As an undergraduate Young Trustee finalist, senior Drew Flanagan hopes to elevate diverse perspectives in the Duke community, drawing on his work at the student level to inform strategic decisions.
Flanagan, a statistical science major from Montclair, New Jersey, comes from a long line of K-12 educators. His father was an international student, and his brother was a student athlete. Flanagan believes that his family’s deep-rooted history in education makes him uniquely cognizant of diverse educational perspectives.
“I think Duke is at a bit of a critical juncture where the University is really celebrating and thinking critically about its past and also building a more innovative [and] equitable university,” he said. “Ultimately, I'm just really passionate about improving the Duke experience.”
For Flanagan, serving on the Board of Trustees “would not necessarily be new behavior ... It would just be an opportunity to help continue to fulfill and contribute to Duke's mission at the strategic level.”
Flanagan currently serves as an undergraduate representative for the Racial Equity Advisory Council and the Board of Trustees External Engagement Standing Committee, where he helps provide strategic counsel and oversight for areas like alumni engagement, public affairs and donor relations. In these positions, Flanagan has had the opportunity to listen to and work with leadership from Duke offices, such as the Durham and Community Affairs Office, Duke’s chief diversity officer and the vice provost for faculty advancement.
His experiences on these two committees have helped him understand how Duke’s “bold commitments to anti-racism actually get operationalized” and “how Duke is rethinking and re-energizing its relationship with alumni.”
“The spirit of a lot of the work I do at Duke is that we’ve set these goals, now how do we really make sure we, as a community, are working together to live them and do them?” he said.
Flanagan is also currently senior class president and former chair of the Student Organization Finance Committee, which provides funding and administrative support to student groups on campus. As last year’s SOFC chair, Flanagan devoted special attention to arts and cultural identity groups while working to make the committee more representative of the student body.
He worked with cultural and identity leaders to increase diversity-related programming, transparency about resource allocation and diversity of SOFC applicants. He also partnered with Mi Gente, Duke's largest Latinx student organization, and administrators to accomplish two of the group’s demands.
As the current student director of belonging for Duke Student Affairs, Flanagan spearheaded the Fun@Duke initiative, which allows campus groups to reserve spaces for social events and provides funding for alcohol purchases. Flangan met with the Social Life Accelerator Task Force at Stanford and discussed ways in which both universities are attempting to cultivate an inclusive, on-campus social life.
Flanagan believes this experience makes him uniquely qualified for the Board of Trustees as the board is frequently responsible “for understanding and learning from what peer [institutions] are doing,” in addition to considering the long-term health of the institution.
Throughout his time at Duke, Flanagan has volunteered with Durham and Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools and conducted climate-centered research at the Marine Lab.
“With the Climate Commitment, Duke’s obvious commitment to being a partner with its neighbors, and Duke’s home in Durham, I think both of those experiences will provide me with important perspectives to understand the nature of the board's broad work and mandate,” he said.
Flanagan’s proudest accomplishments at Duke, though, are the relationships he’s been able to build through his experiences.
“Duke is a really special place, you have so many different passionate, curious, diverse people. One of the things I'm most proud of is the way I was able to share pieces of myself and also learn from others,” he said.
Sophomore Ayanna Chatman, SOFC vice-chair of management and communication, has worked closely with Flanagan since he encouraged her to apply last year.
“He was really keen on making sure SOFC wasn't a scary place and that you could actually come and apply for money,” Chatman said. “Whether you were a group that was super big on campus, or whether you were a super small group, he wanted to make sure that everyone felt like they had a seat at the table. And he did.”
Shruti Desai, associate vice president of student affairs, worked closely with Flanagan while he chaired SOFC and serves as student director of belonging.
“Drew pushes back against decision makers in a way that is collaborative. His ability to hold multiple perspectives while always prioritizing the student experience helps him be a strong partner,” she wrote in an email to The Chronicle.
“Drew is able to see the practical challenges (fiscal, policy, staffing, etc) while also seeing the need to cultivate a sense of belonging that students want and need,” Desai wrote. “He is a fiduciary in that he has the trust of many stakeholders and finds a path forward often when many don’t see one.”
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Mia Penner is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.