Vidal, Devine reflect on past year’s impact
Margaret Hynds | Friday, May 15, 2015
As their tenure came to a close March 31, outgoing student body president and vice president Lauren Vidal and Matthew Devine reflected on their year in office, sharing in hindsight the issues that proved to be their greatest triumphs and challenges.
In particular, the two said, they took pride in the wide range of programming and initiatives they took on to respond to the diverse opinions and needs of the student body.
“We’ve been able to meet so many people and to learn many perspectives and stories through all the different things that we’ve done this year,” Devine said.
In particular, Vidal said this administration tried to focus on community, both on campus and in the greater South Bend area, by tackling issues such as the Alma Mater policy after football games and the 29 for 29 program, which paired residence halls with needy families from the South Bend community.
“At the beginning of the year, we sat down with the Football Unity Council and looked at the Alma Mater policy and why it was eliminated after home games and then discussed all the concerns in a very honest conversation,” Vidal said. “Going forward, we essentially assured that we would be promoting a supportive environment in the stands.”
The Football Unity Council will continue to address the Alma Mater policy annually.
Devine said he and Vidal hope the 29 for 29 initiative would go beyond the holiday season and become a permanent fixture on campus. As of right now, a student government focus group has been assembled to review the program, and Vidal estimated that 10 to 15 residence halls are still actively engaging with their assigned families.
“[29 for 29] was a really organic effort to bridge our understanding of how students see the South Bend area but also at the same time develop really strong relationships with needy families around the area and to bring them to campus to be honorary members of the dorms,” Devine said. “The goal was to enrich students’ understanding of South Bend, but also to develop those personal connections.”
Vidal said throughout the process of working with the Worker Participation Committee — which addressed the University’s “China Policy” — she and Devine struggled to connect the feelings of the student body with the University’s administration.
“We really tried to engage the campus, really giving it my all,” she said. “ … We did get some pushback after the fact; students were discouraged by the fact that they thought that they didn’t have enough of a forum for conversation or input. We understand that a gap between students and the [University] administration has always been present.
“That’s something that every [student government] administration has struggled with, trying to bring the two together. What we’ve learned is that the [University] administration is extremely open to speaking with the students at all times.
“I think there’s work to be done building that communication. … It’s just something to maintain and keep healthy.”
Although the two are free from nearly all their student government obligations for the rest of the year, they have several lingering commitments, including their Board of Trustees Report and Communiversity Day. Additionally, Vidal will chair the Campus Life Council for the remainder of the academic year.
Looking forward to next year, Devine predicted several key issues would remain at the forefront of the minds of students and community members.
“One of the big conversations we’ve had is surrounding campus safety, but also with students moving off campus and the considerations they have for campus safety and out in the community as well,” Devine said.
“Something that I think will come up a lot next year — and has begun at the end of this year — are students of different socioeconomic backgrounds as well as undocumented students. That’s something that’s been publicized more recently, but I think that will continue to be something the university talks about.”
‘An extreme privilege’
Of the team’s year in office, Vidal said she was grateful for the ability to speak with and learn from so many of her fellow students.
“This has been an extreme privilege,” Vidal said. “Matt and I have really been given a unique opportunity to have input on behalf of our peers and on how the University is moving forward, and we’ve seen that as a great honor. We haven’t taken one day for granted … we’ve really tried to give it our all, every day. … We’ve learned, truly, what a special place this is.”