Duke Student Government kicked off the year by announcing the newly reformed first-year election process. DSG President Lana Gesinsky, a senior, felt that the election process for first-years in previous years was largely rushed without clear communication of the organization’s goal.
“Classes are hard, people barely know your name, you’re trying to make friends, and then you’re expected to run for a political office. That’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “We realized that about a month or two into [last] year that first-years who signed up didn’t really have a sense of what DSG was or how it functions.”
That’s where the reforms come into play. The new plan focuses on transparency by increasing the number of information sessions, as well as pushing back the election and the at-large application deadline.
First-year Caroline Edmondson said that she would have been hesitant to run if the elections were held during the first few weeks of class, which is an overwhelming period of time for most first-years.
“I only want to do this campaign and go through this process if I am certain I can give it my best,” Edmondson said, adding that she was able to “get grounded and oriented at Duke” and can now focus her energy on running.
First-year Aubteen Pour-Biazar, East Campus Council vice president, agreed with Edmondson. He explained that he would have had to run for DSG and East Campus Council simultaneously had the elections not been delayed.
“The fact that those two elections weren’t at the same time definitely helps being able to delegate my time between the two,” Pour-Biazar said.
Coffee chats, another major change made this year, are more intimate meetups where up to three prospective DSG members can talk with executive members or seasoned senators about their time in the organization.
According to Executive Vice President Devan Desai, DSG has had over 30 coffee chats with prospective members so far.
“I’ve given about 10 coffee chats over the last week or so,” Desai said. “We just wanted to put ourselves out there, answer whatever questions that they have. It’s been a great way for me to share what I’ve learned, as well as also share some regrets that I may have.”
First-year Aamer Husain credited his coffee chat as a major source of information that helped him build a better picture of DSG.
“I kind of have a framework and mindset of like, these are the problems that I want to avoid, and this is where DSG has succeeded in the past and where I can continue in that success,” Husain said.
Potential candidates have opportunities to shadow weekly Senate meetings and committee meetings. Desai sees this as a chance for DSG to make the student government process more transparent.
“There can be a curtain about student government,” Desai said. “We want to unveil that curtain and make sure students have a chance to understand what it is that we do.”
For Edmondson, being able to see beyond that curtain served a huge role in developing her platform.
“I think [DSG’s function] is something that’s really difficult to explain,” Edmondson said. “Getting to be in the room and witness how they work firsthand was a very helpful experience.”
First-year Chris Pare’s experience reflected DSG’s goal of creating community. After having a coffee chat with Ashley Bae, director of the Service and Sustainability Committee, Bae invited him to a committee meeting where he was able to evaluate whether the committee was a good fit for him.
“It’s nice because you have multiple opportunities to get a feel before actually committing,” he said.
Edmondson also stated that her coffee chat partner brought her along to a Campus Life Committee meeting and introduced her to members.
Gesinsky said that she would love to continue and potentially expand these reforms in coming years.
“We still have a super long way to go,” she added. “But this is our first year trying to do this reform. I’m feeling good about it so far.”
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Andrew Bae is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter of The Chronicle's 118th volume.