The four Graduate/Professional Young Trustee finalists shared their backgrounds and goals for the position with students in a Wednesday open forum.
Margaret Epps, secretary to the Board of Trustees, explained that the role of a Young Trustee is to ensure the Board includes voices of individuals closer to today’s Duke experience.
If elected to the position, a student will serve a two-year term on the Board of Trustees, one year as an observer and one as a voting member of the board, according to Epps. As fiduciaries of the University, Young Trustees “must demonstrate an ability to think broadly about the University, understand the role of the University in society and be curious about issues facing Duke and respect how universities are administered and governed,” Epps said.
An extensive process, beginning with the selection of the Young Trustee Nominating Committee in the fall, resulted in the selection of four finalists: Joshua Crittenden, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department; Nicole De Brigard, a third-year juris doctor candidate at the Law School; Eric Juarez, Graduate School ‘22; and Warren Lattimore, a second-year Th.D. candidate at the Divinity School.
Brittany Gabriel, chair of the Graduate/Professional Young Trustee Nominating Committee and a first-year master of public policy candidate at the Sanford School of Public Policy, moderated a series of questions for the finalists to answer.
Finalists began by sharing their backgrounds and interest in the position.
Crittenden, who is from Windsor, Conn., currently acts as a graduate resident and president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association. He was brought to the position by the opportunity to see the changes at Duke that the Board of Trustees discuss.
He said that in his five yeas at Duke he has been able to “touch a lot of different people, be able to see a lot of different experiences, [and] gain a lot of knowledge about the university system,” and he hopes to use this to serve the Board of Trustees.
De Brigard, a first-generation college graduate from Miami, Fla., is a member of Duke Law’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee and a graduate student representative for the University’s Racial Equity Advisory Council. She said that her background as a lawyer makes her “drawn to issue spotting and problem-solving while considering the variety of stakeholders and perspectives to an issue.”
“I’m excited and eager to contribute to the growth and excellence of this university, especially as we approach Duke’s centennial,” De Brigard said.
Juarez is a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Fellow and visiting lecturer at Mount Holyoke College. Juarez was brought to apply to the Young Trustee position through his experiences on the university’s Next Generation Living and Learning Experience Task Force.
“I am still in touch with the goings-on of higher education and I bring a different perspective from a smaller school,” Juarez said.
Lattimore, from Chicago, Ill., serves as a course director in Duke’s occupational therapy doctorate program. His experiences as the last person nominated for the Board of Trustees at Concordia College of Alabama made him “interested in the viability of institutions, the role that they place in society and how we can leverage that for the good of the community.”
“Why I’m interested in this position is because I’m in the Divinity School. I’m in the Graduate School with the African and African American Studies graduate certificate program, and I teach in the occupational therapy doctorate program. I see the best of Duke and its interdisciplinarity and how we work better when we cross borders,” Lattimore said.
Making higher education more accessible
Gabriel asked the finalists for their thoughts on how to make higher education more equitable, affordable and accessible for underrepresented and marginalized communities.
Juarez emphasized looking into how the University trained students to successfully find jobs. He brought up teaching skills that will benefit individuals in the job market and providing opportunities to find fulfilling careers and supportive mentors. He asked what the University was doing to encourage faculty to be good mentors to underrepresented and marginalized students.
De Brigard noted the role the Durham community played in building the University’s foundations. She explained the importance of prioritizing “systems in place” such as the Duke in Durham Today and Tomorrow Task Force and connecting these programs to the community to improve accessibility. She further emphasized a need to focus on retention in addition to recruitment.
“What types of systems do we have in place to ensure that when we bring these individuals to our campus that we’re going to be making this environment more equitable and inclusive? Are we ensuring that we’re addressing these issues in our curriculum, in our administration and so on?” De Brigard said.
Crittenden further expressed the importance of retention and shared his experiences as BGPSA president watching students drop out of their doctoral programs from not getting the support they needed.
Lattimore compared his experiences in the occupational therapy department as a new program to those he had at the long-standing Divinity School. He noted the department’s intentionality in being accessible and creating an environment that retains students. He further expressed the importance of using data to make decisions that encourage equity.
When asked about educating students on responsibly using artificial intelligence tools for academic research and writing, like ChatGPT, all finalists discussed the importance of training students to be able to use these technologies in an ethical manner. They also emphasized the important role AI will play in changing the workforce and academics as a whole.
Finalists then discussed the role they believed Duke should hold in maintaining an affordable housing market for graduate and professional students.
Crittenden explained the importance of having active conversations with the Durham Housing Authority and Durham City Council to ensure the University is not “driving up prices throughout Durham.” He further brought up the distance graduate students may end up living from Duke and Durham in pursuit of affordable housing and how that impacts students’ engagement with Duke and Durham.
Lattimore says it is important to look at Duke as an “amenity to the community” when making decisions on housing. He emphasized bringing students closer to Duke as an investment “in their time, in their bodies, in their ability to form community.”
Juarez said housing affordability was a new problem for Duke and brought up the importance of looking at how peer institutions addressed this issue and the perspectives of research fellows, post-doctoral fellows, staff and other stakeholders.
De Brigard brought up fellowship programs developed to target the housing issue, such as a program for masters of educations students pursuing teaching certificates being able to live in student housing if they committed to giving back to the community, and encouraged the development of more of these programs as a solution. She also brought in the impact of affordable housing on international students and the role of a Young Trustee to consider all stakeholders impacted beyond students.
A hypothetical scenario
Finalists were presented with a hypothetical situation if they held reservations as a Young Trustee about an action they believed the Board would take on a controversial matter.
De Brigard said the first step was to research all the different alternatives and solutions for the issue, then to evaluate the source of her disagreement. She felt that if she continued to disagree after doing this, it was important for her to come up with a solution or compromise for it and maintain an open mindset.
“Are you wearing that Young Trustee hat when you are disagreeing and when you’re disagreeing, are you considering your role and considering all the variety of stakeholders and the perspectives and long-term health of the Board?” De Brigard said.
Crittenden shared experiences in “being on one of the largest Black STEM nonprofits in the nation” that prepared him for the hypothetical. He further emphasized the importance of mentorship between current trustees and Young Trustees in gaining context and understanding on a decision.
“Am I being an inhibitor on making progress with the University or is my disagreement 10, 20 years from now — people will look back and say, ‘Oh, you were right the whole time?’” Crittenden said.
Lattimore brought up his personal leadership style of translating the needs of the group making the decision and the importance of taking responsibility for the decision as a representative for the Board.
“We can communicate in a way that both mitigates the harm that might be done by that decision, but that also communicates in a way that demonstrates care for all parties that have been affected,” Lattimore said.
Juarez emphasized trust and the ability to have a discussion as being important parts of the process. He found it important to recognize “that [his] perspective is from [his] upbringing and [his] experiences that [are] very different from the rest of the trustees, and their experience might actually be worth listening to and change [his] mind.”
Students who attended the meeting or watched 90% of its recording can share feedback on the finalists by March 27. The results will be used for the nominating committee to consider when making their recommendation to President Vincent Price.
After considering the result of the survey and the recommendation by the selection committee, Price will select the Young Trustees. The selected Young Trustees will be announced in mid-April and officially elected at the Board of Trustee meeting in May.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Ayra Charania is a Trinity junior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.