This is part three in a series profiling the identity centers at Duke, highlighting the work they do and their roles on campus. Part three, which focuses on the Women's Center, can be found here. Check back for more articles in coming weeks.
The hiring of Kevin D’Arco, the first senior associate dean of international students, marks a shift towards more resources, advocacy and opportunity in the Duke International Student Center.
The DISC began the year with some rebranding: a new location, new leadership and a new name, with the goal of building new infrastructure to better support international students before they get to campus and through their time at Duke.
“We’re hoping to build on the legacy of the International House,” D’Arco said. “It has done a lot to support international students for a generation of international students and I think it’s exciting to help build it forward.”
Before Duke, D’Arco spent 11 years abroad in various leadership positions at the University of Utah Asia Campus in South Korea and Carnegie Mellon University’s campus in Qatar, supporting international students and student leadership. He joined Duke in fall 2021 as the director of student involvement but transitioned to his current position in March 2022.
“Kevin’s role actually arose out of student advocacy,” said junior Annie Cui, director of international policy and outreach for Duke Student Government. “He is indeed very important, having this representative at the administrative level.”
In addition to the change in leadership, DISC, formally known as the International House, or I-House, relocated this past summer. The center, which used to be located at Epworth House on East Campus, is now at Smith Warehouse.
The change in name from I-House to Duke International Student Center also sums up the new focus of the organization.
“What name best represents what we aspire to be when supporting students? One of the things we’re trying to do is represent students with international identities and be a center for that,” D’Arco said.
One of the major additions to the opportunities for students available at the DISC is an International Student Advisory Board for both graduate and undergraduate students. The board is meant to organize and improve student advocacy for international students. Before D’Arco took over as director, I-House was frequently short-staffed.
“They didn’t really have time to put together the advisory board and a lot of it were students’ own initiatives,” Cui said.
Students have held the DSG cabinet position of Director of International Policy and Outreach or organized individual initiatives, such as the creation of an international “Blue Book,” led by Cui.
The board will be the first centralized organization of its kind, D’Arco said.
However, there are still several challenges the Center faces in the coming year. While the location change makes it more accessible for the graduate population and upperclassmen based on West Campus, Smith Warehouse can still be a difficult location to access.
“It would be nice if we could have a West Campus office, just because Smith Warehouse is really far away,” Cui said. “From my personal experiences, it can be a big hassle to get to.”
One benefit of the new location, however, is proximity to Duke Visa Services, which must be accessed by every student with a foreign visa. Additionally, with the new QuadEx model, programming can occur in the dorm communities which expands locations beyond the physical DISC space.
An additional challenge for DISC is best serving the entire international community, including both graduate and undergraduate populations.
“I think there is a lot of excitement around the potential of what we can do for international students,” D’Arco said. “I think the breadth of programming and breadth of support structures is one of the biggest challenges.”
The former House and the current Center has supported international students even before they arrived on campus. The International House Orientation Peers organization, co-led by junior Axelle Miel, pairs international students with upperclassmen to help get acclimated to campus.
This programming among many others, such as the Spanish Conversation Club, English Conversation Club and International Orientation, is being continued this year. However, the leadership for this year is hoping to build on past foundations and establish new resources for international students at Duke in coming years.
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