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Candidates face off in student body debate

| Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Student body presidential candidates, juniors Dominic Albergi, Louis Bertolotti and Corey Robinson, and their respective running mates, juniors Jennifer Cha, Elizabeth Fenton and sophomore Rebecca Blais, answered questions from the Notre Dame Judicial Council and student attendees during a debate Monday night in the basement of LaFortune Student Center. Judicial Council’s vice president of elections, Caitlin Geary, posed questions to the three campaigns, and audience members also asked questions. 

20160208, 20160208, Kat Robinson, La Fun, Student Election Debate-3Kat Robinson | The Observer

Geary first asked each ticket what unique experiences they could leverage to better serve the student union.

Robinson said his relationships with University administrators will allow the Robinson-Blais administration to work effectively, and said he already has plans to travel to Brazil later in the semester with University president Fr. John Jenkins and provost Tom Burish to promote the University.

“We have a lot of existing relationships with provosts, with Fr. John. So we really will be able to go straight to him and say, ‘Fr. John, what do you think about this? We have a lot of really great student ideas in this aspect, and we think that would be really successful.’”

Blais, who before running for vice president served as director of internal affairs for the Ricketts-Ruelas administration, said she has extensive knowledge of the student union constitution. 

“It’s a beautiful 50-page-long document, and you guys should all check it out,” she said. “I really got to know the constitution, and I really know how it functions with student government.”

Cha said she and Alberigi have worked to better comprehend current student needs, especially on issues of diversity.

“For example, our University hairstylist program does not have a stylist, currently, that can cut ethnic hair,” she said.  “I think it’s a very small step as a university, to hire a hairdresser, even for specific hours to cut ethnic hair. And it sends a huge message to students.”

Bertolotti, the current director of the Student Union Board (SUB), said student government has always been his passion and referenced his experience with the First Undergraduate Experience in Leadership (FUEL). 

“There were fifty members at the beginning of the year. … by the end of the year, about five of us were showing up, and that really upset me,” he said. “So the next year, I took on FUEL, we streamlined it, we made it 35 members. We gave them all department directors to work on different departments. We really made it easy for them to get involved in student government.”

Geary next asked how each ticket would bridge the gap between the student government administration and the student body.

Bertolotti said he and Fenton plan to distribute a newsletter twice a month that would inform students of initiatives, as well as soliciting student input.

“We have three goals for every single department in student government, and we know — because of our experience in student government — that every single one of these goals is feasible,” he said. “Every single goal has a timeline.”

Robinson said he and Blais would like to reintroduce Fr. Hesburgh’s “open door” policy in their administration.

“A lot of time, students don’t know what student government does, and we just want to be able to sit down and talk to you,” he said. 

Alberigi said his ticket’s experience as “outsiders” has inspired them to push for Notre Dame to be more welcoming to more students.

“This is a question I’m really excited to answer, and here’s the reason — because we’re outsiders,” he said. “We haven’t been on the inside, studying the constitution since the beginning. We’ve realized that student government has $75,000 of your money to spend, and no one knows where it’s going. How many of the students think that student government has done a lot to impact our daily lives?

“We offer the perspective of students that have felt alone on this campus, this campus that promises to be a family.”

In her final question for the candidates, Geary asked, “If you could only accomplish one of your platform initiatives, which would you choose, and why?”

Bringing the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program to campus was his ticket’s most important initiative, Robinson said. 

“We’ve talked directly with Nancy Brandt, the director of St. Joseph Hospital SANE program, which allows you to have 24/7 access to rape kits and other things on campus, and she said we definitely need to have and adopt at St. Liam’s,” he said. “It’s very easy to do. It’s $300 to train each nurse, and there’s two to three national conventions each month. So we can send the nurses in the summer, and that way during the school year we can have 24/7 access to sexual assault prevention and resources.”

Alberigi said increasing mental health resources on campus was his campaign’s primary goal. 

“We believe the way to expand the University Counseling Center is by increasing demand, making it as streamlined as possible,” he said. “We want to improve access to everyone for facilities for support. And we know this can get done, along with our other initiatives, because it’s already in the works — we’re already working on it.”  

Fenton said she and Bertolotti would like to bring a standardized taxi system to campus.

“We know we can get this done. We want to have Notre Dame-approved taxis, $3 flat rate, anywhere in the local area, to and from, regardless of how many people are in a taxi.”

An audience member asked both Robinson and Bertolotti how they would reform the student senate. 

“I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on senate as the Executive Director of SUB this year, and I’ve seen that it’s kind of become a bully pulpit for the student body president and vice president. We want to make sure that the senators have their own power,” Bertolotti said. “We think that if we would create a senate president pro [tempore], or something along that nature, they would be able to control the dialogue.”

Bertolotti said he and Fenton will differ from the Robinson-Blais administration, in that they will be “committed.”

“Now Corey’s told The Observer that he will be busy on weekdays from 2:30 to 7 p.m. on weekdays in the fall. Senate falls at 6 [p.m.], and so the constitution states that the student body president must be present for all of our meetings,” he said. “We don’t want to reform the senate around our interests, but rather we think it should be formed around your views.”

Robinson said senate meetings could still be held at a reasonable time for all parties, and he has drawn ideas for senate reform from experience with the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC).

“SAAC, for instance, we come, we have an agenda. But what we do is really involve people, ask questions, brainstorm and come together and have these conclusions, right? And then we bring that unified voice to the athletic administration,” he said. “In the same way, we can put that on senate. … We want to have that unified approach.”

In a response to an audience question regarding Alberigi-Cha’s platform goal of bringing an animal room to campus, Alberigi said the room would be full-time, but not necessarily accessible 24/7.

“Animal therapy programs already exist at a number of other institutions. … These are programs that are completely possible,” he said. “So, how do we make that happen, what are the particulars? Well, we’ve looked into that, we think you start with the basics. ‘Puppy Days’ right now is run by student government — wonderful program. We want to expand that, to make it more of a medical program, where we have therapy dogs on campus.”

The Notre Dame student government elections will take place Wednesday, when students will receive an email from Judicial Council with a link to an online ballot.

News Writer Andrea Vale contributed to this report.

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About Catherine Owers

Senior News Writer Catherine Owers is a senior from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is studying English and Theology.

Contact Catherine