Steps, not strides
Kristen Durbin | Friday, December 7, 2012
Rocheleau and Rose campaigned in an unopposed race largely on ideas produced by previous administrations rather than their own unique innovations. They admit to the influence of the McCormick-Rocheleau administration in their platform, promising to continue the work of that administration by “advancing this vision we all share and delivering measurable results.” However, tangible results have given way to prolonged discussion and limited action during the current administration, despite the significant collaboration Rocheleau and Rose cited between the Office of the President and Vice President, other student government departments and University entities. Lacking an innovative vision of his own, Rocheleau has depended on the work of his predecessor to drive his term as president of a reactionary, not revolutionary, administration. To their credit, Rocheleau and Rose have adequately met the requirements of their positions in overseeing solid work and collaboration by student government as a whole. Without getting any signature initiatives off the ground, they have not gone beyond the minimum expectation of their work to leave a unique legacy on Notre Dame.
In their 34-page campaign platform, “Advancing the Vision,” senior student body president Brett Rocheleau and senior vice president Katie Rose outlined their plans to “build upon the foundation that took a whole year to establish” during last year’s student government administration.
Last spring, the duo campaigned on both long-term, large-scale goals and less expansive initiatives to continue the student body leadership precedent set by Rocheleau and former student body president Pat McCormick.
While Rocheleau and Rose have done a commendable job of overseeing the smooth operation of student government as a whole, they have relied too heavily on the ideas of previous administrations and have not effectively used their roles as president and vice president to effect innovative change on campus through major initiatives.
After the McCormick-Rocheleau administration oversaw the creation of the Department of Constituent Services, Rocheleau and Rose prioritized continued improvement and expansion of the department’s service to students in their platform.
In general, they and the department have made progress in achieving this goal through several avenues, including encouraging student feedback through recently created Facebook and Twitter accounts, collecting information from student surveys and communicating with hall governments on dorm-specific issues.
“One thing [Constituent Services] has done this year is formalizing that first platform initiative, so they’ve run things through the Facebook page like ‘On-Call Week,'” Rose said. “We’ve had a lot of really constructive and new ideas come through in feedback, so I think it’s initiatives like that the department has really bulked up on.”
Rocheleau said he, Rose and senior chief-of-staff Katie Baker visited hall government meetings to obtain direct student feedback on issues pertaining to individual dorms. A discussion of water quality problems in one such visit to Fisher Hall prompted the administration to push for installation of hydration stations in every dorm at the beginning of the semester.
“Going to hall governments has helped us out a lot by seeing what students want. … By being able to have a close pulse of the hall governments, we can hear a lot about students and the feedback they have,” Rocheleau said. “It helps us improve our constituent capacity on campus.”
Aside from these visits, the improvements in constituent services have largely come from the work of the department and its head, junior Liza Manfred, to survey students and distribute the subsequent results to other department directors.
“[Constituent Services] is great because they are able to give information out to the student body and answer questions, and if they can’t answer them, they find those answers,” Rocheleau said.
Rocheleau and Rose also emphasized the improvement of student safety on and off campus in their platform, and they have overseen collaboration between student government and the University to make progress toward their goal.
Rocheleau said he and Rose met with Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves to discuss on-campus security issues such as campus lighting.
“[The University] is doing a review of lighting on campus to make sure the perception as students walk around campus at night is a feeling of safety and not a feeling of fear,” Rocheleau said.
In the wake of increased traffic safety concerns at crosswalks near campus and accidents at the intersection of Twyckenham Drive and Vaness Street, junior director of University affairs Michael Masi has “built fantastic relationships” with Notre Dame Student Police (NDSP) and was involved in conversations leading to the installation of a new signaling device at that intersection, Rose said.
The Rocheleau-Rose administration continued previously established student safety initiatives by holding a “well-attended” second annual Safety Summit earlier this fall and maintaining frequent email communication with students about safety issues, Rocheleau said.
Despite the efforts of student government groups to improve safety through discussions and meetings with NDSP and local police forces, Rocheleau and Rose have not fully implemented any new safety initiatives thus far in their term.
A promise to develop a mobile safety app through collaboration with NDSP and the Department of Campus Technology has proven empty aside from brainstorming at the end of spring semester, though Rose said app development may be explored in the future.
After taking office, Rocheleau and Rose had to address the ongoing discussion about racial discrimination at Notre Dame as a result of the Call to Action movement and town hall meeting in March. During the first months of their term, the Call to Action committee, the Office of Student Affairs, dorm multicultural commissioners and other campus organizations have worked to bring the University “up to the standard of embracing diversity” through more than 15 different initiatives, including an extensive internal diversity audit completed by Student Affairs, Rose said.
“It was at that point [in March] that we kind of looked around and said, ‘Why all of a sudden does it feel like we’re decades back on an issue we really should be at the forefront of?'” she said.
In response to that question, Rose said she and Rocheleau created a subcommittee in the Department of Residence Life to tackle “less formal interactions” related to racial discrimination.
Although Rocheleau and Rose did not anticipate collaborating closely with the Career Center, Rose said they have facilitated cooperation and helped generate student feedback on the Center’s services and its perception among students as providing business-oriented services.
“It was good to hear what students thought about the Career Center so they can remedy some negative associations and change the perception of it back to where it was,” Rose said.
An unfulfilled legacy?
Although progress has been made in the areas of constituent services and safety, Rocheleau and Rose’s plans for deepening Notre Dame’s relationship with South Bend, modernizing the University and connecting it to the global community have generally not moved from discussion into concrete action thus far.
The administration’s work in the South Bend community has merely expanded on previously created initiatives and events, including the eND Hunger campaign and community picnics, and Rocheleau and Rose’s idea to bring a specialty grocery store to Eddy Street Commons will not come to fruition in the foreseeable future.
In terms of modernizing Notre Dame, the administration’s tangible results have come in the area of increasing eco-friendliness on campus by installing hydration stations and Xcelerator hand dryers in buildings. Student government did, however, play a role in the University’s plan for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning student resources, in keeping with Rocheleau and Rose’s goal of updating school policies.
Rocheleau and Rose have fallen quite short in their goals for connecting Notre Dame with the global community, as Rocheleau said a previously proposed social justice concert event for Playing 4 Peace will not feasibly take place during his term. Progress has been made, however, on two new websites – serve.nd.edu and summeropp.nd.edu – that will connect students with opportunities to serve and study abroad, Rose said.
Despite these shortcomings, Rocheleau and Rose said they are pleased with progress that has been made and are optimistic about the remainder of their term.
“We’re really happy with everything we’ve accomplished in the past nine months in office, and we have a lot of things checked off our platform and currently in progress,” Rocheleau said. “Next semester, we hope to revisit issues of the nondiscrimination clause and medical amnesty, which will be interesting due to changes in Indiana state legislation.”
Even if Rocheleau and Rose “check off” all the tasks outlined in their platform next semester, their work so far lacks any progress toward implementing a major new initiative that will leave a lasting legacy on the University.