Blais, Shewit weigh in on transition, goals
Courtney Becker | Monday, April 3, 2017
The Notre Dame student body gained new leadership Saturday, as juniors Becca Blais and Sibonay Shewit took office as student body president and vice president, respectively.
Blais, who served as vice president for the past year, said the administration will spend a large portion of the rest of the semester focusing on training new cabinet members and “rebranding” student government — a movement inspired by the knowledge she gained over the past year about how members of student government can most effectively fulfill their leadership roles.
“My past year has informed a lot of what I believe and a lot of what we’ve seen works and doesn’t work … it allows us to skip a lot of the learning curve,” she said.
Sophomore chief of staff Prathm Juneja said the shared experience he, Blais and Shewit have as part of Notre Dame’s student government has aided in a smooth transition process.
“Everyone will always tell you that experience is the most useful tool,” he said. “ … Combining the administrative aspects from our experience with our new perspectives on being productive and [what] being a voice for change can look like is where I think the diversity of experience comes in really well.”
One of the biggest projects for this year’s administration, Blais said, is restructuring student government to function more effectively and efficiently.
“We’re tearing [student government] down and rebuilding it, pretty much, from the ground up,” she said. “It started with the executive cabinet, [which] was restructured to have a more efficient department system. So we actually have fewer departments, but the size of the departments will be larger, and they have more of an internal structure with commissionerships.”
While restructuring the cabinet was done with the long-term success of student government in mind, Blais, Shewit and Juneja selected people for positions within their administration carefully, considering how individuals could help them accomplish their goals, Shewit said.
“We kind of kept in mind, the entire time, how much we want to accomplish,” she said. “ … So it’s very much that our platform mirrors the abilities of our department directors, of their commissioners and of their department members, too. So we’re widening the umbrella, but it’s in a way that matches what we plan to do this year, too.”
Part of that plan, Blais said, includes making student government more visible on campus and improving communication throughout the entire student union.
“The rebranding is going to be the biggest thing,” Blais said. “And that is a lot of what’s happening in this first month. We have to address that image of, ‘Student government doesn’t do anything.’ And so what we’re doing is actually trying to make a unified brand for the whole student union. Because the student union, in total, is over 500 people.”
Shewit said this project is already underway, and she pointed to Blais’ restructuring of senate as an example of positive change in student government.
“As far as rebrand goes, I would say the biggest rebrand so far has been senate,” she said. “The way people look at senate and talk about senate is totally different, so now that I’ll be taking over, I just want to build on that momentum. … We’re trying to answer the question of how [we can] make this group the most reflective and representative of the Notre Dame community.”
In addition to adjusting aspects of student government that are already in place, Blais’ administration has also created positions to focus on new aspects of student life at Notre Dame, such as Campus Crossroads, which will open during her time in office, Blais said.
“We created a new department called the department of student life,” she said. “ … We want to be constantly getting student feedback on Campus Crossroads, because — especially when it’s in its baby stages — we’ll have good opportunities to make adjustments.”
At present and in the immediate future, student government is working with the University to improve aspects of student life, such as the Moreau First-Year Experience course, Juneja said.
“We’ve started a lot of meetings that have basically guaranteed us administrative response, which is really useful,” he said. “ … I think the things that we want to get done this semester are student representation on a lot more things.”
The ultimate goal for the new administration, Shewit said, is to positively impact students’ experiences at the University.
“If I was graduating and I could talk to someone who isn’t involved in student government at all, and they could tell me something that we did that impacted their time at Notre Dame, I would be so happy,” she said. “Once the rumor is dispelled that student government doesn’t do anything because we are impacting individuals’ experiences at Notre Dame, then I will be happy. I will graduate and be on my merry way.”