Student senate revises procedures, passes resolutions
Rachel O'Grady | Friday, December 9, 2016
Student body vice president Becca Blais’s goals for this semester included some major reform of the Notre Dame student senate, including eliminating some aspects of parliamentary procedure and generally promoting greater efficiency of the body.
“[Parliamentary Procedure] being removed from Senate has facilitated discussion,” Blais said. “We did retain the basic outline of meeting structure that [Parliamentary Procedure] provides and we do use it when it comes to voting, but other than that, it is totally out. We no longer have to deal with tedious motions of moving in and out of discussion, and Senators don’t have to be self-conscious about using the wrong motion or speaking out of turn in a debate. The removal of [Parliamentary Procedure] has definitely had a beneficial impact on Senate, especially in regard to flow of and access to discussion.”
The first change Blais made was organizing senate into a number of smaller committees, each of which has a chairperson and meets weekly, beyond the senate meetings.
“The committee structure has provided a critical lens for senators to view their topics, a small group for break-out discussion, and a bond between the senators,” Blais said in an email. “The four committee focuses have been applied to the topics that we discuss in senate, and they have been used to spur additional policy research by the senators outside of the larger senate meeting time.”
Every senator sits on two committees, according to Blais, unless they are on the Campus Life Council.
“Committees meet once a week to work on policy, and I meet once a week with the committee chairpeople to discuss those ideas and plans,” Blais said. “The break-out discussions have facilitated better large-group discussion within Senate, and they provide a forum for everyone to bounce ideas and have their voice heard. The bond has formed due to them having another level of interaction — the sustained interaction among the senators has facilitated some awesome friendships in senate.”
Each committee has a clear, articulated vision and the reform has been effective in setting meaningful policy agendas in a smaller group setting, Blais said.
“Structurally, I think that senate’s greatest accomplishment has been the reconfigure of what is means to be a senator and student leader at Notre Dame,” she said. “Senators have taken on huge leadership roles, and they have brilliantly risen to occasion.”
In the 16 meetings since the Robinson-Blais administration took office, the student senate has passed 16 resolutions on a variety of topics, ranging from the elimination of some elements of parliamentary procedure to a resolution calling on University President Fr. John Jenkins to make Notre Dame a sanctuary campus.
The student senate has also heard several presentations throughout the year and were one of the first student groups to hear about the upcoming renovations to North Dining Hall. Additionally, they heard from representatives from the Title IX office, the Career Center, the Office of Community Standards and the Office of Student Enrichment, among others.
Outside of the weekly senate meetings, a number of student senators have begun getting dinners together in order to discuss a their different ideas, Blais said.
All senators have undergone GreeNDot bystander training this year, which has yielded a positive reaction from the senators on the whole, according to a midterm survey Blais issued to the senators.
Student body president Corey Robinson said senate had been undervalued, but he said he appreciates the reforms that were made.
“When you see what [Blais] did with it — giving senators autonomy, giving them responsibility and telling senators they can address any issues they want to — they’re excited to draft resolutions.”