Durham mayor Leonardo Williams speaks to DSG senators

DSG member Alex Dray conversing with the DSG advisor Juwan Jacobs amid a discussion about policy changes.
DSG member Alex Dray conversing with the DSG advisor Juwan Jacobs amid a discussion about policy changes.

Duke Student Government senators met with Durham mayor Leonardo Williams, delivered committee updates and approved funding during their Wednesday meeting.

Visit from Mayor Williams

Williams applauded the Durham and community affairs committee’s small business handbook for its emphasis on minority and women-owned businesses. He recounted co-founding Zweli’s, a Zimbabwean restaurant with locations at Duke and in downtown Durham, alongside his wife Zwelibanzi Moyo Williams.

While addressing the relationship between Duke and Durham, Williams told Duke students to be “careful with your advocacy.” He emphasized the importance of understanding the realities of Durham citizens beyond providing recommendations based purely on conversation within the classroom. 

“Oftentimes, there’s an organized group that says ‘defund the police’ or ‘Duke needs to pay their fair share.’ Those adversarial relationships never work,” Williams said. “What can work is when you can utilize your privilege to actually do something good.”

Williams cited that Duke students joined organizations that were against ShotSpotter, fighting it on the basis of “police protection.” ShotSpotter is a gunfire detection software which Durham has used since November 2022. Durham City Council voted in March to not extend Durham’s contract with the service. Williams had voted in favor of the contract. 

“I want to make sure that our city is the most progressive city on public safety there is,” he said, noting that Durham is a “national leader” in alternative emergency response. However, he later added that the number one response in a citywide residents survey was the desire for more police protection.

“It’s just really convenient for someone to look on paper and say ‘I don’t want police responding or over policing the Black neighborhood.’ You should go to a Black neighborhood and ask them what they want,” Williams said. 

One senator asked Williams for ways that Duke students can “utilize their privilege” in a positive way. Williams illustrated how Duke students can engage with Durham youth in afterschool programs and seek to build trust.

Another senator asked Williams for tips on how to become immersed in Durham’s culture, to which he encouraged students to consider shopping or working locally.

Williams spoke to some benefits of Duke’s presence in Durham. 

“Almost 50% of visitors that are coming into Durham are coming to Duke,” he said. “... That’s causing record sales tax revenue, especially in the occupancy tax category.” 

Williams also pointed to Duke’s contribution to Durham’s EMS apparatus, as well as extensive investment in the city. According to Williams, the presence of the Duke University campus police department reduces the burden on Durham police officers.

He concluded by characterizing his style of leadership. 

“I respect people equally but I respond to them equitably,” Williams said.

Committee updates

The equity and outreach committee shared that based on conversations with University administration, the initiative for financial aid to cover laundry fees is “likely to be implemented.” The committee also announced a new initiative with DukeLIFE to increase information access about fellowship and scholarship programs.

The campus life committee announced a new student working group on safety, which will seek representation from within various cultural and identity groups.

The Durham and community affairs committee announced that the small business handbook, which seeks to provide resources for visiting small businesses in Durham, was institutionalized in DukeGroups. The committee also announced a partnership with Discover Durham in creating the handbook.

In other business

Senators allocated $3973.53 to Sabrosura for a space rental for a Latin dance showcase, $6575 to Lambda Theta Alpha for a charity ball with St. Jude, $4280 to Duke Diya for an end-of-semester celebration, $2578.88 to Devils en Pointe for a spring showcase and $4850 to Blue Devil United for a speaker event.

Senators also approved two recommendations from the financial oversight and appeals committee, which can grant additional funding after student groups appeal an SOFC decision.

Senators granted an additional $2,340 to Duke Dhamaka for a dance competition and $1,200 to Duke Rhydhun to compensate for out-of-pocket travel expenses paid by team members.

Michael Austin profile
Michael Austin | Managing Editor

Michael Austin is a Trinity sophomore and managing editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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