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A challenge: speak for all voices

Observer Editorial Board | Thursday, December 12, 2013



As we look for words with which to characterize the student government administration of Alex Coccia and Nancy Joyce, the word “activism” comes to mind. So do the words “inclusion,” “conversation” and “justice.”

These words represent the substance of this administration’s leadership: They are working to empower the community to combat issues that divide it. Coccia and Joyce set the bar high during their campaign and first months in office at the end of last school year, and they have made progress on much of their original agenda. 

In Coccia’s May 1 State of the Student Union address to student-body leaders, he outlined an ambitious array of goals, and we at The Observer have seen movement on nearly all of them. His Nov. 20 State of the Student Union address demonstrated similar success and a continuing drive to move forward on issues of utmost importance to our campus. 

More importantly, these efforts have occupied a very visible space on our campus. Planning town-hall events, orchestrating prayer services, executing events and fostering dialogue between students and community stakeholders – we see their work, we see their progress on issues big and small and we commend them for that effort.

If one person within our community feels hurt by exclusion or discrimination, that alone should drive us. And according to information in the report submitted by Coccia and Joyce to the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees, 7 percent of students said they have not had an overall satisfactory experience here at Notre Dame. 

In this report, submitted on behalf of the student body, Coccia and Joyce highlighted several issues on which they called for action: racial and ethnic diversity, sexual orientation and gender issues, socioeconomic status and immigration.  

We highlighted three specific issues in this Insider because we believe work in these areas has been at the heart of the Coccia-Joyce administration. And these issues are important to address so that all feel welcome and comfortable in the Notre Dame community. 

While these issues are of the utmost importance and we are proud to see Coccia and Joyce make progress on them, these issues do not encompass everything and everyone at Notre Dame. When The Observer spoke with Coccia about the foci of his administration, he said they work to empower students so that they “feel welcome on campus and have a sense of ownership for their academic, residential, spiritual and extracurricular environments.” 

“Nancy and I were elected with the expectation, among students and administrators, that we would use the opportunity to not just make convenient changes and additions to student life, but to raise the student voice in areas that are too often neglected – the issues of sexual assault and racial and ethnic inclusion fit into the latter category. … We really do believe in our classmates and our friends and in their ability to be a positive force for good in the world.”

Here is where we perceive a problem. Who defines what good the world needs, what justice is? If we return to the four buzzwords at the beginning of this editorial, only “conversation” has a precise meaning. Inclusion, activism, justice – who gets to define these abstract ideas? 

To our student body president and vice president, we repeat our commendation for all of your hard work and for your focus in making sure every student feels safe and welcomed on campus. However, we challenge you to consider that some of the issues you elevate in your work might not represent many of our 8,452 undergraduates, especially those who disagree with your prioritization and approach to these issues and those who don’t know exactly where they stand.  

We believe the primary duty of a student government administration is to represent all of the student body: left, right, center and off the ideological map. And though the progress made by this student government administration on certain issues is remarkable, it neglects students who have different views on what “good” is, what “justice” is. 

The conversation should not be defined by The Observer Editorial Board, by the student government administration or by only the student groups that mobilize their participants effectively. Instead, we believe our student-body government should represent all of the student body, even those members who do not exercise a loud voice. Though the Coccia-Joyce administration said they are working to solicit opinions and engage students, we do not see this communication represented in their formulation of broad-scale initiatives.

We give the leaders of this administration a grade of “A” because their work truly has been outstanding, but we also challenge them to think about ways in which their approach has been limited so that we can continue to work toward a better campus community.