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Student Government promotes discussion of campus issues on online platform

| Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Notre Dame student government created Onward, an online platform where students could send in university issues they considered in hopes of initiating change, two years ago. However, since its inception student participation with Onward has fallen off dramatically, but the current student government administration is trying to change that.

Junior and director of campus technology Sean McMahon said Onward is being moved to Facebook to make it easier for students to use.

“[The previous form] was through a strange website that students didn’t know how to find, and the effort of the student government tapered off — it wasn’t nearly as accessible as it was supposed to be,” McMahon said. “So, we’re making it more accessible by moving it to Facebook.”

Senior and campus technology board member Jamie Maher said the new platform will allow student government to reply directly to comments and promote discussion among students more efficiently than before.

“The old Onward system was less clear and there was potentially not as immediate feedback, but with this Onward page you can see the post immediately show up on the Facebook page,” Maher said. “[For students,] you can immediately comment on it or react to it, which was not available in the previous incarnation.”

McMahon said Onward gives students the ability to ensure their problems are being seen and considered by their representatives.

“By submitting to Onward you are guaranteeing that your issue is going to be looked at … Our primary concern is that students know that this is always around and always and option for them,” McMahon said.

McMahon said student government sees Onward as an opportunity to consistently engage with the student body and understand what is important to them.

“It’s great that we’re working really hard on policy initiatives and things that absolutely need to get done,” he said. “But at the end of the day in terms of making sure we’re getting students what they need, sometimes we need to hear back from them, too. So, the purpose of this is to make sure [communication] is not just during the election season but continually part of the process.”

A Facebook account is not required for students to use Onward, as comments can be submitted through a Google survey found in the page’s biography or accessible through QR codes on posters across campus, McMahon said. Students can also submit comments anonymously through that same survey.

While participation on the platform may vary over time, junior and campus technology board member Sean Scannell said the success of Onward is measured by how aware students are of its availability.

“The metric of success is the awareness of this being there,” Scannell said. “We’re not trying to be the most popular page on campus — we’re trying to be the most helpful.”

McMahon and Maher said although some issues students have may be more serious than others and not all students will agree on what should be done, Onward is still an important tool for encouraging discourse on campus.

“We want any issue, no matter how big or how small, to be able to be discussed and displayed for everyone,” McMahon said.

“We’re not just getting an idea and assuming everyone feels one way, we can have a discussion on Onward and can help facilitate a student discussion on both serious topics and something maybe less important but still meaningful to the student body,” Maher said.

McMahon said Onward hopes to give every student the opportunity to make the University better.

“If we can publicize successes and show that there is potential to create change here just from five seconds of submitting online, then that’s our goal: to know that that’s always an option and they have that outlet to let their voice be heard,” McMahon said. “Complain. Please complain as much as you want. This isn’t just complaining to a friend and mutually agreeing something stinks — this actually gives you the capability to go do something.”

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