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Boyle and McGuire outline plans for the year ahead

| Thursday, August 29, 2019

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

Student body president Elizabeth Boyle, a senior, and vice president Patrick McGuire, a junior, campaigned on promises to make Notre Dame more equitable and inclusive for all students. Now as the academic year begins, they’re working to implement their agenda and facing the challenges of governance.

As part of their platform, Boyle and McGuire said they want to represent student interests by paying attention to issues that, in previous years, have been overlooked. After taking office this past April, they created a new department of student empowerment to oversee student-related needs, including club funding, international opportunities, student art and arts engagement. 

“We noticed there were a lot of needs … that were kind of in-between, and kind of falling through the cracks of different departments,” McGuire said. “We wanted a department that would be flexible and able to adapt to the needs of students in order to generally serve to empower students.”

Particularly, the pair said they are focused on the needs of underrepresented students. For example, their director of gender relations, senior Anne Jarrett, has previously worked on issues related to the LGBTQ community on campus. Boyle said Jarrett is bringing a fresh perspective to the department.

“We have members from all communities represented in [Jarrett’s] department in particular, which has been incredibly exciting to see,” Boyle said. “There’s definitely a lot of exciting movement including voices that Notre Dame perhaps hasn’t seen before.”

McGuire added senior Kenzie Isaac, who directs the department of diversity and inclusion, is pushing a variety of projects.

“[Isaac has] been working really hard on the creation of a civil rights commission, as well as a lot of other intersectional programming and events,” McGuire said. “For instance, she’s very passionate about the intersection of mental health and race. I’m really excited to see the changes she makes on campus.”

Boyle and McGuire also commented on the recent changes made to the University’s housing policy. Last May, University administrators several residential life policy changes. Under these proposed changes, off-campus students would be excluded from on-campus community programming, including interhall sports and dorm dances.

Boyle and McGuire said they feel the policies could further isolate students vulnerable to exclusion on campus. For instance, Boyle said members LGBTQ community may find dorms to be “too heteronormative and not safe spaces.”

Boyle said she and McGuire are also encouraging administrators to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Notre Dame’s non-discrimination clause, which they say would foster inclusion and sensitivity.

“I think when we begin to legally recognize that our family members who may be LGBTQ — and [all] members of that community — are fully welcomed and respected here, then we can shift the culture [so that] asking those … policy questions isn’t taboo, and isn’t thought about last, but is at the center,” Boyle said.

Additionally, Boyle and McGuire are concerned about students who move off campus for financial reasons. While McGuire said he appreciates the financial incentives the University is offering students who stay on campus, he believes they still have a long way to go.

 “I think [the incentives are] a start to try and address the really fundamental challenge [that] … it’s so much cheaper to live off campus. How are you going to keep kids on campus?” McGuire said.

Regardless of why students choose to move off campus, Boyle and McGuire say they’re committed to representing those students’ perspectives to administrators.

 “I think there’s a general sense from off-campus students … that they feel like they’re being forcefully disengaged from some of the community here,” Boyle said. “I think when you step out of the bounds of the Notre Dame zip code and Notre Dame, it doesn’t mean that you sever your ties as a Notre Dame student, and it should never mean that, quite frankly.”

Junior Aaron Benavides, student government’s press secretary and communications director, said the discussion about housing will be ongoing.

 “We want students to continue to provide feedback,” Benavides said, “This policy was announced at the end of last semester but this is going on for months and years to come.”

Although Boyle and McGuire said they disagree with some administration policies, they want to collaborate with administrators on a variety of issues.

 “I think we can still have a really good working relationship with administrators even though we can acknowledge our points of disagreement,” McGuire said.

On the issue of sustainability, Boyle and McGuire said they plan to support the University’s existing initiatives, such as the Grind2Energy system that will convert food waste into usable energy. They’ve also taken other steps: switching the school’s print New York Times subscription to digital and working to make recycling more effective and accessible on campus.

“It’s good to have a grand, strategic vision of sustainability,” McGuire said. “In order to have as grand an effect as possible, we’ve tried to start as small as possible.”

Boyle and McGuire have a number of additional policy changes planned, like expanding Green Dot sexual assault bystander training to local bars. In September, the team plans to hold a voter registration guide on campus. They are also focusing on community-building initiatives, organizing the “Friday Flick on the Field” screening of “Rudy” which is scheduled for Aug. 30.

As they look forward to the year ahead, Boyle and McGuire said they feel hopeful their team will be able to make real changes.

 “There will be roadblocks you don’t always expect, but I think we’re ready to take them on, and I think we’re ready to work with as many people as possible to find solutions,” McGuire said.

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