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viewpoint

The missing context: a clarification of “We deserve better”

| Tuesday, February 13, 2018

On Friday, Feb. 2, the Observer Editorial Board published an editorial titled, “We Deserve Better.” In it, they declared a transcending failure of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of student government in regard to transparency, “the system” and years of precedent. All three of us agree that there is a responsibility of representatives to share as much information with their constituents as possible. However, when void of context, those conversations, much like the editorial, result in misinformation, personal attacks and the false-discrediting of institutions that exist to help the student body.

If you only wish to hear our corrections to “We Deserve Better,” reading this paragraph will be enough. The accusation of multiple closed senate meetings as an affront to transparency is misleading and taken out of context. Only four of this term’s 26 senate meetings have been closed. The most recent closures were as of a result of the election allegation process, which is constitutionally mandated to be confidential. The first two were closed on behalf of the guests that came to senate and bravely shared their personal stories with the senators on the condition of anonymity. The Observer was made aware of the reason for closing the meeting through a statement from the three of us given in between the two weeks. Transparency is a two-way street, so as we continue to increase our methods of communication with the entire student body, we ask that our work not be misrepresented in campus editorials.

Shortly after the publishing of the piece, the three of us and Judicial Council president Matthew Ross had a chance to meet with a few members of the current and incoming Observer Editorial Board. In that conversation, we had the opportunity to discuss the inaccuracies and troublesome narrative of their piece. Regardless of our conversation in that moment, a conversation in private cannot compensate for the fact that thousands of readers will have read the editorial by the time this gets published. Without an official statement from The Observer correcting its errors, the personal attacks against student government’s nearly 500 members will continue.

The editorial leads students to believe that a transparency smoking gun has been found in the issue of closed Senate meetings. In fact, the Board writes, “The purpose of student government is to represent the students, and the first step in that is to respect the students that elected them. … Yet, nothing in the spirit of that promise was achieved when senate closed its meeting Friday — or the other two times this year.”

Rule 13.5(e) of the Student Union Constitution is the clause mandating that all allegations and appeal hearings must be held confidential, so as to protect the anonymity of the accuser. Two of those senates were closed under that rule. If allegations and appeals were not anonymous, then we would likely see a decrease in their number for fear of retaliation.

The other two were voluntarily closed by the student senate to protect the anonymity of undocumented students. The notion that we must “respect the students that elected [us]” is absolutely true, and in this case, the best way to show respect was to protect the identity and safety of those students. Not to mention, the two meetings were followed by a statement emailed to the entire student body that was, in part, informed by the stories shared by the students in those meetings.

In all four cases prior to the publishing of “We deserve better,” The Observer was told of the reasons behind the closed senates, and we assumed that the anonymity of our fellow students would be understood as crucial.

Transparency has been and will remain a priority for our administration — that’s why we have begun Facebook-living senates and posting their agendas online. Additionally, in the Executive Cabinet, we printed out a giant copy of our platform so that we can be kept visually accountable by any student who enters the office, and we update on our work each month in the Scholastic. Last semester, we visited every dorm through Town Hall On-the-Gowhere we shared our progress and answered questions about campus happenings. We send emails to the student body about ongoing projects and new services to campus, as well as post videos and graphics to our Facebook.

While we welcome criticism, we also ask that when made, it is grounded in truth. The editorial has had undue impact on the ongoing student body campaign, but more importantly, the students who devote their time to bettering the student experience for everyone at Notre Dame. We may be speaking from the executive branch in this response, but we do not stand for the insult to all members of the Student Union that this editorial has caused.

Every election cycle introduces new problems with the election guidelines. It is the job of the Student Union to address these changes as they are found; however, that cannot be done mid-election. The rules cannot be changed in the middle of the game out of fairness to the candidates. After the election cycle ends (including class councils, senators, hall presidents and more), we will begin to work on potential changes to the constitution.

We began our own election process and this term with genuine excitement for the impact that students can make. Regardless of how confusing and time-consuming our work may sometimes seem, we will continue to move forward with that drive to make a positive difference. As we work toward improving our process, we simply ask that The Observer keep in mind its promise to “uncover the truth and report it accurately” by providing context, clarifying misinformation and not jumping to conclusions.

In Notre Dame,

Rebecca Blais

student body president

senior

Sibonay Shewit

student body vice president

senior

Prathm Juneja

chief of staff

junior

Feb. 12

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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