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ACC student body presidents convene

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Notre Dame Student Body President Alex Coccia joined other student government leaders from Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) universities last weekend for a first-annual gathering he described as “enormously beneficial.”

The student body presidents’ conference coincided with the first ACC game of the year on Labor Day, Coccia said, a matchup between Pittsburgh and Florida State at Pittsburgh. 

“[The University of] Pittsburgh had invited the ACC student body presidents onto the field for that first home game, so we decided we should make a conference out of this opportunity,” he said. 

Coccia said one of the highlights was a meeting with ACC commissioner John Swofford, who discussed his 16 years of experience leading the ACC.

“Swofford really aimed to make the ACC a premiere conference in athletics, academics and the integrity that comes with both,” Coccia said. “If you look at the conference’s history, that has really come true. He welcomed the new members, [Pittsburgh], Syracuse and Notre Dame and really talked about how much we fit there.

“I think it’s really true, especially when you look at academic records from the ACC schools.”

Swofford used a metaphor centered on a house with a front porch to describe the proper relationship between athletics and academics in a university setting, he said.

“He said athletics are a front porch; they can really make a house beautiful and they’re the first thing people will see, but they don’t change the structural integrity,” Coccia said. “You have to have a house built on academics and leadership to succeed.”

The conference connected representatives from Notre Dame, Clemson University, Duke University, Florida State University, University of Miami, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, University of Pittsburgh, Syracuse University, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. Presidents from Boston College, Wake Forest University, University of Maryland and Georgia Tech were not present.

Coccia said he came away with ideas for Notre Dame based on productive conversations with the other presidents about campus life issues they each share.

“This conference went right along with what we’ve been doing with student government here and our goal of connecting student bodies nationwide to promote our students’ voices nationally,” he said. “If we can build personal relationships with other student governments, we can better gauge ourselves and our progress.”

Key issues on the table were food services on campus and medical amnesty for students, Coccia said. Although the grouping was based on athletic connections between the schools, the conversation did not center on those issues, he said. 

“The common athletic conference presented the opportunity for us to meet, but what we felt at this weekend conference was that it really encompassed all kinds of campus life discussion,” Coccia said.

The group spent part of the time planning how to move the event forward and expand it, he said.

“We drafted the components of a founding document about when this conference will be held in the future,” Coccia said. “Our goal is twice a year, first at the first ACC football game which will always be Labor Day. At that gathering, the goal would be to discuss campus and national issues and share best practices in terms of what different colleges are doing that’s working.

“The second meeting of the year would be during the ACC basketball tournament, and the goal with that one would be to develop a national legislative agenda in preparation for April where there already exists an ACC lobbying day.”

Although the Labor Day conference was a pilot run, Coccia said the presidents left with a strong sense that it should continue in future years for the benefit of the individual schools and the ACC as a whole.

“As a whole, I think the student body presidents’ conference is really going to build a sense of unity within the ACC,” he said. “Hopefully, with the support of the ACC and the excitement and passion we left with, we can really create something that is lasting and that suits the needs of the current student body presidents in that time.”