Durrell and Leon chosen as undergraduate representatives to the board of trustees
The Washington University board of trustees selected juniors Ruth Durrell and David Leon to serve as the undergraduate student representatives to the board for the 2019-2020 school year.
Undergraduate student representatives, who have sat on the board since 1970, are chosen through an application and interview process. While the pair will not be able to vote on board decisions, they have the opportunity to voice undergraduate interests at board meetings and communicate back to students.
Durrell, majoring in Education and Sociology, and Leon, majoring in Marketing and Organization and Strategic Management, said they hope to bring attention to minority populations on campus through their positions.
“Between the two of us, we don’t represent all minorities on this campus, of course, but we share a lot of identities and we also have a lot of separate identities,” Durrell said. “This will allow us to pull from our communities’ needs and concerns.”
Leon said he looks forward to the power of representation the position will afford him.
“[Assistant Provost for Student Success Anthony Tillman] says it best – ‘Give a voice to the voiceless’,” Leon said. “Being able to do that for students that never felt like they had that reach because they never had someone advocating for them–that’s what I’m excited about.”
Durrell and Leon also aim to increase outreach to communities outside of their own.
“I feel connected to the black community and people feel comfortable to speak with me,” Durrell said. “I would say that David is connected with the Latina and Latino community, but I do know that my gap is with the Asian and Native and Indigenous communities on this campus, so I’m concerned with how I’m going to connect with them in a way that is fair and genuine. If people want to reach out, I’d appreciate that because I don’t want to enter a community without being invited.”
While both are optimistic about the opportunity, Durrell and Leon expressed concern about living up to the expectations of both the University and their respective minority communities.
“There are a lot of expectations and weight on our shoulders to revolutionize this campus, and while that’s something we both want to do, there is only so much we can do with our positions and our voices,” Leon said. “It’s how much we can feasibly do and get to where people’s expectations are.”
“I just hope that the students of this community do come to us with their concerns, because of course I know there are problems on this campus, but there are problems that I don’t see,” Durrell said. “Bring those to light so that we can help shine the spotlight on them and get things done.”
Durrell said that students’ voices will be the strongest when they’re united.
“I really encourage students to come together and coalition-build, because yes, we are here and in the ears of people who make decisions, but students have the most power on this campus should we come together,” Durrell said. “We need to have student support throughout this entire process…but also be vocal about it on campus so we can’t be ignored. It’s easy to ignore two people in a room of 60. It’s hard to ignore 150 people in the quad.”
At the end of each term, the two representatives present their culminating project aimed at a specific issue facing the University at the May board meeting. While Durrell and Leon have not solidified their plans for the upcoming year, both have identified specific areas that they want to address.
“My project has been this idea of a community service credit requirement,” Durrell said. “I want to work to build the relationship between Wash. U. and St. Louis, and a lot of that has to do with Wash. U.’s wealth and position in the city. We take resources without giving back. Conversations need to be had about how we enter these communities appropriately and with integrity, not as saviors and privileged students.”
“If you are trying to get a more diverse community here, of course there is work in admissions to be done. But once these students are here, that’s when it really matters,” Leon said. “If [the administration] is not supporting students on this campus, then they are not getting the same Wash. U. experience as other students. Students can only do so many things and only start so many clubs. We need the input from the school to be able to better serve the students.”
Looking forward, Leon hopes that having two minority representatives on the board will help encourage more minority students to take on leadership positions in the future.
“I want to let students know that two people from two minority backgrounds and marginalized communities can have a couple of the top positions at this school,” Leon said. “No matter where you come from, you can do whatever you want and whatever you set your mind to. I think a lot of students need to hear that on this campus, especially ones from minority backgrounds. Sometimes they don’t go for it because they don’t feel like they can, or they don’t feel like the space is for them or that they don’t belong. But you belong, and we belong.”