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The Observer endorses Blais-Shewit

| Monday, February 6, 2017

When polls open Wednesday morning, the Notre Dame student body will be faced with a difficult decision between two highly qualified student government tickets — juniors Becca Blais and Sibonay Shewit and juniors Rohit Fonseca and Daniela Narimatsu. Both teams developed thoughtful and considerate platforms that addressed the concerns and needs of the student body.

The Observer Editorial Board interviewed each ticket over the weekend and — having considered the priorities and plans of each ticket — voted to endorse Blais-Shewit.

The Blais-Shewit platform dreams big — perhaps too big at points — but overall has done an excellent job of assessing the current needs of the Notre Dame student body. Their commitment to the notion of “flipping the model” of student government — that is, bringing student government to the students instead of requiring students to come to student government with their concerns — is clear, as much of their platform is derived from ideas they have received from the student body itself. They pledge to “represent every student,” and while this sometimes leads to too many unattainable ideas, they demonstrate a passion for understanding the student body. The Blais-Shewit ticket also boasts a remarkable and prominent amount of student government experience — particularly as Blais currently serves as student body vice president and Shewit served as secretary and later chief of staff for the Ricketts-Ruelas administration — and it is evident they have a concrete grasp on its inner workings. The focus on clear and tangible goals is a large part of what makes the Blais-Shewit ticket stand out, and while the two have ambitious plans for the coming year, the fact that they have a wide range of well-defined and formulated ideas is encouraging.

However, our endorsement comes with several reservations about the ticket. While Blais and Shewit have a thorough platform addressing the varied needs of the student body, we have some concerns about its feasibility. Although most individual items on the ticket’s platform are achievable in their own right, the more than 100 individual goals Blais and Shewit put forward on their platform present perhaps too gargantuan a task to accomplish in one term. We are concerned the team may be taking on too much, which could distract and detract from some of their larger goals. More to the point, we fear this ambition could lead to should-be achievable objectives failing due to resources being spread too thin.

Additionally, some ideas on the Blais-Shewit platform — for example, “ensuring all campus buildings are 100 percent handicap accessible, and fight for necessary changes for those that are not” — are simply not attainable. Last spring, The Observer found nearly half of all dorms on campus were not wheelchair accessible, and fixing all of them would require significant funding and construction to add elevators and ramps. Likewise, decreasing the number of tests given between Thanksgiving and finals week and extending Flex Points to Eddy Street stores seem both unlikely and beyond the scope of what student government can reasonably achieve. While we appreciate the ticket’s attempt to address a wide variety of issues, we found the scope of the ticket’s platform misleading in terms of what they could realistically expect to accomplish.

A few ideas have also made a repeat appearance from Blais’s campaign last year with current student body president Corey Robinson, leading us to question why they weren’t achieved this year and whether it is feasible to achieve them in the coming year. Specifically, part of Blais’ platform last year focused especially on getting Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) in St. Liam’s. However, it has yet to be achieved and has landed back on the Blais-Shewit agenda this year. While Robinson and Blais made progress on implementing this initiative in the past year, we still have doubts about whether it will come to fruition this time around.

On the other hand, the Fonseca-Narimatsu ticket takes the opposite approach of focusing almost exclusively on what they can reasonably hope to accomplish in one year with existing resources and shying away from offering many new ideas — ultimately limiting themselves in their goals and plans. For example, in addressing sexual assault — a key issue on campus — they failed to provide any new ideas to tackle the problem, and pledged to work with the University to make public the results of the Campus Climate Survey — results which are already made public. Other initiatives put forward by the ticket focus solely on education about available resources, which is certainly helpful, but left us wondering what more could be done.

We did appreciate the team’s commitment to improving mental health awareness on campus: Their plans to work with the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being and to promote Irish State of Mind Week demonstrated a dedication to the mental health of the student body, an issue we take seriously. Further, their combined experience throughout a variety of student government committees and other organizations is an asset to their understanding of the Notre Dame student body, but we felt it did not stack up against that of the Blais-Shewit ticket.

While the Fonseca-Narimatsu ticket proposes an interesting idea with the concept of RouND Tables — a regular campus event giving students from different perspectives and groups a forum to discuss divisive tops — we had concerns about both its implementation and the ultimate goal. The plan as is does not address how the ticket plans to attract active participants, particularly those who are not already politically active and vocal on campus, and a large-group discussion may not be the best forum for discussing some of the issues they had in mind.

Finally, we also took notice of each ticket’s priorities. Blais and Shewit made it clear both in their platform and the student body debate Monday night that sexual assault and student safety are their primary concerns, whereas Fonseca and Narimatsu, though they do address both safety and sexual assault in their platforms, chose the need for civil discourse as the campaign’s primary pillar. While we as a newspaper staff appreciate the need for civil discourse as well, we consider student safety and sexual assault issues that need immediate attention and focus.

So, despite our reservations, the Editorial Board felt most of Blais and Shewit’s ideas were sound, pertinent and likely to have a positive impact on the student body. Furthermore, the Blais-Shewit ticket attempts to truly make progress on issues that matter to students, instead of just accepting things as they are.

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