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ND student government offers opportunities for first years

| Tuesday, August 23, 2016

O’SNAP, a late-night ride home. It’s On Us, a national campaign against sexual assault. Comedy on the Quad, the beginning-of-the-year big-name stand-up show. An annual report on a student issue to the Board of Trustees. Notre Dame’s student government is responsible for many of the initiatives, events and even policies on campus – it aims to be, said student body vice president Rebecca Blais, “a direct line of communication between students and the administration.”

Blais said she hopes freshmen will be involved in student government, whether by participating in its initiatives or joining the administration. She said she and student body president Corey Robinson will visit sessions of the Moreau First Year Experience and encourage freshmen to visit the student government office.

“It’s a totally free-flowing environment, full of ideas,” she said. “It’s an awesome way for students to get involved.”

As president and vice president, Robinson and Blais oversee the executive cabinet, a series of topic-based departments which, along with the hall-elected Student Senate, work on specific issues and projects by topic and make reports, resolutions and recommendations to the University administration.

One of those departments, the First Undergraduate Experience in Leadership (FUEL) is geared directly to freshmen, allowing them to help with or develop student government projects.

Dan Hopkinson, who was a member of FUEL as a freshman and now serves as the department co-director, said FUEL is a “stepping stone” for students who want to be involved in policymaking at Notre Dame.  

FUEL members each join an executive department — for example, Academic Affairs or Gender Issues — and work on projects with that department, in addition to developing their own, Hopkinson said. 

Hopkinson said he and co-FUEL director Nabila Mourad hope to involve freshmen more in student government’s decision-making, as well as connect them to volunteer opportunities, host a retreat and set up a networking fair with other student government members.

“We’re really hoping to give people hands-on experience in being a part of a project in student government, to implement their requests and meet with administrators and get people to see what student government can do, so they’re more inclined to be a part of it,” Hopkinson said

The point, he said, is to give first years an “in” in student government — nearly half of last year’s FUEL members continued with student government in some way.

“It’s a way for a dedicated and motivated student to get their foot in the door in student government and learn about it, and then hopefully move up in student government in whatever way that may be, whether Senate, Executive Cabinet or SUB,” Hopkinson said.

SUB — Student Union Board — is a programming arm of student government, along with Class Councils. SUB is responsible for many campus events, including Comedy on the Quad; Acousticafe, a weekly student concert; and AnTostal, a week of festivities before spring finals.

SUB executive director Louis Bertolotti said students often get involved in the organization as freshmen, joining various planning committees, but they did not have space of their own. FY SUB, a new program geared specifically towards freshmen, will introduce first-years to each other and bring in students to speak about SUB’s departments and leadership, junior Madi Purrenhage said, who is running the program. 

“It’s to introduce them to SUB, to prepare them to enter whatever club they want to go into, give them real skills they can use and let them have fun and know that SUB is like a family and they can find their place in there,” Purrenhage said. 

Other than FUEL and SUB, student government is expansive. The class council of the class of 2020 will elect members from their residence halls this fall to plan events and programs for their year, while the upperclassmen classes elect an executive board for their class, who then select their own councils. The Judicial Council oversees student government elections and ethics and recruits from all classes. Residence hall councils often invite freshmen to meetings, and other councils and boards manage clubs and finances.

Bertolotti, who has been involved since his own freshman year, said student government offers opportunities to make change for students with a variety of interests. 

“The big thing I can say is that as a first year, you’re a small fish in a big pond,” he said. “It’s hard sometimes to believe you can make a difference, but you can, and it’s through student government.”

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About Emily McConville

Emily McConville is a news writer and photographer for the Observer. She is a senior studying history and Italian with a minor in journalism. She is from Louisville, KY and lives off-campus.

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