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Student government tickets debate initiatives

| Monday, February 6, 2017

As Wednesday’s election for student body president and vice president rapidly approaches, the candidates were given their first and only chance to debate their platforms against one another Monday night. In the Carey Auditorium of the Hesburgh Library, student body presidential candidate — and current student body vice president — Becca Blais and her running mate, Sibonay Shewit, faced off against the opposing ticket of presidential candidate Rohit Fonseca and his running mate, Daniela Narimatsu, to begin the final push for votes before the election. 

The candidates began the debate by discussing why they chose to run for office.

“When we decided to run for student government, we had one thing in mind — you guys, the students, our classmates, our friends, the people who mean the most to us and the Notre Dame family,” Fonseca said. “We have very different life experiences that we bring to the table, but you will find us united in our passion for Notre Dame.”

Blais said one of the key issues that motivated her to run was reforming sexual assault procedures, prompted by an experience at a sexual assault prevention meeting.

Both tickets had plans to tackle sexual assault. Fonseca and Narimatsu advocated for presenting anonymous testimonies to the student body via displays in the dining halls, an initiative that Fonseca had spearheaded in regards to mental health during his tenure as director of health and wellness for student government. 

“You kind of understand that these people you walk by everyday … might be dealing with sexual assault, might be dealing with domestic abuse, might be dealing with serious life issues that we pretend don’t exist here in our perfectionist culture here at Notre Dame,” Fonseca said.

One of the key policies Blais and Shewit said they hoped to enact in regards to sexual assault is the use of the sexual assault recording software Callisto. The software aims to “provides survivors with a confidential and secure way to create a time-stamped record of an assault, learn about reporting options and support resources, or report electronically to campus authorities. It [als] gives survivors the option to report their assault only if someone else names the same assailant,” according to the software’s website.

“SpeakupND is a great reporting software for harassment; Callisto is an online software for sexual assault,” she said. “The unique thing about Callisto is that you can put in all of your information when it happens.”

Blais said the current system did not go far enough and more steps needed to be taken to prevent sexual assault.

“[Sexual assault victims] are your classmates, those are your dormmates — those are your friends,” she said. 

However, Fonseca argued that the technology already used by the University ought to be kept in place.

“We want to push what we already have,” he said. “We don’t need any new technology for online reporting of sexual assault. We already have speakup.nd.edu and we’re going to make that known.”

The candidates also discussed issues relating to inclusion and diversity on Notre Dame’s campus.

Narimatsu said one way to help students that feel left out, especially non-Catholics, become a part of the community is through service.

“It is really hard for [non-religious] first years trying to navigate within the culture of Notre Dame and [be included]; we think service is going to be a part of that,” she said.

Fonseca added that another one of their campaign’s initiatives — a campus-wide prayer service — was also aimed at bringing students together. The prayer would be held on Monday mornings to “start the week off right,” he said.

Shewit said in order to bring students together, greater dialogue about diversity and inclusion was necessary. 

“We want students to know that it’s okay to celebrate their differences and talk about them and to ask questions about other students and their own celebrations and uniqueness,” she said. “We want to foster a place where these conversations can happen.”

The candidates then transitioned to issues relating to greater student health.

Blais and Shewit said they wanted to provide free STD and STI testing and rape kit testing to St. Liam’s. The duo also wants to bring in the JED Foundation — an organization that evaluates schools’ mental health programs in order to improve the programs — to help streamline the University Health Services’ care.

Fonseca said improving student health was important but that some of Blais and Shewit’s proposals weren’t feasible.

“We know that there are some things that we need to be realistic about,” Fonseca said. “We have talked directly to a director in St. Liam’s who says that it is impossible — not that it’s her opinion or she thinks that it’s impossible — it is impossible to get free STD and STI testing within a year.”

Blais said being told something is impossible isn’t the end.

“Sometimes when you hear that something is impossible, try anyway,” she said. “We were once told that a peer support group was impossible, yet we launched the first-ever sexual assault survivors support group last fall.”

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About Lucas Masin-Moyer

Lucas Masin-Moyer is a senior at Notre Dame majoring in Political Science and American Studies. He serves as Assistant Managing Editor, lived in Morrissey Manor and hails from Telford, Pennsylvania.

Contact Lucas