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Senate discusses recent student protests

| Thursday, November 21, 2019

In its weekly meeting Wednesday, the Notre Dame student senate met to pass a resolution to standardize impeachment across the student union and to remove references to the Orientation Steering Committee as a special-interest group. After both resolutions were passed in about 10 minutes, the senate prepared to leave when Patrick Paulsen, the Off Campus Council secretary, and the proxy for the Off Campus president at the meeting, Katie O’Sullivan, asked to discuss the recent student protests in Stanford Hall concerning parietals and hate speech.

“Students want their voices heard, and this is the forum where that is supposed to happen, so it is our imperative to discuss that and what we think about it,” Paulsen said. “Especially given the fact that they are going to protest again and likely could be threatened with expulsion, and the fact that students have to be under the threat of expulsion to express their voices is not only an insult on the administration as a whole but, if we don’t take that seriously, it is also an insult on us as student government.”

Following some brief concerns about the proper parliamentary procedure for enacting the debate, the senators began discussing whether the debate should be held. A number of senators were not completely familiar with the situation or the protesters’ demands, so student body president senior Elizabeth Boyle provided context to any senators who were not familiar with the situation.

After Boyle and her chief of staff senior Linde Hoffman explained the protests, some senators requested to meet with a representative from the protesting group.

“This is something really important that we are seeing happen on campus that we need to talk about,” Jackson Oxler, a sophomore senator from Duncan Hall, said. “I think it might be a little premature for us to have this conversation without somebody from the group or organization.”

(Editor’s note: Jackson Oxler is a news writer for The Observer.)

However, after being reminded by Hoffman the senate would not be meeting again for two weeks due to Thanksgiving break, the senate decided to have the discussion and moved into debate of the protest. Debate began with Paulsen commenting on the role of student government.

“There is a conversation going on about students’ rights as protesters, and then there’s the issue of what they’re protesting,” Paulsen said. “That’s what student government should be for: The fact that people now have a voice and they need it expressed. That’s what student government is for: Expressing student voices, and the fact that they have to go outside of that looks bad on us, and I think it’s imperative for us as student leaders to talk about what students are saying and to see where we stand on it.”

Senior Quentin Cole, the off campus senator, made it clear the senate condemns the slurs leveled that night.

“Going back to homophobic slurs, I think every single person in this room thinks that’s reprehensible and thinks that we should all condemn that,” Cole said. “As for the other parts of the end, I’m not as familiar … they disagree with parietals; I personally don’t like parietals, but maybe calling them racist and homophobic might do a disservice to those words.”

Hoffman spoke about the executive council’s and rectors’ role in the protest.

“We’ve essentially been working nonstop since Saturday to try to figure out exactly what we should be doing about it. The biggest thing, however, is that we don’t want to be speaking for any of these groups because we want to lift up their voices as much as possible because we don’t want to act as surrogates for them when they deserve their voices to be heard just as much as student government,” Hoffman said. “Because we are like the main point of contact with the administration, they speak to us a lot. And so we end up being the liaison between both groups to each other.”

Hoffman said she hoped to bring a representative into the conversation in the future.

“It might be good to get some of the representatives from this movement involved in these kinds of conversations,” Hoffman said. “I know that like, we can’t necessarily ask any of them to come now, but I think it would be great if we would be able to perhaps follow up and be able to respond to senate in an email to you guys, if they’re willing to share some of the reasoning behind why they’re doing all the things that they’re doing. But also the Observer [Letter to the Editor] that was put out today … provides a pretty good explanation for where they’re coming from.”

Many senators wondered how to properly protest, especially since this protest broke parietals.

“That kind of gets into the core of what we should be focusing on as a senate here. Sure they were breaking rules, but what they were doing was protesting. It’s necessary in protesting to break the rules. If you don’t believe that, then read a history book, that’s how protests work,” Paulsen said. “I think the fact that students can be threatened with expulsion for peaceful civil disobedience [is] abhorrent, and I think as a senate, we have to say we support students’ right to protest — even if that maybe goes outside the bounds.”

Several senators pointed out since the University is private, it allows them to have more leverage — effective protesting still does break the rules, which enables the administration to give out punishments, they said.

“By definition, you’re breaking a rule, and while the punishment may not necessarily fit the crime, it is the administration’s responsibility to choose what the punishment is,” Keegan McArdle, a sophomore senator from Dunne Hall, said. “If they deem expulsion fit, I mean, we may not see it that way, but if they wanted that to happen, then they can do that. It’s not like we have a right to be here. This is a private Catholic University.”

The continuing discussion was briefly interrupted by Paulsen giving his final thoughts on the role of the government in the matter before leaving the room.

“… We keep talking about the administration, we say they can do this to us. They can do this. Who are they? Who’s Notre Dame? We’re Notre Dame,” Paulsen said. “… I’ve heard thousands of other students complain to the student government. And every single time their response is, ‘we have to go through the channels in place,’ and maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s all we can do. But I’ve also seen the University step all over students’ interests, repeatedly ignore our voices and repeatedly do decisions that no one supports. I’d like to see once in my career at Notre Dame that student government opposes that. That’s all I have to say.”

The speech prompted sophomore Thomas Davis, the parliamentarian, to remind the senate about the official channels available to the senate and how valuable they are despite Paulsen’s comments. Junior Halena Hadi, judicial council president, said it is powerful for the entire student union to be in solidarity with each other on the issue.

The student senate then elected to postpone further debate for the night.

McArdle agreed to postpone the debate, but proposed an emergency senate meeting before the upcoming break to continue the discussion with a representative from the protesters.

The senate adjourned agreeing to decide on a time for the emergency meeting. Should this be the case, the meeting would be closed door.

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