Senior Jessica Chen, the incoming president of the Duke University Union, hopes to foster collaboration between DUU committees, refine DUU operations in a post-pandemic era and humanize DUU in the eyes of the student body.
DUU is the largest student-led programming and media body at Duke, composed of 17 committees, including the Last Day of Classes and Campus Concerts committees. WXDU, Small Town Records and the Coffeehouse are also included among DUU’s committees.
Chen, a Delaware native, first learned about DUU through a Facebook group during her freshman fall. She joined DUU as part of its First-Year Internship Program and worked closely with Duke@Nite, which offers year-round programming including trivia and karaoke events.
The following year, Chen became co-chair of Duke@Nite along with senior Arianna Dwomoh, the next executive vice president of DUU. The pair kicked off the school year with a roller skating event on East Campus, drawing a crowd of more than 350 students.
“Honestly, I think that's what propelled us to stay in DUU for so long,” Chen said. “To think like, ‘Oh my gosh, I am actually planning these events, and people are actually coming to them.’”
Prior to becoming DUU president, Chen served as vice president of media, overseeing DUU’s media committees, which include Small Town Records, Freewater Productions, WXDU and Duke Student Broadcasting. She said that the managerial role taught her “a lot about how to advise people,” especially in areas where she often does not have “the most expertise.”
Giving back to DUU
Chen describes DUU as a “special” programming body, organizing campus events that are open to all Duke students.
“You don't have to know a certain person, or fill out a certain form or be in the know in a way that isn't accessible to every single student,” she said.
She also credits DUU with helping her grow as a leader and giving her lasting friendships, both among the executive team and the student body.
Chen acknowledged that being president is a large time commitment, but she said that her “gratitude and commitment and appreciation” for DUU made it worth it.
“With something as special as [DUU], I wanted to give it as much as I possibly could,” Chen added.
Chen was selected from one of the most competitive applicant pools for DUU president in recent years, according to Finn Brauer, Trinity ‘23 and former DUU president. Brauer said that Chen “controlled the room and was able to talk to people as both peers and as a leader” throughout the selection process.
Brauer added that Chen has shown “a lot of flexibility” and has an “infectious positive attitude.” He pointed to Chen’s role as vice president of media, which she took on with little prior experience in the media space, as evidence of her ability to “face new challenges head-on.”
Michael Croal, assistant director for student involvement and advisor to DUU, believes Chen’s leadership style makes her fit for the position.
“One of the things that I have really enjoyed about Jess is her ability … to not be a dictator,” he said. “She likes to have everyone have a say in the decision-making process.”
Fostering collaboration and bolstering internal operations
DUU is back to running at full capacity after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Now, Chen is turning her attention to fine-tuning DUU operations.
“I think DUU is a great organization. It's functioning extremely well,” she said. “But I also think, like a great car, you need oil, and sometimes you need to go in for a check.”
Chen also hopes to promote internal collaboration among DUU’s 17 committees, which “usually tend to work on their own.” She highlighted the Tiny Desk Concert as an example of cross-committee cooperation, emphasizing the benefits of DUU teams working in unison. The NPR-inspired concert was a joint effort between WXDU and Duke Student Broadcasting and featured Small Town Records artists.
Lastly, Chen hopes to humanize DUU, showing the rest of the Duke student body that the organization is made up of “students planning for students.”
“I think that the biggest thing we want to do is recognize that DUU is people,” she said. “It's not someone from the administration team or an adult or a staff member, but it's really the people you go to class with,” Chen said.
“I hope we can be a reflection of what the student body wants,” she added.
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Mia Penner is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.