
The Dallas native is a Computer Science major, and he’s pursuing the certificate in Energy and Environment and a minor in Economics. He is currently serving his third year as a senator and is the vice president of campus life for DSG.
Hessel’s first big project on DSG was taking 360-degree photos of first-year dorms. The photos were uploaded to Facebook so that incoming students could better prepare for the move-in process in August. He moved this project to West Campus dorms his sophomore year.
As a sophomore, he also helped improve the common room tent in Krzyzewskiville and plan out Living Learning Communities for the next academic year.
Hessel told The Chronicle that he’s been working to reach out to students this year and “make sure DSG was a little bit less isolated.” He’s been helping students coordinate A-Team, a group that helps prepare postgame bench-burnings after basketball victories.
Hessel’s crowdfunding initiative was also just approved, an undertaking he defines as his “biggest project of the year.” On his campaign website, he wrote that he wants student groups to have access to funding “using the Duke network of students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni.” He explained that he hopes to create more accessible student funding on campus.
Along with “supporting students and growing for generations,” Hessel’s first goal as DSG president is “democratizing Duke,” where he hopes to create an “egalitarian space” for students.
“When you step on Duke’s campus, from day one, you should have the same access to resources that everyone else does,” he said.
In accomplishing this, he hopes to have monthly roundtable events with different student groups, having honest conversations about what they hope to accomplish and how DSG can help create a better environment for them.
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“I want to connect those groups to the actual [administration] so their voices have a clear channel because right now, they don’t,” Hessel said.
Hessel also aims to maintain Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Education Week next year and potentially move it to April, which is Sexual Assault Survivors Month. In addition, Hessel wants to institute peer advocate advisors for sexual assault.
“They would be students, trained advisors, for anybody who’s affected by sexual assault to reach out to,” he said. He hopes this would help improve the “invasive” reporting process Duke currently uses.
He also plans to open up more physical spaces for student groups, making use out of the “underutilized” regions of the Bryan Center as identity spaces for various campus organizations.
In “growing for generations,” Hessel hopes to make DSG a more accessible resource for students.
“Again, the president’s roundtable would fit in that category, as well as ensuring that every senator meets with at least two student groups that are pertinent to their project, so that they loop them in, gain some understanding and move forward with them,” Hessel said.
Hessel serves as an undergraduate teaching assistant for Computer Science 101. He took the course in Fall 2018 and has held this role every semester since. Kristin Stephens-Martinez, associate professor of the practice of computer science, teaches the course.
“Tommy is very approachable, which I think is a good quality in a president because more people would be willing to talk to them about the important issues they can address,” Stephens-Martinez wrote in an email.
She noted that Hessel always has a “ready smile for the students” and that she hears great reviews about his lab section. Additionally, she commended Hessel for going “above and beyond” in his role—for example, by volunteering to help students install all the software they need on their computers for the course at the beginning of the year.
Junior Omar Benallal, a DSG senator and friend of Hessel’s, was also eager to commend Hessel as a “smart, kind-hearted, balanced, principled, diligent and hardworking person.”
“From freshman year, he was enthusiastic and open to learning different perspectives and building a community of cooperation, support and patience,” Benallal wrote in an email.
“[Hessel] prioritizes the needs or every student and is always present to offer a hand of support, advice, and advocacy,” Benallal wrote.