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'View everything we do through this lens’: Trinity dean discusses equity with DSG senators

Valerie Ashby, dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, spoke with the Duke Student Government Senate on Wednesday about efforts to advance equity and access at Duke.

Sophomore Cynthia Dong, a sophomore, asked Ashby a question about pursuing academic equity, not just equality. Ashby drew attention to the new Spire Fellows Program, which aims to support female-identifying students pursuing STEM majors. Developed in response to dramatic drop-off rates after one or two courses, the program has already helped students persevere and feel more welcomed in their respective courses of study.

Furthermore, Ashby says, she has asked each of Trinity’s 38 departments to reevaluate their introductory courses. 

“I ask them, ‘If this is the only course that a student takes in your discipline, is this the experience you want them to have had?’” Ashby said.

She also discussed recent hires of faculty members in historically underrepresented areas but stresses that culture and climate are just as important as the people. An anti-racism committee of faculty members recently prepared a set of instructions for how to advance racial justice on the faculty side.

She also highlighted her view that racial equity must be pervasive in all the Duke does. 

“We have to think about how we view everything we do through this lens, as opposed to a workshop, a training, a course and we’re done. That does not work,” Ashby said.

In response to a question from sophomore senator Hana Hendi, Ashby said she hopes to improve access not just to university admissions but also to resources and experiences available to students once they arrive, particularly for low- and middle-income students. 

Ashby also outlined her administration’s goal of pursuing consistent excellence as they work to deliver a liberal arts education in a research environment.

“If we were already there it wouldn’t be a goal,” Ashby said. “We know we have places to work and places to improve, so we set that as the goal. We wake up and try to do it better every day.”

In other business

The Senate chartered a new Duke Sports Analytics Club, an organization where students can “get involved and apply their interest in sports analytics in any capacity possible.”

Senators approved a $5,000 funding request from NeuroCare to host a guest speaker, as well as $1,600 for an All of the Above monologue show. 

They passed a budgetary statute allocating $1,000 from the DSG surplus to the Wellness Day Planning Committee for smoothie and coffee vouchers related to Wellness Day programming. 

Senators approved revised by-laws for a Latinx Caucus, which would feature both DSG and non-DSG members. 

Executive Vice President Dina Qiryaqoz, a junior, and sophomore senator Devan Desai both accepted nominations for the position of president pro tempore of the Senate, with the inter-DSG election results pending. Junior Zac Johnson declined the nomination.

Caroline Kassir is a contributing reporter.

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