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2020-21 Chron15: Pioneers

<p>Top row: Duke Mutual Aid logo; Duke Graduate Students Union at a May 2 rally. Bottom row: Marion Quirici; James Mbuthia; Scott ("Esko") Brummel. Photos taken by/courtesy of Duke Mutual Aid, Simran Prakash, Phil Fonville, Lydia Sellers and Scott Brummel, respectively.</p>

Top row: Duke Mutual Aid logo; Duke Graduate Students Union at a May 2 rally. Bottom row: Marion Quirici; James Mbuthia; Scott ("Esko") Brummel. Photos taken by/courtesy of Duke Mutual Aid, Simran Prakash, Phil Fonville, Lydia Sellers and Scott Brummel, respectively.

Duke’s pioneers are the people and organizations who push the University forward, relentlessly reimagining every aspect of our community with boundless energy and passion. They question the status quo and refuse to accept anything that is unjust or unsatisfactory. 

The pioneers of this year’s Chron15 list trekked through uncharted territories, leading to academic programs, community connections and political progress beyond what one could imagine.

Duke Graduate Students Union

Formed in 2017, the Duke Graduate Students Union advocates for improved working conditions—including increased workplace protections, compensation and healthcare access—for the University’s graduate student workers. 

Following inconclusive results from an election that would grant legal certification for the union, DGSU formed a minority union, which means Duke administrators are not required to bargain with the union. Instead, DGSU relies on self-advocacy through the form of rallies, public demonstrations, petitions and conversations with administrators to get Duke to meet their demands. 

As a result of DGSU’s work, Duke committed to paying all of its students pursuing PhDs a 12-month, five-year stipend beginning in 2022. They also eliminated the sixth year continuation fee, increased the allowance for supplemental income and extended the accommodation period for childbirth or adoption. 

At the onset of the pandemic, DGSU issued a list of demands to the University, including guaranteed summer funding, paid time off and sick leave. As Duke prepared for the fall semester in June 2020, the union demanded better pay, safety protections and to be consulted in decisions regarding reopening campus. 

Most recently, the union called for a post-pandemic graduate recovery plan consisting of a universal one-year funding extension, the abolition of continuation fees and a fair contract between DGSU and Duke. 

– Milla Surjadi, Vol. 117 university news editor

Duke Mutual Aid

In spite of all the physical and financial hardships of the past school year, Duke students have stepped up to provide for their peers.  Thanks to monetary contributions from students and the hard work of organizers, Duke Mutual Aid has been able to provide an emergency assistance fund available to any student, campus worker, or Durham resident in need.  With over 400 aid requests filled and over $65,000 raised, DMA has been a lifeline to many in need in the community.

DMA was founded in spring 2020 after the start of the pandemic and has committed itself to the work of mutual aid, distinct from charity and “rooted in abolitionist and anti-authoritarian praxis,” according to the group’s website.  In addition to raising funds, DMA has hosted a series of Community Calls where members can discuss the group’s structure transparently, as well as its core priorities, such as anti-racism and political education.

DMA has also taken on a partnership with Durham Congregations in Action, where students can likewise donate money.  Members hope that they can continue to partner with the Durham community to further the goal of mutual aid, which they see as continuing a tradition of similar projects, especially in BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.

– Parker Harris, Vol. 117 local and national news editor

James Mbuthia

Since stepping foot on Duke’s campus, James Mbuthia (he/they), a double humanities major in Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, has been a trailblazer throughout several artistic and cultural communities. He has helped to establish legacies that will exist long after his departure from Duke. The majority of Mbuthia’s work centers on increasing equity and creating safe spaces for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and, all members of Afro-descent. He has fervently and strongly used his voice to advocate for systemic change to increase accessibility for these students both within and beyond the artistic sphere. 

Some of his most notable achievements include serving as a cofounder of the Queer African Network, a “social and professional networking site that enables access to queer African stories, communities and a database of opportunities vetted safe for LGBTQ+ folks. 

Through this, he established and published the first issue of Amandla Magazine in 2020. The three volumes of their 2020 edition documents the stories of Queer Africans from East and Southern African and was a special dedication to Queer comrades in Nigeria during the #ENDSARS movement. This medium gives them both a voice and a platform to speak their truths and reflect on their identities. 

One of his most recent accomplishments is of The Renaissance, a novel exploration of Black realities and imaginations spearheaded by a team of student creatives from Duke University & North Carolina. This project curates an exhibit of Black folks across North Carolina in five theme shoots that are blended together to share the stories of Afro histories, legacies, glory, and beauty. This project will be featured in Khaya Magazine, also an online publication founded by Mbuthia and staffed by student photographers, writers, and graphic designers at Duke, North Carolina and across Africa. 

In addition to all these things, catch James on the stage as an avid member of Duke Africa’s Amandla Chorus and Speak of the Devil Acapella group. 

– Azana Green, Trinity '21

Marion Quirici

Since first arriving at the University in 2016, Marion Quirici has made major impacts on her field, the institution and the greater Durham community. 

A prominent scholar in the field of disability studies, Quirici launched eye-opening disability-centered courses within the Thompson Writing Program such as “Disability and Democracy” and co-created the “Pandemics, Health and Power” Duke Immerse with James Chappel, Jehanne Gheith, and Julie Reynolds. Her dissertation, “Fitness for Freedom: Disability and Irish Modernism,” was awarded the American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women and the Adele Dalsimer Prize for Distinguished Dissertation. Quirici is currently crafting a proposal for a Disability and Health Humanities minor.

Along with the courses she has taught and research she has conducted, Quirici continues to push for scholarly discourse on disability as an activist and changemaker. As the faculty director of the Duke Disability Alliance, Quirici fought hard for the creation of a Disability Cultural Center, anticipated to open in the Bryan Center this fall. Quirici also founded and directs the Disability and Access Initiative, a group of faculty across disciplines aiming to promote disability justice and disability-conscious pedagogy on campus.

– Simran Prakash, Vol. 117 digital strategy director, Vol. 116 photo editor

Scott ("Esko") Brummel

“Are you free to talk?” Scott, after an entire morning of delivering fresh produce to Durhamites, is messaging us about yet another new idea. 

Scott “Esko” Brummel is the program manager for the Fresh Produce Program (FPP), part of a Duke Med student organization, Root Causes, striving to address social drivers of health. A quintessential leader, Scott joined Root Causes and immediately helped pivot FPP from in-clinic distribution to a fully volunteer-driven delivery model, now serving over 350 unique families. 

As assistant director of education at Duke’s Science & Society with a master's degree in bioethics and science policy from the same program, Scott innovatively applies his multidisciplinary background to our organization. During FPP’s transition to contactless deliveries, Scott used his computer science skills to develop a “FPP Driver App” (think Lyft meets Meals on Wheels), significantly improving our delivery driving process. His combined passion for data science and technology ethics led to a collaboration with North Carolina State University professors to build innovative technological solutions to streamline our client data collection process and ensure FPP distributions are efficient and equitable. 

Scott has a talent for convening organizations to integrate Root Causes with the Durham community. Some of our current partners include Farmer Foodshare, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC, the Junior League of Durham and Orange Counties, and most recently, End Hunger Durham and CAARE as part of Durham’s Participatory Budgeting vote.

– Clarice Hu, Trinity '21 and Jason Lee, Trinity '20

To see the rest of this year's Chron15 selections, click here.


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