Student senate approves resolutions, discusses issues
Claire Rafford | Thursday, December 6, 2018
When student body vice president and senior Corey Gayheart came into office, one of his objectives was to make Student Senate a less formal environment, allowing for more conversation and a less rigid structure.
“Part of our goals for Senate [was] just to rethink the body itself and make it a little bit more conversational in nature and less authoritative, if that makes sense,” he said. “It was so serious that people didn’t find it enjoyable and we felt that because they didn’t find it enjoyable, they weren’t contributing as much. … We had to hopefully strike the right balance with the tone of it and I think we’ve done that.”
Gayheart said adding the Diversity Council chair to Senate has been one of the semester’s biggest accomplishments as it increased student representation and brought a new perspective to the group.
“One of the big things that we did last April was adding the Diversity Council chair to the nonvoting block of the Senate,” Gayheart said. “I think that was one of the largest and most beneficial changes, one, because [the Diversity Council needs] to be included in the conversation, and two … they’re going to provide much-needed influence [on] the conversation.”
Gayheart said Student Government also hopes to appoint senators to represent academic colleges next semester.
Policy-wise, the committees within Senate — Residential Life, Sustainability, Student Finances and Student Safety and Wellness — have gotten a slow start this year, Gayheart said.
“[The committees] have taken more time than I anticipated, with policy and whatnot, but they are finally coming to the table,” Gayheart said. “ … They have some very tangible goals and they’re getting ready to roll some of those out next semester. They’ll be doing some surveys with the student body before they draft the policy, and so that’s been a work in progress.”
This semester, Senate passed a resolution inherited from last year’s administration proposing that professors include information about mental health resources on campus in their syllabi.
“It had passed through the Faculty Senate last year and then it just kind of got lost in the shuffle, so working with the Faculty Senate, we passed it through the Senate and we also passed it through Campus Life Council, and so it went to the Office of Student Affairs desk but also the provost,” Gayheart said. “So, we’re looking at next January, professors should have the mental health information on their syllabi, which we’re very excited about.”
In terms of other resolutions, Gayheart said he wants the senators to take control of Senate’s policy agenda in the spring semester.
“I think a lot of it will come next semester, if I’m being honest,” Gayheart said. “Policy-wise, I wanted it to be more so be driven by the senators and less by me.”
As for his own priorities, Gayheart said he is interested in creating new sustainability initiatives on Notre Dame’s campus. He said he plans to combine different areas of Student Government by having senators work with Executive Cabinet to achieve this goal.
“From a policy perspective, I think the sustainability thing is very important,” Gayheart said. “Our new Director for Social Concerns, Kevin Gallagher — he’s been doing a lot in this area. He’s already started working on a national sustainability coalition with a couple different schools and doing an audit of some other schools to see if we can do a zero-waste stadium initiative and working with the Office of Sustainability on actually implementing those.”
Gayheart said another issue Senate will be focusing on in the upcoming semester is the cost of laundry on Notre Dame’s campus — looking to either make it free, decrease the price, include the cost of laundry in tuition or roll the cost of laundry into a fee at the beginning of each semester.
“The laundry aspect is one of the most important things to us. It’s probably not going to happen this year,” he said. ”That being said, if we can plant the seed and have it happen a year to two years after us, that would be a huge improvement for so many students.”
Gayheart said a strong point of this year’s senators is their openness.
“People feel comfortable sharing their opinion, even if it is divergent from the norm, which is very important to me,” he said.
Gayheart said Senate has faced some significant challenges this semester. The group has had to rotate meeting locations each week, which he said has caused confusion among the group.
“One of the weaknesses, again, is the rotating location,” Gayheart said. “I think that has hindered a lot because people are wondering where it is. There’s a different feel to Senate.”
In terms of projects, Gayheart said an additional obstacle has been motivating senators to take control of policy aims and ideas.
“One of the other weaknesses has been getting senators to understand that they have the ability to draft resolutions and policy. … I’ve really been pushing that in one-on-one settings, being like, ‘Hey, what are your thoughts and ideas?’ And then trying to get them to move it into a more policy-oriented realm. More of that will be coming next semester,” he said.
Gayheart said Senate is important because it gives a voice to many different members of the Notre Dame community, including the residence halls, off-campus students, class councils, Student Union Board and more.
“I think in terms of representation, [Senate is] the most representative body, and that means something because we have to make sure that we are doing what we need to be doing for the student body,” he said. “And I think [Senate provides] a much-needed check and balance on, one, what [Student Government is] doing, but also they provide their input and opinions on what we’re doing. And that’s so invaluable because we have to make sure that we are doing what the student body wants us to to be doing.”
Next semester, Gayheart said Senate is scheduled to hear a presentation from vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding regarding the results of the Inclusive Campus Student Survey, released earlier this semester. In addition, he said the Senate hopes to bring in Campus Dining, Rec Sports, Residential Life and Building Services to speak, among other guests.
Concerning Student Senate’s impact on the Notre Dame community as a whole, Gayheart said the policies passed by the Senate are influential and aim to improve the quality of life for a Notre Dame student as well as giving them a voice in the conversation.
“It may have been two to three resolutions a semester, but if that hadn’t happened, there would have been less push behind the mental health information on the syllabi. That’s where that originated,” Gayheart said. “Looking to next semester, the free laundry costs, things like that, or the Campus Dining presentation that Eduardo Luna did, that is something that is so invaluable because information gets disseminated to the residence halls in that way, and vice versa, information from the halls and whatnot comes to the Senate. I’d say that’s the first round of where issues come to light and we can see how we can fix that.”
Partly due to challenges such as changing locations and the resignation of senators, the Senate seems to have gotten off to a slow start this academic year, in terms of policy. Still, the mental health syllabi resolution is a major accomplishment for the group, and senators have been able to have important discussions and debates with influential administrators and groups on campus. The administration’s goals for the upcoming semester are solid. Hopefully, they can implement them effectively.