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Letter: My resignation from Duke Student Government

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To the Duke Student Government Executive Team & Senate,

When Cuban-American author Jennine Capó Crucet speaks to students of color at PWIs she reminds them: “This place never imagined you here, and your exclusion was a fundamental premise in its initial design.” The same holds true of Duke Student Government, an organization which will inevitably reflect the values of the university by working in conjunction to, instead of in opposition of, Duke administrative forces. Senate, committee meetings and social gatherings have added fuel to the hellfire that is the psychological trauma caused by my existence in an elite environment.

I am writing to resign from Duke Student Government because of recurrent microaggressions within the organization. Truth is, I’m tired of feeling like an on-hand diversity token and discrimination detector.

To be successful in DSG, a student must be comfortable networking with the predominately white and wealthy representative body and adhere to respectability politics during meetings (especially if said meeting is with an administrator). Normative notions of respectability encouraged by the executive team are tainted with the belief that behavior from dissenting minority and/or low-income students is inherently inferior. Upon my departure, there will be zero senators from underrepresented ethnoracial groups on the Academic Affairs committee. Seemingly, in DSG, intellectualism and changing the face of higher education are not considered acceptable pursuits for Black or LatinX students.  

During one of my first social interactions with my committee, a peer joked that Tommy Hessel’s only weakness during the 2020 DSG Presidential election was that he was white. By that logic, I should be the most successful senator in DSG history! Not only am I Not White but I’m: LatinA, Disabled, Queer and a First-Generation college student from a Title 1 public school. Unfortunately, I instead bear the burden of representing entire identity groups and continuously educating my peers to no avail.

To the members of DSG who do not share my beliefs or understand my decision to quit,

I’m eager to know…

  • Can you take a seminar at the university without your peers commenting on your accent? Has your professor perceived your emotionally-charged class contributions as aggressive?
  • What do you spend money on if not hundreds of dollars worth of prescriptions and copays?
  • If you have requested your admissions file, what was highlighted? (Mine said FIRST GENERATION COLLEGE STUDENT at least 3 times).
  • Were you taught the rules of basketball (AKA a uniquely American sport that fuels social life at the university) as a child?
  • What do you do with your free time (when you’re not spending hours researching how your undocumented uncle can get vaccinated or translating financial documents for your parents or worrying about everything I’ve outlined)?
  • Is advocating for marginalized communities an interest of yours or necessary for your survival on campus? (If the former: Given that many DSG alumni go on to work in consulting or finance, how performative is your activism?)

We are slowly dying over here. DSG should URGENTLY do all possible to alleviate the suffering of minoritized individuals on campus. For now, administration and faculty should turn to other student organizations (such as multicultural groups, Duke LIFE, or Duke Disability Alliance) with their queries. 

I hope this message did not come off as too aggressive

Les deseo bien,

Elizabeth

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