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Students square off in presidential debate

| Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Student body presidential candidates, junior Bryan Ricketts and sophomore Neil Joseph, and their respective running mates, junior Nidia Ruelas and sophomore Noemi Ventilla, answered questions from the Notre Dame Judicial Council and student attendees during a debate Monday night in the basement of LaFortune Student Center.

Sophomores Neil Joseph and Noemi Ventilla (left) listen while juniors Bryan Ricketts and Nidia Ruelas respond to a question during Monday’s presidential debate in the basement of LaFortune Student Center.Emily McConville | The Observer

Sophomores Neil Joseph and Noemi Ventilla (left) listen while juniors Bryan Ricketts and Nidia Ruelas respond to a question during Monday’s presidential debate in the basement of LaFortune Student Center.

Joseph, the current treasurer of the sophomore class, said his ticket’s biggest priority is increasing communication between students and the University administration. Ventilla, the current sophomore class president, said she and Joseph hope these lines of communication last beyond their term in office.

“Students do so much at this University, but unless you have the administration backing you up, things can’t really change,” she said. “I don’t know if you guys are in clubs and know how difficult it is to get funding, but those are systematic changes that you can only achieve by dealing with the administration and having a positive relationship with them.”

Ricketts, president of PrismND and a Gender Relations Center (GRC) peer educator, said his ticket’s biggest priority is its “identity-based initiatives.”

“What we can provide is a way to make sure that students feel comfortable, feel safe and feel welcome as a community at Notre Dame, and that is why we wish to pursue these policies as our primary goal,” he said.

Ricketts said his administration would encourage students to participate in student government by increasing its social media presence, creating a Reddit-like online forum for students to share ideas and having an “open-door policy” in the student government office in order to hear students’ concerns. Ruelas, who has sat on the Diversity Council for two years, said she and Ricketts would also implement student-generated ideas such as host families for international students during breaks.

“These ideas that [students] bring to the table, we would be willing to take into consideration in student government,” Ruelas said.

Ruelas said she and Ricketts also want to recognize underrepresented students through the host family initiative and by creating a database for internships and study abroad opportunities.

In response to a student’s question about how Ricketts and Ruelas would address non-minority students’ concerns as well as those of underrepresented groups, Ricketts said many of his initiatives apply to all students.

“[Our platform] contains initiatives that affect the entire student body like the online platform, like the grab and go in the dining hall, like the comprehensive social media platform,” he said. “Our platform is not meant to be exclusive, and that’s why we have our open-door policy. We are serious when we commit to answering the questions and concerns of any student on campus, regardless of what those may be.”

Ruelas said she and Ricketts intend to include all students in discussions about race and ethnicity on campus.

“A very important part of that, which I think radiates in our platform and which we stress as people in our daily lives and in the relationships we have built, is to realize that this is a structural problem,” she said. “A lot of the race relations problems are structural problems and should not be seen as personal attacks. Stressing this point is how we wish to include everybody in this conversation.”

Joseph said he and Ventilla would increase student engagement by holding office hours in the student government office and creating policies based on students’ ideas.

Joseph said his administration would prioritize voicing students’ concerns about University decisions, such as the student printing quota, the physical education requirement and Campus Crossroads.

“When we meet with administrators, we’re going to make sure that they’re going to have students involved in these decisions directly,” he said. “Not necessarily us, not necessarily people from student government, but a variety of opinions from a variety of people around campus.”

Ruelas said she and Ricketts would voice students’ concerns to the administration about moving graduation from the football stadium and advocate for free fitness classes. Ricketts said he and Ruelas would also prioritize communication between students and administratiors.

“We believe the relationship with the administration is a two-way street,” he said. “When you come to us, we promise that your concerns will be communicated directly to the administration, and when the administration makes their decisions, we promise that we will push them to make the decisions with your feedback in mind and make the announcements recognizing the contributions that students have made.”

In response to a student’s question about reforming the DARTing process, Joseph said he and Ventilla would work to make course syllabi available in online class descriptions. Ventilla said their administration would also make comments from all students’ CIFs available to anyone who fills the forms out.

“We need a better way of keeping teachers accountable for what they’re teaching us and making an easier way to know what you’re getting yourself into in terms of class registration,” she said.

Ruelas said she and Ricketts would also work to publish syllabi on the class search page, encourage communication between students and professors and talk to computer science majors to simplify the DARTing system. Ricketts also said his ticket’s new initiatives include the online forum, allowing dorms to sell apparel during football weekends and holding a “Dorm Week.”

In response to a student’s question about how the Joseph/Ventilla platform differed from those of previous student governments, Joseph said some of his ticket’s original initiatives include reforming the dining system by allowing students to take hot food out of the dining hall and turning extra meals into flex points.

Joseph added that the platform also included improvements to campus safety communications.

“We don’t think the current policy is conducive to students’ interests, so we want to increase the ways in which students are informed about potential threats and potential warnings,” he said. “We also really want to connect with off-campus students to make them aware of the different dangers, connect with the South Bend [Police Department] to educate students about potential risks.”

In response to a question about how they have worked with administration on issues that affect the entire student body, Joseph said he had worked with Program Director for New Student Engagement Paul Manrique on a curriculum for new students, and Ventilla said the Sophomore Class Council worked with both student senate and Vice President for Student Affairs Erin Hoffmann-Harding on policy initiatives.

To the same question, Ricketts said he had worked with the GRC on developing sexual assault policies and sat on an advisory council on LGBT issues, and Ruelas said as a Diversity Council member she helped craft the 21 diversity recommendations and the socioeconomic status board report under student body president emeritus Alex Coccia’s administration.

Ricketts said he and Ruelas would also work to develop a medical amnesty policy.

“We have seen progress from the University on the stance on medical amnesty, and we believe that a full solution can only be reached with a codified medical amnesty policy that protects students who are helping others in need,” he said.

Joseph said he and Ventilla did not include the policy on their platform because it was not feasible.

“We really are going to work towards it, because we think it’s very important for students, but we didn’t want to put it in our platform so that we promised something that we couldn’t achieve.”

In response to a question about improving Notre Dame’s relationship with South Bend, Joseph said he and Ventilla would create a database of things to do and places to volunteer in the city. Ventilla said they would also expand quad markets and publicize transportation options.

“We should push South Bend as an opportunity for student engagement beyond just service, because there are so many new things popping up in South Bend,” she said.

Ruelas said she and Ricketts would promote AroundCampus, a nationwide app that helps college students find nearby businesses.

“We also want to stress that South Bend is a community to be a part of,” she said. “There are people to engage with, there are servicers and businesses that are great to frequent beyond the services on campus.”

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About Emily McConville

Emily McConville is a news writer and photographer for the Observer. She is a senior studying history and Italian with a minor in journalism. She is from Louisville, KY and lives off-campus.

Contact Emily