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Soler, Bell achieve most campaign platform goals

Laura McCrystal | Friday, December 10, 2010

When they took office in April as the only team of two sophomores to become student body president and vice president, Catherine Soler and Andrew Bell said they set realistic goals for themselves.

Since April, Soler and Bell have accomplished two out of three main campaign platform goals of creating a textbook rental program, holding a block party at Eddy Street Commons and renovating DeBartolo Hall’s lounge area.

Textbook rental

Soler and Bell’s campaign platform was instituting a textbook rental program at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, which they launched this semester.

“It was a really successful in its first semester here, so we’re really excited that that went well and we’re able to fulfill that promise,” Soler said.

Bell said while they succeeded in starting the rental program, the system is not yet perfected.

“We tried to be realistic in what the first semester of the program would look like,” Bell said.

Through both online and paper surveys, student government complied feedback about the rental system as students rented books. Many students wished more textbooks were available for rent, Bell said.

The nationwide list of rentable texts is growing, and on campus Bell said student government sent letters to deans and department chairs about the program. If Notre Dame professors commit to using a textbook for four consecutive semesters, students can rent that book.

Bell said they also plan to survey students as they return their books and compile feedback about the entire process.

Community relations

Soler and Bell campaigned on a promise to continue the community relations efforts of their predecessors, but community relations became especially important for their administration this semester.

With a spike in alcohol-related student arrests during the summer and first few weeks of the school year, they launched the beND campaign, an initiative named after both the city of South Bend and the University.

The initiative, with catch phrases such as “be engaged,” “be informed” and “be educated,” began in September. While events such as a block party at Eddy Street Commons fulfilled initial campaign promises, beND has also included new ideas such as a panel discussion and lecture about off-campus partying and the law.

“[beND is] a way for us to represent ourselves in the community not just as student leaders but as the whole student body,” Soler said. “So I think the beND just encapsulated everything we wanted to do under community relations.”

Since its start, Soler said beND has expanded to other parts of student government, such as encouraging voter registration and supporting South Bend’s Perley Elementary School.

The eND Hunger initiative also works with the local community to address hunger issues and provide sustainable food options in South Bend, which Bell said is aimed at “really impacting lives.”

“We talk a lot about being good neighbors,” he said, “but there are people who live right down the street who don’t have food.”

Soler said the variety of initiatives within beND demonstrates the many ways in which Notre Dame students can represent themselves to the broader community.

“Our whole administration really bought into beND,” Soler said. “So I think it’s really trickled down into our whole administration.”

‘It was great to step up’

Also in light of student arrests at the beginning of the school year, Soler and Bell worked directly with local law enforcement.

“We took on a much larger role than we really imagined we would,” Soler said.

During the first few weeks of the school year while there were a high number of arrests, Soler said student government was in close communication with University administrators. She said she and Bell expressed their desire to meet with local law enforcement representatives and ask questions on behalf of students.

The University put Soler and Bell in contact with both South Bend Police and Indiana State Excise Police in September.

“It’s really important to give a face to the students,” Soler said about her role as a liaison between students and police officers. “It was great to step up as students and do something.”

They met twice with South Bend Police, once with Excise Police and brought representatives from both groups to campus for their educational panel discussion open to the entire student body.

Vice President for Student Affairs Fr. Tom Doyle told The Observer last week that Soler and Bell played a significant role in working with students, University officials and law enforcement to handle the arrests.

“Especially with a lot of the off-campus issues, the reason that we have found a bit of a détente with law enforcement has to do with Catherine and Andrew and how they have been leaders among their peers,” Doyle said.

Soler and Bell also remain in contact with law enforcement since the arrests.

“This is a big part of what we’re trying to do now, is to continue those relationships,” Soler said. “We continue to talk to them via e-mail now … We see a lot of people that we worked with when this whole thing happened at CCAC [Community/Campus Advisory Coalition] meetings and in the community.”

Soler said continuing these relationships will be important during the next part of her term.

“We’re continuing to be a part of the community in the ways that we are,” she said.

Smaller changes

Soler and Bell, like student government leaders before them, have also tried to make themselves accessible to students.

Earlier this semester, student government hosted a “Whine Week,” during which they tried to gather feedback and suggestions from the student body.

“Whine week was really great for us,” Soler said. “We got a ton of feedback. … It was a way to actively seek out the opinions of the student body.”

Bell said suggestions from that week ranged from making changes in the dining halls — other than the varieties of hummus student government has already worked to add this semester — to adding more bike racks around campus.

While many of the suggestions seem like small things, Bell said they would improve campus.

One improvement to campus from Soler and Bell’s campaign platform is the renovation to the DeBartolo Lounge, which Bell said has been a topic of regular meetings and students should “stay tuned” for more information.

‘Puts everything in perspective’

As leaders of the student body, Soler and Bell faced a time this semester when their campaign promises seemed unimportant.

After junior Declan Sullivan died at the end of October, student government worked to facilitate the Mass of Remembrance in his honor, collect cards for his family, send flowers on behalf of the student body and pass out pins with Sullivan’s initials at the last home football game of the season.

“I think that it is a moment that we were extremely proud and humbled and honored to be able to be in this position and support Declan’s friends and family during that time,” Soler said. “It was really special to be able to help a university at a time like that.”

Soler said it was also the most difficult time for her personally as student body president.

“We can look back on our campaign goals … and we can have our list of priorities, but when something like that happens,” Bell said, “the loss that it was to the Notre Dame family kind of puts everything in perspective.”

‘Hands-off approach’

Especially during difficult periods like the end of October, Soler and Bell said they were grateful for the trust they could place on the rest of the students within their administration.

“People just stepped up, no questions asked,” Soler said.

This leadership extends beyond special circumstances, as Soler said they like to allow committee members and other leaders to take initiative rather than control all choices.

“It’s sort of a hands-off approach that we hope empowers people,” Bell said.

Soler said although student government leaders joke about her leading yoga poses during Council of Representatives meetings and pushing for more hummus in the dining halls, she likes to have a laidback leadership style.

“I think [the joking] lightens the mood,” she said. “I think it’s very relaxed but I think we’re successful and hopefully that environment has helped people to do their best.”

Grade: B+

Soler and Bell have accomplished their most important campaign promises since taking office in April. This semester, they have led their administration through unexpected and difficult situations. Yet while they continue to fulfill their campaign promises, their initiatives have not gone above and beyond to make major changes for the Notre Dame student body.