Members rely on debate instead of resolutions
Megan Doyle | Friday, December 10, 2010
The Student Senate relied on debate rather than formal resolutions during its most important projects this semester.
While Senate passed significant resolutions on the Rent-A-Text program and peace in Sudan, important conversations on communication, on-campus programming and pep rallies did not include any resolutions.
Student body vice president Andrew Bell led Senate meetings during the fall semester. He and student body president Catherine Soler said the group is an important outlet for student opinions as they discussed improvements to pep rallies and ways to educate students on off-campus safety.
“Senate came into its own faster than I expected,” Bell said. “We saw senators discussing issues and voting against the trend more and more.”
Three resolutions passed by the senators this semester did not receive unanimous support. While only a few votes dissented, Bell said these results showed the group was comfortable with debate.
“Senators have not always been in agreement, and some senators voted against resolutions,” Bell said. “A lot of times in a big group of people no one wants to go against the trend. But in Senate people have been engaged in seeking out what their dorm thinks about an issue.”
Senate gatherings included committee reports and resolutions, but meetings were mostly structured around discussion between the members, Bell said.
“For this year we wanted Student Senate to be a setting for idea generation,” Bell said. “A great example of an idea that came out of Senate is Whine Week. It was one of the best ideas we have had so far.”
Whine Week was born when senators said undergraduates did not understand how student government works or how to connect with their representatives.
“Whine Week should be done every year. It let students know there are people listening,” Bell said. “Students know when something is wrong [and] we are a body they can talk to about it. We can channel those problems to the right people.”
During the week, members of student government collected complaints and suggestions from students in the dining halls, LaFortune Student Center and Hall Council meetings. Many students suggested improvements for the dining halls, and the Residence Life Committee will talk to the dining hall managers about those ideas, Bell said.
While Senate discussions were a sounding board for student feedback, the results of Whine Week were not published to the student body through a resolution. Without formal acknowledgement, some important suggestions could be lost between conversations.
Despite debate on some issues, Senate remained undivided on larger initiatives from individual committees.
The senators unanimously passed a resolution to support efforts for a sustainable peace in Sudan as the country faces a potential civil war. Catholic Relief Services used the resolution as a model for other universities that want to take similar steps.
The Social Concerns Committee followed the resolution with the 3-on-3 “Playing for Peace” basketball tournament and a peace rally to spread awareness about the issue.
The senators also voted unanimously in support of a resolution to expand the Rent-A-Text program established at the beginning of the year. Most senators agreed the program was helpful for students, but needed to include more books.
Many significant conversations in Senate this semester contributed to the “beND” campaign, student government’s efforts to improve community relations. The senators dealt with the drinking culture on campus in response to a peak in underage drinking arrests earlier in the fall. Educating students about off-campus safety was an important topic as well.
“When we had our conversations about alcohol education, I knew those opinions came from the dorms themselves,” Bell said. “That is helpful in continuing the conversation about the issue and asking what we wished we learned earlier in our time here about alcohol.”
Senate rearranged its priorities to include more pressing topics, such as community relations and peace in Sudan, in its discussions.
“Some of our projects have fallen off the radar just in the progress of the semester,” Bell said. “Next semester we need to make sure we follow through with ideas like serve.nd.edu”
Senators passed a resolution in September for the creation of serve.nd.edu, a website to consolidate information about service opportunities. Plans for the website were postponed so the Social Concerns committee could focus on peace-keeping efforts in Sudan.
Bell said he wants senators to do more than vote on resolutions.
“Student Senate is a room of people that are representative of the student body and that come from all different parts of campus,” Bell said. “It is a place to get a pulse for how things are going.”
Senators are a resource to gauge student life when they return to their dorms and participate in hall council meetings, Bell said.
“We definitely had our meetings where we had to go through the formalities and discuss constitutional amendments,” Bell said. “But the senators asked the questions that needed to be asked.”
The Student Senate reflected the pulse of the student body during its discussions on issues that are relevant to campus life. Senate made debate a priority during its meetings but some suggestions were lost without many formal resolutions. Senate should work for more tangible products from its discussion so student input is not misplaced.
Academic Affairs: B+
Committee chair AJ McGauley led the Academic Affairs committee through the launch of the Rent-A-Text program with the help of the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore. The committee gauged student response and will work to expand the program to include more titles next semester. The committee needs to produce more concrete results from its academic round-tables and its research on new courses.
Campus Technology: A-
The Campus Technology Committee, chaired by Casey Cockerham, installed a computer cluster in Jordan Hall of Science, received approval on a printing station in O’Shaughnessy Hall and made Course Instructor Feedback data available on Class Search. The committee is contracting with Xerox to improve the campus printers in response to student complaints. In the next semester, Campus Technology will need to maintain calendar.nd.edu so it becomes more helpful for students and follow through on printer upgrades.
Community Relations: A-
The Community Relations committee adopted several strong projects, including a voter registration and education drive as well as adopting the after-school program at Perley Elementary in South Bend. Committee chair Claire Sokas also organized a picnic with the Robinson Learning Center and a farmer’s market on campus. The committee is productive, but needs to make its work more visible to engage students.
Gender Issues: B+
The Gender Issues committee, chaired by Mariah McGrogan and Tim Castellini, hosted a successful Body Image and Eating Disorders Week with the Gender Relations Center and distributed helpful stall notes about sexual assault. The “This Is My Student Body” campaign was well advertised, but the committee needs to provide more forums for discussion about gender issues outside of body image in the future.
Multicultural Affairs: B-
The Multicultural Affairs committee has not acted on many of its plans so far. Creating an “Intercultural Communication Certificate” and a panel discussion on cultural competency at Notre Dame are great ideas but are stuck in the discussion phase. Committee chair Brigitte Githinji plans to host a diversity lecture series and a “We Are ND” multicultural showcase in the spring.
Committee chair Paige Becker presented several resolutions to the Senate to reform parts of the constitution on student body elections. The changes defined election terms and clarified important rules that have been misinterpreted in the past, such as rules about campaigning online and on the day of the election. Oversight also revamped both the Ethics Committee and increased the Rector Fund. Becker. The committee has also been successful so far this year in fixing holes in the constitution.
Off-Campus Concerns: A
The Off-Campus Concerns committee continued to expand its program for off-campus student discounts as it collects more local vendors. Committee Chair Emily LeStrange organized a presentation from C.L. Lindsay in response to concerns about off-campus safety and hosted a Lease Fair for students. The committee also worked to make information on TRANSPO more accessible.
The most notable contribution from this group and committee chair Pat McCormick was its efforts to raise awareness about peace-keeping efforts in Sudan. The committee passed a resolution and hosted a peace rally and basketball tournament with the Athletics department. However, projects like serve.nd.edu have been neglected, and the committee needs to draw more attention to its eND hunger campaign for the local community.
Committee chair Matt High presented one resolution to Senate this semester to thank the Office of Residence Life and Housing for considering student input on du Lac revisions. The Residence Life Committee organized a Harry Potter-themed dinner at South Dining Hall and orchestrated move-in day in August. The committee plans to install lights on McGlinn Fields in the spring, but needs to see more results from other ideas, such as improving student meal plans and responding to dining hall feedback from Whine Week.
The University Affairs committee discussed safety with NDSP after a string of break-ins to student cars and dorm rooms and hosted Alcohol Awareness Week. Committee chair Chase Riddle hit several stumbling blocks with plans to renovate the DeBartolo study lounge, and this committee needs to be more productive in the second semester.