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Student body presidential candidates make final campaign pitches in runoff debate

| Friday, February 23, 2018

The remaining student body presidential candidates and their respective running mates made their final campaign pitches to the public Thursday in a Judicial Council runoff debate in the Duncan Student Center.

The debate was held a day before Friday’s runoff election, which will determine the 2018-2019 student body president and vice president. The contenders, juniors Alex Kruszewski, with running mate Julia Dunbar, and juniors Gates McGavick, with running mate Corey Gayheart, discussed topics such as mental health, sexual assault, dorm inequality, campus unity and the feasibility of their ideas.

Chris Collins | The Observer

Alex Kruszewski and Julia Dunbar, left, and Gates McGavick and Corey Gayheart participate in the student government runoff debate Thursday night in the Duncan Student Center before Friday’s election.

Dunbar said student life is only one of the pillars of the Kruszewski-Dunbar platform and that the ticket was shifting away from “surface-level stuff.”

“We got to sit back to re-brand ourselves a little bit [this past week],” Kruszewski added. “The ideas are the same and they have been there all along in the plans that we have had on our website, but we decided that we wanted to restructure [our platform].”

According to the Kruszewski-Dunbar website, the ticket re-focused itself around “five passions” — well-being, sexual assault prevention and student safety, student life, diversity and inclusion and sustainability — rather than just student life.

McGavick said he and Gayheart have stayed with their platform’s pillars and that student life and other critically important issues are not “mutually exclusive.”

“Students know what’s best for them and that’s why we’re in this,” Gayheart said. “We want student government to be a voice for all students no matter what.”

To improve mental health resources on campus, Gayheart said the ticket is focusing on making University Health Services (UHS) and the University Counseling Center more “proactive instead of reactive” through methods such as increasing UHS booths at campus events.

Meanwhile, Dunbar said campus resources are being underutilized, and there must be increased awareness and accessibility to them.

“A lot of students don’t know about these resources because they are structural impediments to the UHS being able to reach out to students, to McWell being able to reach out to students,” she said.

When asked about the achievability of “lofty campaign goals,” Kruszewski said asking more of student government and addressing big questions that may not seem feasible is the first step.

“We can’t just focus on being transparent, we can’t just focus on being approachable,” he said. “Feasibility comes starting with asking the question of administrators and asking the difficult questions … and working collaboratively with the administration.”

Repealing the University Housing policy and improving dorm maintenance shouldn’t be lofty goals, McGavick said, as there is common consensus among students regarding these issues.

“A way to make a lot of these bigger goals more feasible is seeing clear, tangible progress from student government in getting the little things right,” McGavick said. “ … Once we have a better connection between the campus and student government, then we can really get to amplify student voices on each issue.”

Both tickets agreed there are inequalities between male and women’s residence halls. McGavick said there should be a more equitable application of the rule and increased awareness of parietals amnesty.

“Sometimes things are exercised way more strictly in women’s halls than they are in men’s halls and that’s a discrepancy,” he said. “That is a problem because it sends the wrong message about the way that we’re training our hall staffs.”

Reforming hall staff training is a great place to start, Dunbar said, but concerns should be raised regarding dorm structural obstacles as well.

“When they’re building new dorms, they think that girls want kitchens instead of more gym space,” Dunbar said. “Maybe, but I don’t know who came up with that … they’re playing off these stereotypes that don’t really fit the mold of the average Notre Dame student.”

Kruszewski said there needs to be structural answers regarding sexual assault as well, and programs such as GreeNDot awareness, Callisto and Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) classes need to be improved. Gayheart said he wants to expand GreeNDot, parietals amnesty and the Title IX campaign.

“ … Notre Dame should be an active leader in the national discourse on Title IX and we will make sure that we do that,” Gayheart said.

Regarding campus unity, Gayheart said though a lot of people don’t want to talk in the political environment, he and McGavick are prepared to do so as McGavick is more conservative and Gayheart is more liberal. In response, Kruszewski said the first step to promoting campus unity is stepping away and not recognizing politics.

“[Gayheart] makes a really interesting point that political differences shouldn’t matter and that’s why Julia and I haven’t told you what our political orientations are,” Kruszewski said. “We also want to listen … the difference is that we want to listen to these ideas on campus and take them into account which is why we had a moving platform since day one … we will stand for issues universally agreed upon.”

In their closing statements, Dunbar said the passions she and Kruszewski will focus on get to the core of “what hurts” in a student’s life.

“[Improvements in student life] are things that we definitely want, but it’s one of [our platform’s] 15 departments,” Kruszewski said. “… if you care about other passions in life, if you care more about sexual assault and how that can impact the daily life of a student, potentially even more than paying a couple of extra dollars for a sandwich, we’re the candidates for you.”

Gayheart said leaders must be willing to take a stance, even when it is not popular.

“The definition of a true leader is someone who stands up when others aren’t willing to stand with them,” Gayheart said. “ … Student government should be a leader on this campus and it shouldn’t be blowing whichever way the winds are blowing. It should be standing up for all students.”

There is a difference between evolving on issues and totally shifting from them, McGavick said in his final statement, and consistency is what he and Gayheart will project if elected.

“We really want to emphasize that we’re trying to bring a wide campus perspective into student government and that’s what’s been missing over the past couple of years,” he said.

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she is currently serving as Associate News Editor at the Observer and is pursuing a double major in political science and film, television and theatre with minors in journalism and computing.

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