In its first meeting with newly elected senators, the Duke Student Government Senate participated in diversity, equity and inclusion training with James Mason, an equal opportunity compliance investigator at the Office for Institutional Equity.
Mason, who previously worked as the Title IX investigator at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, structured the training to allow the senators to "build a community that is dependent on active listening and respect…and to become better allies and community members, avoiding judgments, and understanding that every person is capable of growth," he said.
He began the presentation by addressing "approaches and assumptions" and working to create a dialogue about what it means to be an ally.
"When did you first learn about race, and what most influenced your way of thinking?" Mason asked the Senate. "What do you think you can do to encourage your peers and yourself to engage in conversations and learning about race as a way to atone for the history of slavery?"
For Senator Matthew O'Stricker, a first-year, education about race brought "an early learning curve."
"I first learned about race within my family. Growing up before I went out into the real world, even with school," O'Stricker said. "My parents educated me on my history as a Black man in America, and how I'm represented as a Black man and what that image is portrayed in society."
O'Stricker encourages his peers to work and engage in uncomfortable conversations and "start and look outside of their comfort zones to foster conversations regarding sensitive topics.”
To Senator Haley Cush, a first-year, the best method to begin having these conversations "is just speaking to the human experience”.
"A lot of the feelings associated with being a Black person in America relate to emotions, like fear and anger, which is a very human thing," Cush said. "I always try to meet people where they're at… see the human experience and just try to come to the table."
Mason continued the discussion by working to assist in DSG's understanding of what it meant to be an ally.
He presented allyship as something multifaceted, expanding the definition to signify someone who is willing to "pay attention to the social, economic and political differences and inequalities that extend to people based on race, ethnicity, age, class, gender identity, etc," Mason said.
"It's important that if you really want to be an ally, to take that first step and just pay attention to the things that people are saying," Mason said. “When you're listening to what people are asking for and willing to be accountable, you know, that's when you really can go from an ally to a partner, and I think that should be something that people who want to make change are striving to be."
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The senators worked through various scenarios in which they discussed their responses to issues such as racial bias in the classroom, unsatisfactory professional development and sexism in the workplace.
Mason concluded by sharing a variety of confidential services available to Duke students if they would like to report any form of inappropriate or exclusionary behavior. Resources include Counseling and Psychological Services, the student ombudsperson, Religious Life groups, the Office for Institutional Equity and the Disability Management System.
In other business
DSG confirmed 31 new senators to the Senate’s five committees: Academic Affairs, Campus Life, Durham and Regional Affairs, Equity and Outreach and Services and Sustainability.
Three new associate justices were confirmed: senior Chitra Balakrishnan, sophomore Jonathan Griffin and junior Weston Lindner.
Junior Jackson Kennedy and first-year Chase Barclay were nominated to the Information Technology Advisory Council, which works to advise Duke's IT leadership on issues related to computing telecommunications, enterprise, academic software and more. The ITAC also works to recommend policies, guidelines and practices for IT at Duke.
Cush, sophomore Swetha Rajagopal, junior Shirley Mathur, sophomore Tommy Shen, first-year John Lee, first-year Brandon Qin and sophomore Sawyer O'Keefe were nominated to the Internal Affairs Committee. The committee works within DSG to review and modify bylaws and house rules.