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Blais, Shewit, Juneja reflect on year in office

| Friday, May 18, 2018

 Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the print edition of The Observer on April 6.

When outgoing student body president Becca Blais and outgoing vice president Sibonay Shewit, both seniors, ran for office a year ago, their slogan was “Reach, Reinvent, Represent.” Reflecting on their year in office as their term draws to a close, Blais and Shewit agreed they had succeeded in reforming the way student government operated as well as making it more accessible for students.

“I would say I feel really fulfilled,” Blais said. “When I think about the past year, the moments that have been standing out to me the most are the conversations and the meetings with people who I had never encountered before, but they brought something forward and we were able to start working on it right away. We didn’t do things traditionally, and it was definitely a risk, but it worked.”

Diane Park | The Observer

Shewit said she was proud of their year in office.

“I do feel like we expanded what student government works on,” she said. “Student government is totally different than it’s been past years, and I think it’s made it more effective. Just looking at the group of students that we’ve worked with, both individuals and clubs, too, I would say that more students feel that student government is a place they can go to have their issues represented.”

An important change implemented in the past year, Blais said, was a restructuring of the executive cabinet. There were previously 17 cabinet departments; that number has now been reduced to 14. Under the old system, every department consisted only of a director and members; now, every department has a commissioner between the directors and members. Blais said this move created a “structure of accountability” because it means that more people have responsibility and projects get spread out.

Junior Prathm Juneja, the outgoing student government chief of staff, said this spirit of inclusivity has defined the efforts of the administration.

“Student government is now a place for everyone,” he said. “Probably the most important thing to the three of us during this year was including every voice. So, when I kind of reflect and think about our time as well as the University moving forward, what I’m thinking about is ‘Have we made Notre Dame a more inclusive place?’ I think we have.”

Shewit emphasized this fight for inclusion when she said that one of her proudest accomplishments of the administration was the advocacy done on behalf of DACA recipients. As a product of an unforeseen political event, these efforts were not discussed in the platform Blais and Shewit ran on last spring.

“This wasn’t a platform goal of ours, but everything that we did surrounding DACA, I think that’s probably what I’m most proud of, just because it was something we didn’t expect to be such a big part of our year,” Shewit said. “Kind of what Prathm was saying about how representing every student was so important. And I think that was our first opportunity to really stand by those words.”

Blais acknowledged that some policies discussed on the ticket’s platform were not ultimately implemented. However, she said this was due to the fact that upon further research and consultation with students, it was determined that the policies were not necessary or could be approached in a more effective way. She also said that some successful programs, such as “town hall on the go,” in which Blais and Shewit visited every dorm on campus and gathered feedback and ideas, were not proposed in the platform but formulated later.

“While we didn’t accomplish every single item we sought out to do, we found a better way to do it,” Blais said.

In addition to concrete policy accomplishments, Shewit said she was proud of the work the administration did to start important conversations on-campus.

“I think the biggest thing change I’ve seen is the number of hard conversations that take place within student government, and then the number of hard conversations that either start in student government and then are encouraged to take place in the classroom, or with different clubs, or just among students, that’s probably the biggest change,” Shewit said. “ … We had conversations surrounding sexual assault, DACA, the murals, representation. In the past, I feel like the biggest time for these conversations were through the board reports, but now I feel like they are almost every day.”

Juneja said that he thinks that this principle can also be applied to the issue of inclusion.

“I think conversations about inclusion were, at least during my first two years at Notre Dame, very much isolated into the groups that felt like we didn’t belong,” he said. “To see that conversations of inclusion are happening with a bunch of students who aren’t falling into the category who would be personally affected by that issue and continuously having hard conversations about that is definitely something I take a lot of happiness and a lot of pride in.”

An email was sent to the student body on Tuesday with a list of policies and accomplishments of the administration. Blais said the positive reaction to the email made her reflect on the ability of people to make changes.

“I’ve had a few conversations with people about our email that we just sent out,” she said. “The response that I got from it is exactly what I want people to remember: the idea that you can make a difference. Any student can come to this University and make a change in what they care about or on behalf of others. And that, I think, has fueled us in our time in student government and I hope it’s a wave that continues and I hope it’s something that people remember this term for. A lot of students got to make a difference.”

Blais, Shewit and Juneja also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to lead the student body over the past year and build a better, more inclusive campus community.

“The biggest thing I think I’ve taken away from these past four years, but especially this year in office, is that it’s very OK to not be OK with things,” Shewit said. “I love Notre Dame, but that doesn’t mean I have to be OK with every aspect of Notre Dame. Instead of sitting on that anger, I think I found an avenue to work on those issues. I’m so amazed at how many students care at this school. We love Notre Dame, and people dedicate so much time to making this a better place … and I feel so grateful to have had the chance to work alongside the students, and I hope that’s something that will continue to grow, that we’ll continue to work towards a Notre Dame that is inclusive for everyone.”

Blais said she is thankful for her time as student body president.

“I’m just so incredibly grateful for this experience and for the people who believed in us last year and elected us, and for everyone in the student body who has played a role and just everyone who is a student here who even if they never met us, even if they never looked at a student government event or initiative… they’re the core,” Blais said. “Everybody at this University is the core of why it works and why it functions so I’m just really thankful for the opportunity to serve this University and to get to know so many of its wonderful members.”

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About Tom Naatz

Tom is a sophomore at University of Notre Dame. He is majoring in Political Science and Spanish and is originally from Rockville, Maryland.

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