Student body president delivers State of the Student Union Address
Mary Steurer | Thursday, March 21, 2019
With student government turnover on the horizon, student body president senior Gates McGavick reflected on his administration’s accomplishments in a State of the Student Union address Wednesday evening in the LaFortune Ballroom.
In an effort to promote student government transparency and student body engagement, McGavick and student body vice president senior Corey Gayheart opened the event to the public for the first time.
McGavick opened by noting improved student government accessibility as a particular focus of his administration. To encourage greater student body engagement, McGavick said he, Gayheart and chief of staff senior Briana Tucker met with groups around campus once a week over lunch.
“It quickly became the favorite part of our week,” McGavick said. “We feel it’s important that student government’s connected to more of its students.”
The administration also pushed for a greater presence on social media, he added.
“We posted more frequently on every platform than any previous administration in Notre Dame’s history,” he said.
McGavick said these efforts, as well as his team’s commitment to live streaming student senate and other public meetings, have made strides in improving student government’s online visibility.
“More student are getting information from student government than ever before,” he said. “More students are interacting with student government online than ever before.”
The McGavick-Gayheart administration also collaborated with the University on several of their initiatives this year, McGavick said.
The team worked closely with Campus Dining to make changes at the dining halls as well as at retail dining locations. Most notably, McGavick said, their work with Campus Dining helped bring Pizza Pi, a new restaurant expected to open in May, to campus.
“We were thrilled to work with [Campus Dining director Chris Abayasinghe] on Pizza Pi, the restaurant replacing Reckers in the spring, which will offer alcohol to students over 21,” McGavick said.
Partnering with the Notre Dame Police Department, student government also held its first Campus Safety Summit last fall, where students were able to speak with a panel of campus safety representatives. McGavick said student government plans to host a similar event later this semester.
McGavick said he considers promoting diversity on campus to be another one of his administration’s greatest accomplishments. The Diversity Council helped to organize and co-sponsor a number of events promoting multiculturalism and inclusion, including Walk the Walk Week and Race Relations Week, he said. He and Gayheart also recently met with the Board of Trustees to discuss the results of the Inclusive Campus Climate Survey, he added.
“We believe it is of utmost importance that Notre Dame be … committed to fostering a more diverse, more inclusive culture,” he said.
Moving on, McGavick commended student senate for its work this year, which he said passed a number of significant resolutions.
“The senate recently passed a resolution recognizing Notre Dame as being built on Potawatomi land,” he said. The resolution was “an important sign of respect” to the Potawatomi people, McGavick added.
Senate also passed a resolution to include a module on sustainability in the Moreau First Year Experience as well as a resolution calling for professors to include mental health resources in their syllabi.
“Students who need help, especially those who have just arrived at college, should be able to get it,” McGavick said.
McGavick said he was especially proud of his administration’s “fiscal prudence.”
“Our budget this year was tens of thousands of dollars lower than the last student governments’ budgets,” he said.
He also noted his team’s commitment to political neutrality, particularly their policy to not comment on national political events not directly related to the University, encouraging future administrations to do the same.
“A partisan student government is inherently liable to value the opinions of some students over others,” he said. “To avoid this unfair outcome, we believe it is absolutely imperative that student government continue to be an apolitical organization.”
Despite this, McGavick said he felt it was important for his administration to take a stance against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was accused of sexual abuse last June and officially defrocked by the Vatican via a canonical trial in February.
Since allegations against McCarrick surfaced, several members of the Notre Dame community urged the University to revoke the honorary degree awarded to him in 2008. Student government joined those voices in February with an Observer Letter to the Editor calling for the removal of the degree and holding meetings with Campus Ministry and other University organizations on the matter, McGavick said.
Though the University revoked the degree following the results of the canonical trial, McGavick criticized it for not acting sooner. If the University is to celebrate its past as a moral leader, McGavick said, it must continue to act in accordance with its Catholic mission.
“Our moral victories cannot exist only in the past,” he said.
McGavick and Gayheart’s term will end April 1, when president and vice-president elect junior Elizabeth Boyle and sophomore Patrick McGuire will officially take office. McGavick said though he and Gayheart leave the student union in “strong” condition, he looks forward to what Boyle and McGuire will accomplish.
“If you don’t know Elizabeth and Pat … know this: they’re passionate, hard-working and deeply devoted to the well-being of this community,” he said.