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The Observer endorses Robinson-Blais

| Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When Notre Dame students vote for student body president and vice president Wednesday, they face a choice between three intelligent, passionate and experienced tickets: juniors Dominic Alberigi and Jenn Cha, juniors Louis Bertolotti and Elizabeth Fenton and junior Corey Robinson and sophomore Becca Blais. The Observer Editorial Board interviewed each ticket over the weekend, and after evaluating their priorities, plans and visions for the University for the coming year, we voted to endorse the Robinson-Blais ticket.

Each ticket presents a distinct vision, informed by a diverse range of experiences and campus involvement. The Bertolotti-Fenton ticket boasts substantial student government experience — Bertolotti as director of the First Undergraduate Experience in Leadership (FUEL) last year and director of the Student Union Board (SUB) this year and Fenton as the director of National Engagement and Outreach under the Vidal-Devine administration. While it does not have any experience in student government, the Alberigi-Cha ticket has worked extensively with social justice issues on campus, experience that inspires its mental health-focused campaign. The Robinson-Blais ticket brings a combination of student government and athletic involvement that connects it to a wide portion of the student body — Blais as director of Internal Affairs for the Ricketts-Ruelas administration and a member of Judicial Council’s election committee last year and Robinson as athletics representative in the Vidal-Devine administration and vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council.

Overall, we believe the Robinson-Blais ticket provides the most innovative and exciting approach to best serve Notre Dame students and act as an effective link between students and the University administration. Their focus on building upon existing resources and opportunities to make further progress in strengthening a relationship with South Bend and combatting sexual assault makes for an ambitious yet attainable vision for the coming year.

Specifically, Robinson and Blais’ focus on sexual assault prevention and response separates them from the other tickets. Their explicit proposals — to better equip Saint Liam’s to respond to sexual assault, critically examine the University’s Title IX reporting process and reform the cross-campus reporting process for students at neighboring schools — reflect an understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of current policies and can realistically take the momentum and discussion built by the previous three student government administrations and turn it into actions that benefit all students.

Their plan to deepen students’ relationship with South Bend also builds on the progress made by previous administrations and utilizes existing structures and resources to make the city of South Bend not just a place where students go to perform service or dine out, but rather a place with a deep, symbiotic bond with the University and its students. While Robinson and Blais’ vision to reroute Transpo bus lines to better accommodate students with jobs and internships in the City may be one of their loftier goals, their plan to advertise and unify resources for students to better engage with and work in South Bend can form the kind of relationship between the University and the City previous administrations have dreamed of creating.

Robinson’s time and energy commitments to the football team certainly cause concern, but it is a concern the ticket has already anticipated and found a way to circumvent. Robinson, who will remain on campus for the summer during the team’s training, vowed he would continue to work to develop student government projects while practicing and completing coursework. Next school year, Robinson said he would be able to minimize class commitments because he will have already completed his senior thesis and attained enough credits to graduate and thus be able to fully dedicate his time and attention to student government and football.

Further, Robinson’s status as a high-profile student-athlete gives him a powerful and public voice, which his administration could harness into effectively leveraging the University administration to better respond to student demands and desires. Having a football player as the leader of student government could, for the first time in a long while, make more Notre Dame students excited about and engaged with student government as a platform for their ideas and passions.

While we believe the Robinson-Blais ticket presents the best vision and leadership for student government, the other two tickets also present compelling cases for their campaigns. The Bertolotti-Fenton ticket has more student government experience than the other tickets, and the candidates have effectively used that knowledge to craft a campaign platform that is clear, focused and attainable. Transparency is one of the ticket’s main concerns, and this is reflected in the individual timelines accompanying each of the promises on their platform.

However, Bertolotti and Fenton’s campaign goals, while feasible and impactful, ignore some of the most pressing issues facing Notre Dame — issues such as diversity, mental health and sexual assault are treated only tangentially in their platform. A bimonthly newsletter, taxi standardization, football ticket changes and Senate reform are all good ideas the student body would benefit from, but they are not all that student government can and should be about.

Robinson and Blais could afford to look to their rival candidates for an example of a straightforward and accountable schedule and apply it to their own ideas. Many students believe student government does not do anything of importance, and staying accountable and in touch with students is the best way to combat this idea. We would like to see the elected ticket commit to those values while simultaneously pushing to solve the biggest, most important issues on campus.

The Alberigi-Cha ticket has certainly keyed in on one of the most important issues not only at Notre Dame, but on campuses across the nation: mental health. Yet their ideas for how to address this enormous and difficult topic lacked feasibility and focus. Their plan for a mental health app for smartphones would be beneficial to some, but the candidates failed to explain how this app could be developed in a timely, cost-effective way or advertised and integrated into the everyday schedule of a stressed-out student.

Furthermore, Alberigi and Cha have put the cart before the horse in calling for more students to visit the UCC, thus putting pressure on the administration to commit more resources to the center. This would inevitably lead to a scheduling crush that could potentially deny counseling and care for students with the most need. While we certainly would encourage any student dealing with any form of mental illness to utilize the resources available on campus and agree these resources should be further developed, it would be wiser to improve the resources first.

Ultimately, when students cast their votes and a winner is declared, Notre Dame students will be well served by any of the tickets. For their energy, experience and ability to connect with students and administrators alike, The Observer endorses Corey Robinson and Becca Blais for student body president and vice president.

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