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Student government launches Onward forum

| Tuesday, October 13, 2015

On Sept. 29, seven months after originally announcing it as a part of their campaign platform, student body president and vice president Bryan Ricketts and Nidia Ruelas unveiled Onward, an online forum for students to submit and vote on ideas, loosely-based on social media sites Reddit and Yik Yak.

Onward2Lauren Weldon | The Observer

On the forum — which can be accessed through studentgovernment.nd.edu and requires a Notre Dame login — students can submit ideas as well as up-vote or down-vote ideas that they like or dislike, as well as respond to posts by other students. All posts begin with the tag “ideation stage,” but can gain “implementation” status when student government begins to look into moving forward with them.

Constituent services director John Kill described the site encourages a “problem-solution model” to help students voice their opinions and share ideas with student government and their peers.

“Students identify a problem with the school, whether it’s Food Services, facilities, and hopefully, they also have a solution,” Kill said. “That way, we can see what they’re thinking, and then other people can see that and decide if there’s something they’re missing.

“We want it to be a place where people post ideas, but it’s not a replacement of any structures that we already have in place. It’s not going to replace [the student] senate. It’s not going to replace hall councils or Hall President’s Council (HPC).”

While the site will not replace these existing groups, Kill said, it would help gather ideas to be brought them.

“The whole idea is that it provides this place for ideas so that senate, HPC, hall council and student government can look at these ideas and decide how we can best implement them,” he said. “From there, looking at those ideas, we can then go to administration officials and work a way out to see what ideas are the most feasible.”

Ricketts said there are two main teams of people who look after the site — a moderation team led by Kill and a steering committee that reports to Ricketts.

While the steering committee looks at the bigger picture questions of how ideas are being implemented, Kill said the moderation team works to maintain “civil discourse” on the site.

“When people think moderation, they think negative — it’s not really negative,” he said. “We want to encourage conversation, we want to encourage people to be honest on the forum, so the moderators aren’t there to police discussion, they’re there to make sure it remains a place of civil discourse and also to have a keen eye for ideas that are gaining popularity and feasibility. That way, they can report to the steering committee, and we can take that into consideration as we think about ideas that need to be implemented.”

Student body chief of staff Dan Sehlhorst said the team’s purpose was not to censor, but rather to find and prevent “ad hominem attacks, harassment … things that would threaten our community in some way.”

Sehlhorst said students whose behavior violates the site’s code of conduct may be subject to expulsion from Onward.

Ricketts said since its launch, the forum has had about 400 active users and more than 50 submitted ideas.

“The top idea the last time I checked was Wi-Fi on the quads, which had about 145 net votes on it, which is great. It’s a little over one third on the forum voting for something — a fantastic percentage of engagement there.”

Other ideas currently gaining traction on the site include making berries available in the campus dining halls, a wider selection of options in Grab and Go, as well as more visible prices in the Huddle Mart in the LaFortune Student Center.

Ricketts said his goal with Onward is that it will draw out all students — not just those involved in student government or hall councils.

“We’re absolutely hoping that anybody who wants to can log on and have that conversation; you don’t need to be connected to [student government] do it; that’s kind of the point,” he said. “I want students to understand that because administrators are looking at what the next steps are and how they can improve student life, it means something for [students] to vote on these ideas or comment on these ideas, to participate in the conversation.

“If they care about an issue, we might use the names on here to pool a focus group that would meet with the relevant people. It makes a difference to say that 145 people want Wi-Fi on the campus versus 1,000 people voted on this issue, and 800 said yes, this is something they would want.

“There’s a difference in magnitude there that means something, so if you want to be engaged in these issues, this is a very tangible way to do it,” Ricketts said. “We hope it will have those far-reaching effects.”

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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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