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DSG's Durham Community Affairs Committee proposes projects, establishes accountability mechanisms for progress

This year's NC Comicon: Bull City takes place Nov. 10-12 at the Durham Convention Center downtown.
This year's NC Comicon: Bull City takes place Nov. 10-12 at the Durham Convention Center downtown.

Duke Student Government’s Durham Community Affairs Committee met virtually Saturday afternoon to discuss project proposals for the upcoming year.

Three senators began by introducing a proposal for a website entitled "Popping the Duke Bubble." The project team included junior Rhea Tejwani and first-years Mick Tobin and Chloe Decker.

Tejwani described the site as a “one-stop shop” where Duke students can gain easy access to information regarding Durham restaurants, service opportunities, community events and history. The senators working on the website hope the initiative will get students excited about exploring life off-campus.

Tejwani laid out plans to improve the site’s aesthetic appearance, create a more user-friendly interface and ensure that all postings were as up-to-date as possible in the midst of ever-changing COVID-19 regulations. 

Next, Decker and first-year senators Kulsoom Rizavi and Emma Zubak outlined their vision for a DCA “PLUNCH” program. Similar to Duke’s FLUNCH program, PLUNCH would empower students to take a local politician or community leader out for a meal. 

Rizavi emphasized the PLUNCH project's potential to create safe spaces by connecting students to members of marginalized communities that they may not have access to on campus. The initiative would involve cooperation with several university organizations, including the Duke Partnership for Service, the Office of Undergraduate Education and various multicultural groups on campus.

Next, first-year senator Jazper Lu outlined his vision for a more accessible public transportation system. After describing the lack of effective transit as a physical barrier to the integration of students in the Durham community, he proposed a shuttle system that would operate on Saturdays and during special events, such as holiday festivals. 

Lu specifically mentioned reviving programs such as the Bull City Connector, a free bus that connected East Campus and downtown Durham from 2010 to 2019, and a Duke-Durham Lyft ride program. The former would require a $350,000 investment on the part of the University, Lu said.

After Lu's presentation, Alex Leo-Guerra, a junior, discussed his hopes to connect Duke and Durham by encouraging students to support local restaurants. He believes that this initiative could help foster a sense of connection between business owners and the student body.

In collaboration with junior Drew Flanagan, chair of the Student Organization Finance Committee, Leo-Guerra laid out his initiative to expand the food points system to nearby eateries. Students would pay using their DukeCards—just as they do at vendors in the Brodhead Center—and economically support businesses that have now weathered eighteen months of pandemic-related restrictions. 

Tobin and first-year senator Carson Carranza presented their plans to institute a Duke Day of Service. By reaching out to local volunteer organizations and creating online sign-up sheets and promotions, they hope to recruit many students to engage with Durham in a productive way.

Tobin had no doubts about the student body’s motivation to get involved. “I haven’t really met a Duke student who doesn’t care about the community,” he said.

Finally, Carranza outlined his plan to link Duke students with Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit organization with ties to the School of Medicine. Though Durham Public Schools are currently closed to volunteers due to the pandemic, Carranza plans to initiate a book drive after winter break. 

Vice President of DCA Swetha Rajagopal, a junior, facilitated the meeting through Zoom. She concluded the meeting with a reminder about the accountability measures in place for senators.

DCA members must submit their project proposals with an internal accountability worksheet. They must also be in constant communication with Accountability Ombudsperson Zac Johnson. The Committee’s weekly meetings function as check-ins to ensure that senators are making progress on their projects.

Editor’s note: Jazper Lu is a contributing reporter for The Chronicle. Alex Leo-Guerra is a contributing Recess reporter for The Chronicle. They were not involved in writing, editing or publishing this story.

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