Junior Frank Thomas hopes to bring his appreciation for the Duke community and student camaraderie into his new role as president of Duke University Union.
DUU is an umbrella organization made up of 17 programming and media committees, featuring groups such as the Last Day of Classes Committee and Campus Concerts. It also includes WXDU, and the Coffeehouse.
“It’s a really representative space that provides kind of niche areas for students,” Thomas said.
Thomas, a Dallas native, is pursuing a double major in Economics and Public Policy, as well as a minor in Environmental Sciences and Policy.
Outside of DUU, he works for Outdoor Adventures, helping with the climbing wall in Wilson Gym, and he leads whitewater kayaking clinics on Monday evenings at the Brodie Gym pool. Photography has also been a big hobby for Thomas.
Thomas began his involvement with DUU as a first-year intern. Paired with the non-programming team, he said that he had the opportunity to work with the president, vice presidents and other leaders of the organization.
In his sophomore year, Thomas became committee chair for Duke @ Nite, where he helped facilitate trivia and karaoke activities, as well as some bigger events such as a glow-in-the-dark roller rink.
Thomas served as vice president of external affairs during his first semester as a junior.
“I got to do a lot with alumni and also critical engagement of all different types of Duke students, really looking at how we can serve everyone on campus and what those kinds of aspects look like,” Thomas said.
His term as president began upon the conclusion of spring break. With the transition to online classes, Thomas said he is using this time to more closely examine how students interact with media on campus.
“One big thing that I’ve really been pushing is to take a really critical look at our media production on campus and look about where media production stands in our social world today, as we’re all online, and we’re interacting with different forms of media, as it currently stands,” Thomas said.
He said that he is trying to work with committees to provide students with opportunities to get involved in production while also ensuring that “what we output is something that students want to consume.”
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Thomas added that DUU is also taking on large efforts to gauge how their programs can better serve students.
“I'm looking at what artists we bring, what kind of spaces we're creating and who we're inviting to those spaces to make sure it's as representative as possible for all students,” Thomas said. “Making sure that any student who wants to engage feels comfortable and it's accessible to them is a big thing.”
Another goal for Thomas is to encourage graduate student involvement in DUU, an effort over the last couple years that he hopes to build on.
He said it was part of the mission of DUU to “find ways to bring [graduate students] into our programs better and make them feel better supported by the programs and media that we output.”
Despite the setback of having to interact remotely, the executive committee still has their weekly Tuesday meetings. Thomas hopes that they can use this time to make every member—whether they’re new or have served on the executive board before—feel comfortable, “so that when we get back to campus, and we turn this switch on to full hundred-percent programming mode, that we’re all 100% ready to hit the ground running on that.”
He has found that the transition online has gone well. WXDU and Duke Performances have partnered up to livestream some local artists, and have been encouraging students to donate to support artists that may have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas is also working with committee chairs to consider how events that were canceled this semester can be incorporated into Fall 2020.
On top of that, weekly Thursday night trivia is continuing online, he said. The event is now Kahoot-based, so participants can join a Zoom call and then play the game from their phone.
Thomas said that in addition to a virtual celebration of LDOC, DUU is “looking into the possibility of an event in the fall,” though there are still many factors to consider, such as COVID-19, artist availability and potential dates.
He has always appreciated the camaraderie of LDOC, both within the executive team and the Duke community. Thomas said he appreciates “seeing the entire community come together on one day and share a common experience.”
This deep appreciation for community started in Thomas’s first year. He lived in the Blackwell dorm and was able to form close friendships by spending time in the common room and engaging with fellow residents.
Thomas also tented twice for the basketball matchups between Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He blue tented this year and Flex tented in 2019, feeling that the energy of the atmosphere is analogous to that of LDOC.
Overall, Thomas is grateful for the “leadership skills and connection to the University” that serving on DUU has given him.
“That has really been fostered by previous presidents and through the previous executive committees I've served on,” Thomas said, “so being able to be a part of that and creating community on campus, knowing that I could have a really tangible way to have a positive impact on campus and student interaction and potentially being even just one hand in the new interactions that people have on campus was something that was really exciting to me.”
Thomas hopes that all students will be able to share their ideas with the organization to build a better community, whether they have a position in DUU or not.
“I hope that students want to engage with DUU,” Thomas said. “My other hope is that students feel empowered to give us their opinion and say, ‘this is what we want to see.’”
In keeping with their goal of being “as representative as possible,” all 13 DUU committees have meetings open to all students, except for LDOC.
“You can pop in at any time during any meeting and say, ‘I’d love to see this’ or ask ‘can we do this’ and we’ll try our hardest to make that happen,” Thomas said. “We value every single committee member’s voice and really try to make the dreams of students become realities.”