The three Undergraduate Young Trustee finalists had the chance Tuesday evening to share their motivations and hopes for the position to undergraduate students in an open meeting.
Margaret Epps, secretary to the Board of Trustees, first explained the history and purpose of Young Trustees to the audience in Penn Pavilion. The role was initially created by former Duke President Terry Sanford in 1972 because he “felt that the Board could benefit from the voice of individuals who are closer in age to the student experience and the trustees at the time,” Epps said. She clarified that Young Trustees act as a fiduciary, rather than a representative for a certain student group.
An extensive process, beginning with the selection of the Young Trustee Nominating Committee in the fall, resulted in the selection of these three finalists: seniors Kacia Anderson, Shrey Majmudar and Priya Parkash.
Junior Alexis Williamson, Young Trustee nominating committee chair, moderated a series of questions for all three finalists to answer.
In their initial introductions, the finalists emphasized their familial importance of education.
A first-generation American from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Anderson would spend her summers in Jamaica with family. She remembers her paternal grandmother there would always say, “Silver and gold may fade away, but education may never decay.” As instilled by her family from an early age, education has been a priority for Anderson, which is what has driven her passion for continuing to serve Duke.
“I honor [Duke’s] effort to provide me with a great foundation to navigate the world in a way that is mindful and compassionate to others. My time [at Duke] has been spent creating a foundation that emphasizes community service as well as intellectual inquiry,” Anderson said, mentioning her STEM research, social sciences involvement, her experience as a resident assistant and her role as executive vice president of Duke University Union.
Majmudar shared a similar story as his parents were both born and raised in small towns in India. He recalls a childhood memory of being a teaching assistant for his grandmother, which was “the first time that [he] really began to understand the transformative power of education, as all these students from vastly different backgrounds and walks of life came together to learn.”
As his family preached, “Invest in your education as it invests in you.” Majmudar found the best way to do so was to get involved in student governance, which he has shown through his various Duke Student Government initiatives, such as mental health services, Blue Devil Buddies and a push to make class syllabi more accessible.
The third finalist, Parkash, is originally from Pakistan and came to the United States for the first time when she was 15 to “improve relations between Muslim majority countries and the American people post-9/11 and to advocate against Islamophobia.” This diplomatic experience reinforced lessons taught by her parents “that I must be of service any way I can, that I must elevate the voices of underheard groups and always do the right thing, even if it seems detrimental to myself.”
When asked how their close friends would describe them, Parkash focused on her curiosity, as well as her diversity and inclusion efforts; Majmudar said he was empathetic, silly and curious; and Anderson emphasized her compassion and hard-working nature.
The finalists then offered their thoughts on Duke’s racial equity efforts and how they have contributed to these efforts themselves.
All three called for Duke to acknowledge its past, with its foundation in tobacco money, and urged the University to right the wrongs of the past and avoid wrongdoing in the future.
Majmudar believes that Duke’s efforts have been building momentum but that we need to “put our money where our mouth is” by creating action plans. He believes Duke needs to elevate the Durham community, as he mentioned when explaining his work with former Durham Mayor Steve Schewel.
Anderson emphasized “bridging the gap” between the lived experiences of students and Duke’s actions. Throughout her time in DUU, she has increased recruitment to include a wider variety of students.
Parkash advocated for greater international awareness and recruitment of faculty and students, particularly in STEM fields.
The next two questions asked the finalists to consider what to highlight for Duke’s centennial in 2024, and how they would construct Duke’s brand in terms of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
The finalists had similar answers for these, highlighting the weaknesses of Duke’s history and the strength of Duke’s medical system, its global expansion, a growing connection to Durham, academic prowess and an engaged student body. They all confronted the University’s problems in a growth-oriented manner.
“People are Duke’s biggest strength,” Parkash said.
Finally, they explained how they would balance their post-graduation careers while maintaining a connection and vision for Duke.
Majmudar will be going into higher education consulting, which he believes will help him as Young Trustee. In terms of his vision for Duke, he sees it evolving over time as an alumnus, but really “it's the same vision that I have always had, which is, at the end of the day, making Duke a more accessible and more equitable place, and one that serves all, whether it's the faculty, staff, student realms or surrounding community,” Majmudar said.
“Balancing work with Duke is not just something that I'll deal with for the first two years. Duke is a commitment that I made for life, and it's one that I will continue to have, regardless of Young Trustee,” he continued.
Also going into consulting post-graduation, Anderson expressed that “the undergraduate experience prepares you for balancing work and life.” To maintain her connection to Duke, Anderson plans to continue reading The Chronicle as much as she already does, which she joked is “probably way too much for an average student who isn't involved with the Chronicle, but I love to learn more about what Duke’s doing.” She also plans to keep her close friendships with underclassmen.
Parkash expressed a similar plan: keeping up with her “20 newsletters [she] peruses every single morning” and her “close relationships with underclassmen who could potentially be [her] resource into Duke once [she] graduates.” Parkash also mentioned how she balanced ongoing projects at Duke with her former summer job involving 100-hour work weeks, so she is not worried about figuring out a work-life balance if she could handle that job.
“For the difference that Duke has made in my life, I'm deeply indebted,” Parkash said.
All three finalists shared that becoming a Young Trustee would serve as a way of giving back to Duke.
Students who attended the meeting can share feedback on the finalists for the nominating committee to consider when making their recommendation to President Vincent Price through a survey due March 21. Students who could not attend may watch a recording of the meeting to be made available on the Board of Trustees website.
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Madeleine Berger is a Trinity senior and an editor at large of The Chronicle's 119th volume.