Camilla Duke is a second year international relations and modern history student from Bethesda, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C.
Earlier this year she was appointed to be the Rector’s Assessor for the newly elected Rector, Srdja Popovic. She took over from acting interim Rector’s Assessor and Association President, Lewis Wood.
She described the role of Rector’s Assessor as, primarily being a “point of contact” between the Rector and the University community and placed a particular emphasis on her role as Mr Popovic is not a UK resident.
Ms Duke said, “I think it’s really important for the Rector to have a strong influence in the community, as a lot people during the elections came up to me and said ‘I don’t even know what the Rector is’ or like ‘What does the Rector do?’. To be honest I didn’t really know myself until I got involved”.
“I sit on both the University Court and the student council, I think I’m always serving as a sort of liaison between the Court, which is the highest governance of the University, joint councils, the student body, student groups, who have various interests, and then the local community, which is a whole other sector.”
Ms Duke went on to describe herself as someone who has always been really active in the community – wherever she is.
“I was really the kind of person in High School who did a billion different activities and was very involved and here that’s sort of continued. I do Democrats Overseas, I’m involved in the Feminist Society, I volunteer for Got Consent and I’m now of course doing this. So that’s sort of all along similar lines of trying to do things that better my community.”
Ms Duke went on to describe politics as her passion in life and has been involved in it from a young age.
“In High School I started volunteering as a congressional campaign intern for my now congressman who was then a state senator, Jamie Raskin. So I started running as a campaign intern when he ran for congress the first time, he had a very competitive primary.
“That was sort of the most intense time and then we had a pretty safe election, I live in a fairly blue district, so that wasn’t that intense but I sort of got the campaign bug.”
Prior to being appointed as Rector’s Assessor, Ms Duke had been a member of Mr Popovic’s campaign team.
“I wasn’t really sure what the Rector’s thing was about so I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to get involved but as I said before I have the campaign bug and I love doing that sort of thing. It’s obviously very different but I love campaigning and working to elect someone who I think will help the community one way or another, in whatever context that is.
“I did my research on Srdja a little bit, learned a bit about him, met with some of his campaign people and got to know them, then when he came to town before the election I got the chance to meet him and talk to him and I found that we had a lot of similar values.”
She continued, “The one that particularly stood out to me was his drive for engaging students and getting them involved in conversations about our community, what’s good for our community and all those things. I had a really great conversation with him and then I decided to get involved.”
Ms Duke further acknowledged that student engagement would be something she would be working on as Rector’s Assessor and perhaps needed improvement.
“People didn’t really know what the Rector was in the past. I don’t think that’s the fault of any Rector or Rector’s Assessor but the fact there hasn’t been a Rector for the last year I guess, because Lewis [Wood] has performing that function.
“I don’t have a template for what the role is for me, but I think a priority is making sure students are engaged, know what’s going on. That there’s a level of transparency, so people have an idea of what Court does and what we’re working on. I think that’s really important.”
She continued, “I think students will only want to get involved if they know what’s going on, that’s a key part of it. I think there’s a disconnect here between what goes on behind the scenes and what the students see so I think that would be a really great thing to improve and I want to build a really robust Rector’s committee so we can do outreach to the wider community.”
Mr Popovic works globally, teaches in the US and UK, whilst his primary residence is Belgrade, Serbia. The Saint therefore asked Ms Duke about how that would impact her role as Rector’s Assessor, “I have to make sure Srdja knows what’s going on and I have to make sure he has a good understanding of what’s important to the student body right now, what’s going on around the University, what the climate is around different ideas and sort of what are the values of this community and priorities.
“Those are things I think I have to relay to him and on it’s own that’s an important task but then also I need to keep in mind how we can bring Srdja’s ideas to St Andrews but in a way that reflects what the student body wants and needs, if that makes sense.”
However, when asked about Mr Popovic’s current location, Ms Duke wasn’t too sure.
“Let me think … I think he … I’m pretty sure he’s still in Serbia, but I think he goes back to the US to teach soon. I believe he’s in Serbia right now doing work for CANVAS (The Centre for Applied Nonviolent Strategy) though.
“He’s always all over the place, it’s so hard to keep on top of his schedule so sometimes I don’t even attempt to do so. It’s just a matter of when he’ll reply to my WhatsApp messages. He’s always between teaching and CANVAS.
“He’s always all over the place, but he does really care about St Andrews and he does really care about this community. Despite being an international traveler – always doing something somewhere across the globe he does really care about us.
“I think the times he’s come to visit here he’s come to appreciate the students and the community and the possibilities to move forward here.”
Mr Popovic returned to St Andrews in mid-January for his induction to the role of Rector, likewise Ms Duke was also inducted to her role as the Rector’s Assessor.
“[Mr Popovic and I] had a whirlwind of meetings over the course of three days – it was a little crazy at times but it was cool to learn so much about the inner-workings of the University. Learning about what goes on in the Principal’s Office and what all those rules mean. Learning about the financial side of the University and what that looks like in terms of our future plans.”
During his visit to the UK, Mr Popovic met with Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and MSP, Willie Rennie.
Mr Rennie ran against Mr Popovic for the position of Rector. Although Ms Duke asserted that the pair “got along really well”.
She continued, “He had great ideas to share with Srdja about what he thought was the right way forward.”
During his visit, Mr Popovic also met with local SNP MP Stephen Gethins, “[Mr Gethins] is lovely – a really nice guy and he was really helpful in saying what issues were really important right now at the national level that are going to affect our local community and get a sense of that.
“But also he just helped us get a sense of the locally community and how we can interact with them in the most productive and beneficial way for both sides.”
During his campaign, Mr Popovic run under the slogan of “Start a Revolution”.
The Saint therefore asked what the plan for the next “revolution” was.
Responding, Ms Duke said, “That’s a big question. I think a revolution isn’t necessarily as dramatic as it sounds. I think revolution can be as simple as getting people to care about an issue and do something about it.
“That doesn’t have to be marching in the streets or overthrowing a government – that’s what Srdja’s known for – I think that doesn’t really translate well to our community but I do think that the values that Srdja stands for and the revolution aspect of that is really caring about a community enough to make it better. And I think that translates well to St Andrews because I think people really do care.”
She continued, “Seeing students really engaged is really revolutionary in its own right. Millennials are often written off as they don’t care – we can stand to prove otherwise.”
Ms Duke also commented on the importance of engagement with the student body and how ‘memes’ distributed by Mr Popovic’s Facebook page contributed towards that.
“I think there is value in the relatability side of it. I think they’re a little tongue-in-cheek. I wasn’t on the meme creation side of the campaign, but people talk about them, they’ve been pretty effective. Obviously if you’ve read our manifesto it’s clearly not the basis of the campaign. It’s more about just getting people to pay attention. Sometimes it can be difficult in St Andrews to get people to really care about or engage with the University.”
She continued, “I think it was a good way to get people interested so that they would read our manifesto, find more out about Srdja and read up about the role of the Rector … and from there make an informed choice on election day.”
For Ms Duke, the next part of her role will be establishing the new Rector’s Committee with the help of Association President, Lewis Wood.
“We are going to be holding open interviews for Rector’s committee which will be a great way for getting people involved. [Mr Popovic] is really keen to have as many voices as possible on that.
“We haven’t established roles as of yet although we are looking for a variety of skill sets, and strengths within the committee because I think that it’s how a committee best functions.
“I would like to see at least one person that’s dedicated to outreach with the local community, I know that’s something the University does a lot of work on, but I think the Rectors Committee should also be working on that.
“Someone else who knows local and national politics pretty well, I’ve tried to gain an understanding of that, although because I’m American it’s still pretty new to me.”