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Student government administration uplifts student voices, plans inclusive discussions

| Friday, November 1, 2019

Since senior Elizabeth Boyle and junior Patrick McGuire took office as Notre Dame student body president and vice president this past April, the pair said they have been working toward their stated goals of empowering students, improving gender relations and reforming the dorm system. They elaborated on their plans and recounted current progress in a recent interview with The Observer.

Boyle said they kicked off the year by creating a Department of Student Empowerment, led by senior Godsee Joy, as promised during their campaign. In terms of gender relations, senior Anne Jarrett recently led the passage of a resolution in the student senate whereby all enumerated student leaders must be GreeNDot trained in order to hold their positions. Boyle said the Department of Gender Relations is also working on reforming the parietals amnesty clause to allow students to leave a dangerous situation without triggering a Title IX report.

“In the near future the Gender Relations Department will be hosting PrideFest, working with the administration when new Title IX changes are released, secure access to free menstrual products on campus, and will continue their close working relationship with Prism ND,” Boyle added in response to a follow-up email.

The executive board has also been working closely with the student senate and University administration in light of the new dorm and residential changes.

While Boyle said they will continue to work on ideas for dorm reform, she said starting the year off with Residential Life’s policy changes has been a challenge for their administration, along with the recent discussion surrounding the treatment of LGBTQ students on campus, which included several viewpoint pieces published in The Observer.

“We have a really strong partnership with [PrismND], and we’ve done a lot of partnering with them and the GRC this year, and that’s something we’re going to continue to do,” Boyle said. “But I think it’s been a bit disheartening for us to see what some of the rhetoric on campus has been.”

In order to address discourse on campus, McGuire said student government is currently planning events to give students a chance to converse in a mediated setting, especially because the University will be hosting a presidential debate in the fall of next year. The conversations will be similar in nature to the Converge program, which aims to foster cross-party dialogue among community members.

“We’re looking to create sort of a series of conversations with trained dialogue facilitators,” McGuire said. “We’re looking at brother-sister dorm pairs with a model similar to the Converge conversations we’ve hosted this year, as well … we’re actually looking to do small groups rather than pairs for easier facilitation, but in a more personal setting. We’d also like to lean on the community settings in dorms, so you have political conversations and just general discourse that is more fruitful and respectful.”

While McGuire said they are still in the beginning stages of this initiative, leaders from BridgeND, ConvergeND, College Democrats and College Republicans have agreed to partner with student government. He said they also hope to partner with the political science department for these discussions.

Boyle also said she and McGuire have been working to strengthen relationships across campus, particularly with different publications on campus, including the Irish Rover.

“I’m just generally trying to take a more respectful approach to how we talk about difficult things and how we work with each other in the spirit of the Notre Dame, brothers and sisters mission and ethos, and that’s been really successful in terms of bridge-building and kind of repairing relationships and making it stronger,” Boyle said.

In keeping with their administration’s goal of facilitating collaboration rather than dissension, McGuire said student government in partnership with the Snite Museum of Art hosted a conversation involving art as a medium for conversation in the beginning of October, which they hope to continue on a monthly basis.

“This past month, we did a conversation surrounding gun violence centered on a piece of art at the Snite,” McGuire said. “That was sort of inspired by the same spirit of bringing people together and having really authentic conversations.”

McGuire said he’s also proud of the initiatives coming from the Department of Campus Technology and Innovation, which include working on bigger picture changes they’re hoping will come to fruition in the coming semester, including a mega-calendar for coordinating student events, a ride-sharing app for students and an improved sexual assault reporting system.

Chief of staff Linde Hoffman, a senior, said she’s most excited about the work being done in the Department of Diversity and Inclusion, under senior Kenzie Isaac.

“Kenzie is working on creating a Civil Rights Commission, which is really exciting. She’s partnering with Access-ABLE, which is a club focused on increasing accessibility on campus for people with disabilities,” Hoffman said. “She’s leading a Diversity Council Committee to create a ‘Know Your Rights’ handbook for interactions with NDPD and police departments off-campus. She’s working on a ‘Strikeout the Stigma’ series with the UCC on mental health stigma.”

Along with the “Know Your Rights” handout, Boyle said student government is working on improving relationships with NDPD by planning another campus safety summit for students to learn about policies and procedures.

As Boyle and McGuire ran with a long-term goal to reform the non-discrimination clause in the University’s bylaws to include sexual orientation and gender identity, Boyle said they have been looking into legal questions surrounding the clause in order to create their ideal policy.

“This has been a fight for 13-plus years,” Boyle said. “We’ve been speaking with faculty senate representatives, student leader representatives and alumni to get as many people as we can, as many perspectives as we can because it shouldn’t just come from us.”

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About Serena Zacharias

Serena is a member of the class of 2021 majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She hails from the great cheese state of Wisconsin and is a former ND News Editor for The Observer.

Contact Serena