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‘More of an undergraduate voice’: A look into student representation on the Board of Trustees standing committees, REAC

<p>Davison Building.</p>

Davison Building.

Every year, the Young Trustee selection process sees just one undergraduate student chosen among the entire undergraduate student population to serve on the Board of Trustees. However, there are a few other avenues by which students can contribute to Duke’s long-term strategy as voting members. 

The Board of Trustees has several standing committees, some of which include students. The external engagement and resources committees host one undergraduate and one graduate student each. The undergraduate education committee hosts two students, one of which is automatically the DSG President.

Students began serving on the Board of Trustees standing committees in the early 1970s, integrating a “broader composition to the university community” into the committees, wrote Margaret Epps, secretary to the Board of Trustees and chief of staff to the Duke president, in an email to The Chronicle. 

“They provide a unique perspective of individuals who are close to the student experience and as such bring important insights to the work of the standing committees,” Epps added. 

Students can also serve on four subcommittees that fall under the Racial Equity Advisory Council, an advisory body to the Executive Leadership of the University that looks to advance Duke’s racial equity goals. According to Epps, students have served on REAC since its inception in 2021.

Students chosen to serve on the standing committees and the REAC subcommittees are full voting members and are “expected to act as fiduciaries and not as advocates or representatives for any group,” according to Epps. They must apply for a position and be confirmed by the Board of Trustees.

Three of the 37 undergraduates who applied to the Board of Trustees standing committees were selected, according to Epps. Among the criteria used to select the students were if they had a “demonstrated understanding of the role and the purpose of the committee,” as well as any campus involvements and extracurricular activities.

Student experiences on the standing committees

“It was really great to be able to, at the strategic level, share some of the insights, experiences of myself and my peers,” said Drew Flanagan, Trinity ‘23, who served on the external engagement committee during the 2022-23 school year. 

According to Flanagan, his other work at Duke, such as with Duke Student Government, was more operational and focused on getting things done on a day-to-day basis. The standing committees focused more on positioning the University strategically, so it could execute its operational functions.

During the 2022-23 school year, a central theme for the external engagement committee, which deals with issues related to Duke’s external relations, was planning for Duke’s upcoming Centennial in 2024. The Centennial is seen as an opportunity “to raise money and awareness” and “to think differently about Duke’s diverse constituents" by the Board of Trustees.

The committee also worked on other topics like the Climate Commitment and Duke and Durham relations, something done through the usage of different task forces, according to Flanagan.

Lana Gesinsky, Trinity ‘23, who served on the undergraduate education committee as president of DSG, wrote in an email to The Chronicle that her committee “had productive conversations on campus polarization, mental health, QuadEx, and much more.” 

The undergraduate education committee “oversees the academic, social, ethical and personal development of undergraduate students.”

The resources committee, which oversees the financial, physical and human resources of the University, focuses on the renewal of existing facilities and infrastructure, staffing shortages in the health system and the University’s financial workings, among other topics.

There are four standing committee meetings per year that take place around the meetings of the full Board of Trustees. 

During the meetings, the participants would listen to presentations and dialogue, after which the committee would discuss their thoughts and how what was learned may apply to Duke, according to Gesinsky and Flanagan.

“One of the things I really appreciate was, seating was assigned,” Flanagan said. “One of the things I noticed is it always felt very intentional that me and the other student were always placed towards the center of the conversation.”

REAC subcommittees

REAC “meets regularly to develop deliverables and recommendations” with the purpose of “operationalizing and coordinating the key concepts articulated by [President Price] in his Juneteenth message on Anti-Racism.”

Some of those key concepts include diversifying faculty, staff and students, incorporating anti-racism into curriculum and strengthening relationships with Durham, among a host of other commitments. 

In the upcoming school year, one undergraduate, graduate or professional student will be invited to serve on each of REAC’s four subcommittees: campus climate and assessment, infrastructure and policies, communication and education.

Angela Chung, Trinity ‘23, viewed serving on REAC’s education subcommittee for both the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years as “representing more of an undergraduate voice.” During her time on the committees, Chung expressed that students wanted to see more opportunities for REAC to receive direct feedback and acknowledgment of cultural organizations’ demands and petitions. 

Chung spoke about a “gap” between what the students wanted and what Duke administration wanted. Specifically, she felt that the administrative side focused more on reports, metrics and deliverables while students may have other priorities regarding advancing racial equity.

“I think there’s nothing wrong with that — I think it’s just more a reflection of the fact that perhaps there is a disconnect between what types of deliverables are wanted from each person or from each side of the university,” she said. “Everyone is coming with the same goal of improving racial inequality at Duke. I think how that is being sought out can be very different.”

Jazper Lu profile
Jazper Lu | Managing Editor

Jazper Lu is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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