Blais, Shewit reflect on first half of term, discuss ongoing projects
Natalie Weber | Thursday, December 7, 2017
As the first half of their term draws to a close, student body president Becca Blais and vice president Sibonay Shewit said they have been working hard to integrate student feedback into their initiatives.
“We’re still in the process with the [student government] website and a few other things, but just [focusing on] changing the image of student government and going to Moreau classes,” Blais said. “We’ve been working with a lot of business classes now lately and just getting the name brand out there, redoing the social media.”
In order to increase their visibility and collect student input, the administration has conducted a “Town Hall On-The-Go” initiative and visited every hall council, Shewit said.
“Like we said when we were campaigning, people don’t think student government does anything, and part of us addressing that was focusing more on working on what students are saying that they want,” Shewit said. “ … I think we’ve found if we don’t put so much absolute effort on our communications and getting out to students, we can’t expect them to know what’s going on in our office.”
Throughout this semester, student government has also worked to foster connections with the South Bend community, junior and chief of staff Prathm Juneja said.
“The area I think we’ve had our strongest focus in is the community engagement and outreach portions,” he said. “Student governments often neglect the South Bend relationship and I think our director, [senior] Adam Moeller, has done just the most incredible job there.”
While the administration has not yet reached a partnership with the Awake campaign — a campaign that would donate five cents to a local community partner every time a student brings a reusable cup to a coffee vendor on campus, which was one of the administration’s main platform points — Juneja said student government has accomplished some of its other sustainability initiatives. These achievements, he said, include a Styrofoam ban, and working with campus dining to implement anaerobic digestion, an alternative to composting.
“We’re still working on the Awake campaign, but in the meantime, our director of sustainability was able to change the way the Huddle treats plastic bags,” Juneja said. “They were able to get people to stop offering bags. You used to always get a bag with your stuff at the Huddle — we were sending out thousands of bags a week and that’s not happening anymore.”
The cabinet has also implemented several of its diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as auditing resident assistant training and hiring a third diversity and inclusion officer, Blais said. In addition, the University’s statement of diversity and inclusion will also be incorporated into prospective students’ acceptance packages.
“They do the initial acceptance letter and then they follow immediately with your package and [the statement] is going to be in the package,” Blais said. “We’re still pushing for it to be in the initial acceptance letter, but we have the second one confirmed.”
Though the University Counseling Center (UCC) had already begun to discuss internal reviews, Blais said student government also played a key role in ensuring that the UCC underwent evaluation by the Jed Foundation, which is currently wrapping up its review.
While they have implemented certain items from their platform, however, many of the administration’s initiatives regarding sexual assault remain in the works.
According to their platform, one of Blais and Shewit’s top priorities was to implement Callisto — an online tool which allows students to submit time-stamped reports of sexual assault — by fall of 2017. However, Callisto is still being evaluated by the committee for sexual assault prevention (CSAP) and Blais said they hope to implement it in 2018 at the earliest.
“We had to go over the technology logistics and go over data security, over is it is right for Notre Dame?” Blais said. “Are there competing apps or services or anything, which we found there aren’t — things like that. So it is actually moving forward with a decision soon, which is extremely promising and exciting, especially for such a large new service to the University.”
Blais and Shewit also planned to create a way for students to call Notre Dame Security Police by typing a key code into buildings. However, they are now instead looking into implementing a safety app which will allow students to contact Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) on the go, Blais said.
“If they don’t pilot a new app — because there are challenges with looking at a new app — then they would either embed it directly into ND Mobile or they want to have a direct call button in ND Mobile for NDSP,” Blais said. “So we’re looking to bring the emergency call system to your pocket.”
After further conversations with University Health Services, Blais said, the cabinet also reevaluated its goal of implementing a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) rape kit administration program on campus, a platform point passed down from the Robinson-Blais administration.
“In terms of safety, it’s actually better to have [rape kits] at the hospital because those nurses are trained to use them,” Blais said. “And we could train our nurses but they administer them more often, so they have experience with them. You can’t mess up a rape kit, and they’re very easy to mess up. But we have transportation from campus to those rape kits that’s free of charge.”
Although the cabinet may not accomplish every item on its platform, Juneja said, it will work to advance each initiative as much as possible.
“I don’t think we will achieve every single bullet point on that platform, but I do think that we will leave on April 2 and feel like at least we started pushing on everything,” he said. “So I don’t think we’ll have any regrets.”
Although the Blais-Shewit administration has achieved many smaller goals so far, it has not yet accomplished much of what it promised to have done at this point in its term and has had to re-evaluate and adjust the timeline of several of its major platform points. The group has set a solid foundation for the rest of its term through outreach and relationship-building, but it remains to be seen whether or not it can follow through with the projects it has started.