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Student government candidates discuss platforms in election debate

| Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Four teams of candidates for student body president and vice president — freshmen Carlston Chang and Kevin O’Leary, juniors Mario Markho and Charlie Ortega Guifarro, juniors Eduardo Luna and Haley Coleman and junior Elizabeth Boyle and sophomore Patrick McGuire — gathered in the Midfield Commons of the Duncan Student Center on Monday evening to discuss their plans for improving campus life and addressing the needs of the student body. (Editor’s note: Ortega Guifarro is a former Sports Writer for The Observer and Patrick McGuire is a former Scene Writer.)

In the debate, led by Ellen Pil, vice president of elections, each pair of candidates was asked to answer a series of questions relating to their platform. Students were able to submit questions beforehand via an online form.

Chang and O’Leary held that their strength as a ticket lies in their inexperience with student government.

“We are a ticket that each of you sees yourself in: young, scared, handsome and so sick of North Dining Hall taking away mints that we will fight tooth and nail to bring them back,” Chang said.

The Luna-Coleman ticket emphasized their devotion to improving all parts of residential life for students.

“We’re working on improving campus residency [and] we’re working on improving campus dining,” Luna said. “We’re also working on improving a lot of different aspects with regards to diversity and inclusion, and, as the last point, we’re also working on doing a lot of transparency and communication with the student body as a whole.”

Markho said his campaign’s platform is divided into three distinct parts: “action”, “building” and “clarity.”

“We want to act to actually make change at Notre Dame that’s practical,” he said. “ … The second thing we want to do is actually build … The current administration and past administrations have done fantastic things to make progress at Notre Dame, and we think that we can build on those to make this an actually better place. … the third thing we want to do is to have clarity in student government.”

With a focus on student empowerment, the Boyle-McGuire ticket aims to usher in improved gender relations and dorm reform.

“These are things that, in our experience as students at Notre Dame, in Hall Council and all the different things that we’ve done, we’ve seen to be super important,” Boyle said.

The tickets were then asked to discuss what their immediate priorities would be if elected and share their plans for the beginning of the next academic year.

Markho said he and Ortega Guifarro have already started work on their initiative to increase student government funding for campus clubs.

“We’ve already reached out to Sam Scaglione and the Club Coordination Council to talk about increasing club funding,” he said.

Come next fall, the team would continue efforts to preserve the learning resource center and other safety nets for students that the end of the First Year of Studies could potentially endanger.

“We want to work on academic policies for the new year. We want to have honor code transparency and things we think, as students, are just common sense,” Markho said.

As freshmen, Chang and O’Leary hope to use their familiarity with the Moreau First Year Experience to help develop the class into a full-fledged minor.

O’Leary said his ticket’s plans for next semester will focus on implementing a compromise for the Columbus murals controversy.

“We would suggest maybe replacing part of [the murals] with a selection of tasteful selfies by Fr. Jenkins,” he said.

Boyle and McGuire said that, if elected, their first task would be to recruit a team of students for their administration.

“The first thing that Patrick and I would do is be meeting with students all across campus who are interested in getting involved in student gov.,” she said.

The ticket would also continue their work on reforming parietals amnesty, with their main goal being allowing students to leave a dangerous situation without having to file a Title IX report, she added.

McGuire said he and Boyle plan to start next fall by creating a “department of student empowerment.”

“This would look at a lot of different issues, such as different funding for student organizations and activities, different credit options for low-socioeconomic students, for different activities on campus,” he said.

As for the Luna-Coleman ticket, the pair would focus their efforts on reorganizing certain student government offices, with hopes to make them more accessible to the “average Notre Dame student,” Luna said.

“One of the initiatives that we’d like to take … is actually seeing a lot of the restructuring of how executive cabinet in student government works as a whole,” he said.

Later, the two would work to implement a “student worker initiative leadership program” to incentivize student employment on campus.

“I would like to see a lot more people that are coming from a lot more backgrounds within campus, and see them not only get paid for what they do, but also help make campus a different and better place,” Luna said.

Candidates were then asked to explain how their administration will advocate for student mental health.

The Chang-O’Leary ticket was first to speak, arguing that an effective way to improve students’ mental health would be to create a safari on South Quad.

“One thing that’s been proven to help with mental illness … [is] working with animals,” O’Leary said.

Coleman said she and Luna seek to address this issue by empowering student mental health groups.

“We’re trying to secure more funding for these clubs so that they can get done what they really need to get done,” Coleman said.

Ensuring better healthcare for students is one way the Boyle-McGuire ticket plans to make strides in this area, McGuire said.

“The University should increase accessibility and help students afford service that would be long-term care that the University Counseling Center would provide,” he said.

Moreover, the team would talk to the University about letting students’ grades stand when they need to take a break from academics mid-semester.

Markho and Ortega Guifarro plan to add another Mental Health Awareness week second semester and incorporate more mental health education into the Moreau First Year of Studies curriculum, Ortega Guifarro said. The candidates also plan to increase funding to the University Counseling Center, he added.

The pair also hopes to hire another campus psychiatrist for sexual assault survivors, Markho said.

“We believe that survivors of sexual assault need a way to go through a healing process immediately after the event,” he said.

Each ticket also discussed how they hope to promote unity within the student body.

Coleman said she and Luna aim to combat divisions on campus by encouraging free speech and providing more opportunity for open discussion.

“We’re working with clubs like BridgeND specifically to combat [political division],” she said.

Markho said the most important way his ticket encourages unity is by leaving politics out of their platform entirely.

The team also plans to provide “priority funding towards diversity and inclusion” groups, he added.

McGuire said he and Boyle hope to prevent division at Notre Dame by addressing campus issues in the context of their real impacts on people.

“When we talk about protecting survivors of sexual assault, it’s not a political issue, it is an issue of human dignity,” he said.

O’Leary said his ticket is strongly opposed to division.

“We don’t even like math,” he said.

Tickets were then asked to discuss any plans they have to address the three-year housing requirement.

The Boyle-McGuire ticket hopes to improve dorm equality on campus by implementing a means for better communication between residence hall communities and the administration, including the possibility of creating dorm discretionary funds.

“By creating standards for input and feedback, we can not only make sure these are effective renovations but that they actually achieve the goal of dorm discrepancies,” McGuire said.

Luna said he and Coleman plan to reform dorm life in a variety of ways, including providing air conditioning for all residence halls, improving water fountains and making all laundry services free.

Ortega Guifarro said the Markho-Ortega administration would promote gender equality between dorms “not through restrictions but through freedom,” with plans to enable more parties in women’s dorms in particular.

To close the debate, candidates considered the criteria they would use to judge the success of their administrations if elected.

Citing many of her campaign promises, Boyle said the most important gauge of her administration’s success would be if it effectively worked to improve gender relations.

“For us, if by the time we finish our time in office, the rates of sexual assaults have decreased and the rates of reporting assaults have increased, that means that students are finally beginning to feel that they can trust their home,” she said.

Luna said students can be sure of Luna-Coleman administration’s success if they “see changes within the dining hall” later this year.

Markho said he hopes the student body holds him and Ortega Guifarro accountable for each of their campaign promises.

“We can do everything on our platform,” he said.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary