Lana Gesinsky never expected to become involved in Duke Student Government. She was burned out from serving as president of her high school student government and didn’t want to do something similar at university.
But during her first semester at Duke she attended the Student Activities Fair, which felt disorganized and overwhelming.
“So I went back to my friends and I was like, that was terrible,” she said. “And they said, you know who would fix that? Student government … And that’s kind of when I knew I needed to run [for DSG Senate].”
Now, Gesinsky, a senior from New York, is Duke’s student body president, overseeing a DSG Senate of dozens of people and serving as liaison between students and the administration.
Gesinsky, who is majoring in political science, minoring in psychology, and earning a certificate in ethics and society, took over as DSG president in April 2022 at a pivotal post-pandemic moment. Students had finally emerged from a bizarre period of Zoom classes and nasal swabs and quarantining, and Duke was finding its footing again.
During her campaign, Gesinsky promised to revitalize social life on campus, bringing about a “cultural reset” that would make Duke more inclusive, connected, and communal than even its pre-pandemic self.
Currently, most of Duke’s Greek organizations have disaffiliated from the university, and many parties and social events happen off campus. Students who aren’t part of a fraternity or sorority or a Selective Living Group can sometimes feel adrift.
“Ideally, you’re on a college campus where there’s enough going on that you don’t need to leave the campus in order to have fun,” she said. Gesinsky believes students should have access to an abundance of social events that aren’t exclusive or expensive.
“It’s hard in your classes. Social life should not also be hard,” she said.
To achieve this vision, Gesinsky and other student representatives have helped spearhead a new initiative called Fun @ Duke, a program that is part of the University’s QuadEx initiative. Under this program, registered student groups can reserve on-campus spaces for social events and buy alcohol for on-campus social events using university funds.
“Our intention is not to associate fun with drinking. But we go to a college – people inevitably drink alcohol. Right now you can really only access that off campus, which is less safe and harmful to Durham residents. It’s hard to get there and leads to more EMS’s,” Gesinksy said.
Besides working to revitalize campus social life, Gesinsky also has focused on making student government more transparent and fostering stronger connections between the student body and their representatives.
“Before DSG felt very far away, hard to reach, inaccessible,” Gesinsky said. “The point of a student government is to represent student voices. And if people don’t even know what DSG is, clearly, we were not fulfilling our promise.”
One of the first steps Gesinsky took as DSG president was to send out a digital survey inviting students to provide ideas for possible changes on campus. The results from that survey have shaped DSG’s projects this year.
She also started a weekly “Pulse Check,” where she sits out on the Bryan Center plaza with a sign that reads, “I’m the DSG President. Come talk to me.” Students have come up to her to talk about a host of different issues, from transportation on campus to the Brodhead Center’s food prices.
“What I hear at the pulse check, I use that as a gauge for the hot topics on campus,” she said. “Even if people don’t come up, as long as they’re seeing my name and face, and they know that I’m there, that makes me feel better.”
Gesinsky, who is also a Baldwin scholar and Duke presidential ambassador, says that serving as DSG president often takes precedence over her classes.
“It does feel like a full-time job,” she said.
Before becoming president, Gesinsky served in DSG as vice president for campus life and as a senator for campus life for two years before that. She helped create the popular Blue Devil Buddies program, matching incoming first-years with current Duke students.
She was inspired to run for student body president after hearing then DSG president Liv McKinney speak at her first-year convocation.
“I wanted to be her friend. She was just so open and warm and funny, and just like what I thought a president should be,” Gesinsky said.
Soon, Gesinsky will be graduating and entering the workforce. She will be working as a consultant for Alvarez and Marsal’s Corporate Performance Improvement division in New York City.
“Throughout applying to jobs, the Duke alum have been incredible,” she said. “I’m a little nervous about graduating but something that makes me feel a lot better is the alum community. While I was doing the job search, every single new person I reached out to responded and was so nice to me.”
There’s something special about the bond all Blue Devils share, she said.
“I don’t know if it’s sports or East Campus or the beautiful campus. But I do think, although people have such different experiences, something ties them back to this love and energy.”