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Student body presidential candidates: Becca Blais and Sibonay Shewit

| Monday, February 6, 2017

Who they are:

Student body presidential candidate Becca Blais, a junior political science major with a minor in peace studies, currently serves as the student body vice president. In the past, she served on Judicial Council during her freshman year and was director of Internal Affairs on the Ricketts-Ruelas executive cabinet. A resident of Farley Hall and hailing from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, during her time as student body vice president Blais has previously focused on issues such as sexual assault and diversity and inclusion. Blais was also involved in the fight for the $250 increase in Flex Points this semester and reformed the Student Senate.

Sibonay Shewit, Blais’ running mate, is a junior from Northern Virginia with majors in IT management and political science. A resident of Welsh Family Hall, she became involved with student government during her freshman year as a FUEL member. She also served as secretary and chief of staff for the Ricketts-Ruelas administration. Shewit is also a member of the Mendoza Student Leadership Association (MSLA) and Notre Dame’s chapter of Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations (SCNO).

Top Priority: Expanding sexual assault resources and prevention methods

Blais emphasized the ticket’s plan for the implementation of Callisto, an online platform where students can report time-stamped information of a sexual assault. If a perpetrator’s name appears by more than one person, the information automatically goes to the Title IX coordinator. Blais and Shewit both commented on plans to work with NDSP to allow swipe access to campus buildings at night as well as a way to key a code, 5555, into the number pads that would immediately alert NDSP of an emergency.

Best Idea: Hiring a third diversity and inclusion officer that focuses specifically on student needs

Blais cited the fact that there were two diversity and inclusion officers that oversaw faculty and staff, but had spoken with Eric Love, director of staff diversity and inclusion, and confirmed the possibility of hiring a diversity and inclusion officer specifically for students. Improving and adding on to diversity and inclusion resources that the University currently provides is a main pillar of Blais and Shewit’s ticket. Other ideas include protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and undocumented students by connecting them with CUSE and the Career Center to make sure they have equal resources, working with SUB to bring in diverse performers and hosting a diversity-focused film festival.

Worst Idea: Organizing an “ND, I screwed up” speaker event

Blais and Shewit plan on organizing this event featuring administrators, alumni and students perceived as “perfect” to share a time they made a mistake and how they overcame it. While well intentioned, bringing in successful people to share stories about “one time” they were imperfect seems less relatable or comforting, but rather, like an effort to reassure students who are already aware of the fact that no one is perfect. Taking comfort in the failure of those deemed successful hardly seems productive or healthy. Rather, it further builds upon the already high pedestal the panelists are on by asking them to publicly talk about that instance of failure so rare that they are now speaking about it on a panel of other successes also shocked about experiencing a bout of imperfection. It over-emphasizes the necessity of mistakes, that they are necessary for success and experienced by everyone, a reality that Notre Dame students are already aware of without this event.

Most Feasible: “Flipping the model” and interacting more with the student body for ideas

Blais and Shewit referred to “flipping the model” as increased involvement with student groups and considering their input when making new policies. Blais said she hopes to have a couple members of her team go and speak to different groups on campus at least once a week. “To a very large extent it’s a complete flip,” Blais said. “Some of the best ideas we got came from this.” Blais said the best ideas come from meeting with dorms and student groups and not from student government remaining isolated in their LaFortune office. She said because of the consistent flow of new ideas, her ticket works on a live platform and her team constantly updates it with input from groups that they deem possible and beneficial to the campus as a whole. Shewit said student government listens to the student body and attempts to solve the problems that they identify. “We want to make it student-first and student-centered as much as we can,” Shewit said.

Least Feasible: Ensuring all campus buildings are handicap accessible by Spring and Summer 2017

On their platform, Blais and Shewit state their goal of ensuring that “all campus buildings are handicap accessible, and fight for necessary changes to those that are not.” They listed the deadline for reaching this goal for spring and summer of 2017. Last year, The Observer did a series on disability and spoke with university architect Doug Marsh, who said Notre Dame had over 100 buildings built before 1992 whose barriers were grandfathered in and posed complexities when making completely handicap accessible. When The Observer asked the ticket about the feasibility of their goal and the impossibility of making every dorm handicap accessible, Blais backtracked. “Unfortunately, not every single dorm … is exactly 100 percent handicap accessible,” Blais said. “A lot of the things in our platform again are being updated so that’s something we need to adjust accordingly. Instead of saying push to make 100 percent of them handicap accessible, we should say push to make sure all the ones that are handicap accessible are to the fullest extent and continue to expand that reach.” As of Monday night, Blais and Shewit’s “living” platform still stated their intention to make all campus buildings 100 percent handicap accessible.

Bottom Line: Prioritizing diversity and increasing resources of support for students

Blais and Shewit understand the need for improving upon and creating more resources for students, especially in the areas of diversity and inclusion and sexual assault support and prevention. Due to Blais’ previous experience, the proper connections to University administrators have already been constructed, and the ticket could hit the ground running immediately if elected. Although several ideas on their platform seem far-fetched, the ideas that are more feasible, centered around student safety and inclusion, hold potential of success and are centered around the students. Blais’ established connections combined with her emphasis on a dedication to listening and enacting student ideas could ensure that the administration hears an accurate representation of the student body’s thoughts and opinions.

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

Contact Selena