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‘We learned a great deal’

| Friday, December 12, 2014

Student body president Lauren Vidal and vice president Matthew Devine, both seniors, hit the ground running when they took office last April; in the earliest student Senate meetings of the year they put their initiatives surrounding Safewalk (now O’SNAP) and college readership on the agenda.

By the end of September, O’SNAP was fully operational and student government had negotiated bringing the Wall Street Journal to campus.

Other initiatives the administration has taken up this year include Quad Markets, Political Brew and 29 for 29, which launched this month. Vidal credited department directors and staff with much of this administration’s success.

“We’ve been very fortunate; our team has been phenomenal,” Vidal said. “We’ve been able to push a lot of initiatives that we had from the get-go through the help of the administration and our directors.

“We had a few big wins early on in terms of solidifying O’SNAP and the College Readership program, but we’ve picked up a few things along the way that we’ve been able to see through, and that’s been very exciting as well.”

Devine echoed this sentiment in his assessment of the term so far.

“The most important part of this has been our team,” Devine said. “Our department directors and their ideas, as well as the ones that we articulated way back in January when we were campaigning, have really made this semester unique, fun, just really incredible.”

“I think a lot of things that we originally planned we’ve been very lucky to see through, but we’ve also understood the different steps that are going to be needed to push them forward,” he said.

Vidal described the first few weeks in office as a learning experience for both herself and Devine. She said the two of them have developed a good working relationship with various branches of student government and the administration.

“I think where we are right now is at a very good understanding of how our student government has worked for us and how we can build it in the next few months,” Vidal said. “We’ve learned from relationships, from administrators; we’ve learned a lot from communicating.

“We’ve learned that there are some gaps in communicating through different bodies of student government, whether that be communication through Senate or CLC or even faculty senate”

Vidal and Devine both cited transparency and communication as issues that they have been working on and will continue improve next semester.

“There are disconnects that we are learning of, and we learned that, I think, most vividly through the 29 for 29 initiative,” Vidal said. “We really had to work hard to ensure that we were communicating through all the proper parties, and there were times when certain bodies didn’t feel like they were informed.

“We learned a great deal from tha,t and we are taking steps to improve how student government communicates generally because that’s always been a lack and we understood that there have been these gaps for years.”

Vidal said she and Devine had both been reaching out to different groups in order to foster better communication between different branches of student government; in particular, the two have recently been working with the Hall President’s Council (HPC).

“We have opened conversation really extensively with HPC,” she said. “We’re working hand in hand with [student government department heads] to really make sure the hall presidents and the hall councils are informed, from their end on our initiatives but also through Senate.

“Matt chairs Senate, and he really tries to make sure the senators are up-to-date and are providing feedback of what’s going on on campus,”

The issue of transparency, while not new, has been something particularly important to this administration, Vidal said.

“I think transparency has been a huge thing for us because as long as I can remember transparency has always been a goal of student government, but I think this year we’ve been fortunate in building on the foundation that was set forward by previous administration to enhance transparency, and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback,” Vidal said.

According to Devine, the administration’s transparency efforts go beyond simply being open and honest and involve a more assertive approach.

“I’d say it’s like an active transparency, not just not hiding anything, which obviously we don’t, but also just making sure that everything we do is known and even things that are works in progress — not even necessarily just finished projects, but things that are in development, things that are in the brainstorming stages,” he said.

The result of this active transparency is more student involvement and participation in student government, Vidal said.

“We’ve been able to list initiatives that we’re working on, and students have reached out and said ‘hey, I’d love to work on this,’ even just as an outsider,” she said. “They’re not affiliated with student government at all. And that’s been really exciting for us.”

“That was our goal, to make sure that people would be part of the formula, not just seeing the end of the equation,” Vidal said. “We wanted to make sure that if someone saw that something we were doing was ineffective, they would be able to provide feedback and we could change that. And we’ve seen that — we’ve seen it in 29 for 29, and in O’SNAP, in College Readership, in Quad Markets — we’ve been fortunate there.”

Looking back on the year, Vidal said two particular issues received more feedback than others: “campus safety and communication with the administration on major decisions that the University is making.”

“So what we’ve done with that is really opened lines of communication with main building, just making sure that students are aware of what’s going on,” Vidal said. “One of the results of that will be a town hall with [University president] Fr. [John] Jenkins.”

Looking forward, Vidal and Devine have several tangible goals and projects to accomplish before leaving office at the end of March.

“As we’re going through our initiatives and really tailoring them to the current student body and their needs, we’ve found there are other initiatives we’ve needed to take up just in terms of the climate on campus,” Vidal said.

“One of those was campus safety, which we didn’t initially think was going to be so salient in our campus now,” Vidal said. “We thought O’SNAP would be an excellent platform for campus safety, but with some of the crime recently in the South Bend area and some of the conversations we’ve had with students who are concerned with off-campus, we’ve picked up several initiatives to fully address the concerns of our peers — our constituency, really — to make sure that we’re answering their questions.

“One of the things we’re doing is working on a campus safety video; that’s actually in production right now,” she said. “We’re going to release it to the student body, and it’s through recommendations from code enforcement in South Bend, conversations with local law enforcement, conversations with [the Community/Campus Advisory Coalition] to just ensure that our students are aware of the resources and make sure we’re really addressing this.”

Also on the horizon for next semester is “It’s On Us,” the new sexual assault prevention campaign, Vidal said. The “One is Too Many” and “It’s On Us” campaigns both sprung from White House initiatives bearing the same names that were implemented at universities across the country.

“[One Is Too Many] was brought to our campus last year, and it was a great success here,” Vidal said. “This year they’re working on ‘It’s On Us,’ and so [student government director of gender issues] Kristen [Loehle] has been in communication with some of the people in Washington, D.C. to figure out how to best bring that here and how that will look on this campus,”

Devine described the new campaign and how it will differ from the previous one.

“’It’s On Us’ is going to take a similar tone, but it’s also trying to build off ‘One Is Too Many,'” he said. “‘One Is Too Many’ was more of an awareness campaign, but ‘It’s On Us’ is a more actionable phrase.”

While neither the focus on campus safety or ‘It’s On Us’ was originally part of the pair’s plan for their tenure, Vidal and Devine both said they were excited about the feedback they had received from their constituents and were looking forward to next semester.

“We’ve come a long way from our vision that we had in the beginning … we’ve added a lot of tangibility to it,” Devine said.

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About Margaret Hynds

Margaret is a senior Political Science major and the former Editor-in-Chief of The Observer. She hails from Washington, D.C., and is a former Phox of Pangborn Hall. Follow Margaret on Twitter @MargaretHynds

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