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ND student body president, vice president reflect on term to date and look forward to goals for remaining time in office

| Friday, December 11, 2015

Now more than halfway through their term as student body president and vice president, seniors Bryan Ricketts and Nidia Ruelas are finding their time so far in office to be somewhat different from what they initially expected.

“[Running for office], you do have to think, to believe you’re qualified to do it. But you also believe that what you believe in, and the goals and ideas that you have, are going to make the University better and make students’ lives better. And that is sort of what drives you,” Ricketts said. “I am a very different person than I was Apr. 1. … There’s no escaping the change that comes with the responsibilities and the interactions that you’re having.”

20150201, 20150201, Michael Yu, Presidential CandidatesMichael Yu | The Observer

Ruelas also said her perspective has shifted during her tenure as vice president.

“[I’ve] changed in the way that now I’m looking to be more perceptive and more analytical in thinking about, ‘okay, well what are the implications of this?’” she said. “It’s not just like, ‘just be friendly to everyone and hope everything will work out okay.’ And that’s a huge lesson in leadership and something that I’ve grown in.”

Ricketts and Ruelas won the February election on a platform that focused on student identity and diversity, and with a slogan of “Leading with passion. Working towards unity. Celebrating identity.”

Since taking office in April, Ricketts said he and Ruelas have achieved many of their original platform goals. One area they’ve particularly emphasized, he said, is working as a community to address the issue of sexual assault.

In their platform, Ricketts and Ruelas stated their intention to “support all students, faculty, and staff in proactive efforts to take a stand against sexual assault” and to “continue the message of the ‘It’s On Us’ Campaign through initiatives that promote bystander intervention and encourage reporting and the use of counseling services.”

Over the course of the semester, the administration has continued as planned with the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign originally launched by last year’s administration, and has also submitted a 30-page report on sexual assault – comprising interviews with students, staff and administrators, as well as a number of recommendations – to the University’s Board of Trustees.

“‘It’s On Us’ and the sexual violence board report, I would definitely put up there at the top as something that we’ve worked very hard on, as something that we care a lot about as something that the students care a lot about,” Ricketts said.

In addition to their initiatives on sexual assault, Ruelas said she and Ricketts have also followed through on another one of their campaign promises: the launch of Onward, an online forum for students to submit ideas and voice concerns over current issues on campus. Ricketts described Onward as the “fruit of months of conversations with administrators and faculty across the campus,” and said student government has already received useful input from students using the site, particularly concerning food services. He said, however, that in many ways Onward is still a work in progress.

“I think where we have to go from here, and where we need to improve, is once the ideas are up [on Onward] and we’re working on implementation, how do we effectively structure them to demonstrate to students what a realistic timeline looks like?” he said. “When an idea comes up, there’s a significant period of investment of time and sometimes money into making that happen, so working on how we can be more transparent about that process I think is going to be the key next semester in terms of the success of Onward.”

One objective from their platform that requires further attention, Ruelas said, is the promotion of initiatives regarding diversity and inclusion on campus. She said a November panel student government co-sponsored with the Diversity Council to kick off the ‘It’s Time ND’ campaign – a campaign to encourage dialogue on the issues of diversity and inclusion on campus – had fewer numbers of students in attendance than she hoped.

“I think that that’s something that we were reevaluating afterward and we were like, you know what, we could have done more on this in the sense of really using the connections that we have with other students to gather feedback on what we could do better … and also hopefully improve the conversation so that its more representative of what students want to talk about,” Ruelas said.

In addition to working to achieve the goals they outlined for their administration in the spring, Ricketts said he and Ruelas have also had to refocus their attention on several newly-emerging issues.

In particular, Ricketts said, both academics and student services have surprised him as two of the more prominent issues during his time in office.

“I think there’s been a stronger focus on academics than ever anticipated, because we realized the need for student voice in that area,” Ricketts said. “The other big one has been student services.

“ … Whoever’s coming next, I think the best advice I could give them is that whatever you want to do, the little things that make student life better, they often aren’t what you think you’re going to be able to achieve.

“You just get an opportunity, and you have to jump on it. That’s what happened with the concession stands, that’s what happened with the prices in the huddle. We saw an opening, we said okay, this is going to make student’s lives better — let’s go for it. It’s kind of hard to plan out what those things are going to be, it’s just more having the mentality of looking for ways that this is going to make students’ lives better.”

Both Ruelas and Ricketts cited the enthusiasm and dedication of their department directors and staff as one of the major strengths of their administration.

“You never know how it’s going to go when you’re coming in,” Ricketts said. “You do the best you can to pick a team. You think you’ve got the right people, but you don’t know until the rover hits the road, and they’ve done a fantastic job at meeting our goals and at meeting their goals.”

Ruelas said other administration members have grown throughout the semester in their ability to work together as cohesive unit.

“We definitely bounce things off of each other, especially major decisions. That’s critical,” Ruelas said. “And I think that we complement each other very well in terms of perspectives and personalities, too, I think. What’s the same is our vales, and that, I think, has also been super important.”

Ricketts said the current administration has also learned from the work of previous administrations, particularly regarding student involvement in initiatives.

“I think from previous administrations, we inherited the recognition that your initiatives and your goals are only successful insofar as they are student-centered and student-focused,” Ricketts said. “So recognizing that It’s On Us can’t be successful without students, by, you know, just us, recognizing that [student involvement] had to be a central principle of Onward, I think we inherited a lot of that.”

And in turn, Ricketts said he wants to leave to future administrations a legacy of “respect and professionalism.”

“I hope what we leave when we move on is some sort of respect and professionalism,” he said. “We’ve done our best to treat this as a professional office, as a professional job when we do our work — especially with administrators and with people outside — to treat it like we’re getting paid to do this job, to treat it with the utmost respect. And I hope that that displays not only how much we care about the issues, but how ready we are to engage on behalf of the student body.”

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