Boyle, McGuire discuss mid-year progress
Tom Naatz | Thursday, December 12, 2019
Elected on a promise to empower the student body, Notre Dame student body president Elizabeth Boyle and vice president Patrick McGuire have sought to put their agenda into action. The senior and junior along with their chief of staff, senior Linde Hoffman, said they have worked to build an inclusive Notre Dame over the course of their term thus far.
“I have felt that this year student government has become much more open and welcoming in trying to engage with students and meet students where they are, rather than students have to come to student government,” Boyle said.
While it is not a specific policy change or achievement, Boyle said the welcoming attitude has allowed the administration to better serve student needs.
“I think a lot of that is the student empowerment model, and engagement and just intentionality from all of our directors to include the voices of students who haven’t done [student government] in the past, which is really awesome,” she said. “But a lot of people … who have been involved with student government all four years, or maybe one, or alumni [remark] how the office itself feels different. It feels like it’s a place where you can come and you feel supported and you’re excited to work and engage.”
McGuire agreed, saying the administration has tried to lift up student voices.
“We’ve taken a very deliberate approach to … empowering our directors, empowering different student groups and empowering individual students,” McGuire said.
Boyle and McGuire ran for office on an agenda that The Observer described as “ambitious” during the campaign. However, despite the wide breadth of proposed projects, Boyle said nearly three quarters are at some stage of the implementation process.
“The other day, we were pulling things that our departments are doing, comparing it to the platform,” she said. “… I mean little things like, ‘fix the puddles on campus’ … that was too ambitious. That has been dropped. … But I think a lot that, too, is a testament to the group that we’ve been able to bring in. We sat down … with everyone and said ‘Here are our policy priorities that we want to get done. But this is half us, half you.’ It’s been incredible to watch as the things we have imagined have taken shape, but from the perspective of our directors, who we trust so much.”
Hoffman said top leadership has effectively set expectations for the term.
“I feel like the way we set the tone for the administration was that that is expected, and all of the directors have risen to that,” Hoffman said. “So if we’re going to take credit for one thing, I suppose it would be creating that expectation.”
Throughout their conversation with The Observer, Boyle, McGuire and Hoffman lauded the work of the directors and various student government departments carrying out different projects. They also outlined some bigger, overarching changes to student government that have happened during the current term.
“We organized the New York Times online subscription, which we’ve had 56,000 sessions on — so like logins, times people have used the programs,” McGuire said. “Over a quarter of the student body is signed up, so we’re going to keep pushing that. That actually saved $7,000 for us.”
Student government has focused on finances — and particularly, financial accountability within student government.
“We were looking into our funds — and that’s also when the decision to cancel the Midnight Express was made,” McGuire said. “Part of the reason for that was because it had not been budgeted by the past two student government administrations, which then caused us to wonder: ‘What are the current mechanisms for accountability in student government finance?’ which we brought forward to the senate.”
The Boyle-McGuire administration has also created several new departments designed to improve student government’s ability to serve the campus community.
“I think creating the departments of sustainability and student empowerment were two really effective changes we made at the beginning of the year,” McGuire said. “Obviously, we don’t want to take credit for the work those departments have done, but I think they both filled important gaps in how student government was serving students.”
The trio have also had to react to major changes in University residential life policies. For example, the residential life policy dubbed by students the “senior exclusion policy” for barring off-campus students from certain dorm events, was announced in an email the second week they were in office.
“That really kicked off the spring semester and we worked on a lot of stuff like that, also creating some advisory groups and making sure that is going to the right people,” Hoffman said. “The one that came out in the spring was the differentiation policy, so we’re still kind of working on that. I know sophomore class council has kind of been taking that over since it’s going to be affecting them the most. They’ve been working a lot with [residential life].”
They have also dealt with the fallout from the policy change that students lost swipe access to all dorms except their own.
Hoffman said the department of student life has been working with the University administration on “an innovative solution that will hopefully bring happiness to all groups.” Boyle described this potential fix as “Duo mobile for dorms,” in reference to the University’s former two-step authentication login process. While the project remains a work-in-progress and nothing is confirmed, Hoffman said the University is interested in the idea.
The group said it is also working to foster improved campus dialogue. They have been in discussions with several political groups on campus to create a Converge-like program for the wider campus community, perhaps in residence halls, Hoffman said.
The administration has also been engaging with students who have participated in recent protests against hate speech and parietals on campus.
“The thing that’s really been taking up a lot of time is the recent actions that have happened in residence halls on campus and the whole parietals sit-in movement,” Boyle said. “We’ve been pretty engaged on a couple of fronts, using senate, the Campus Life Council, conversations with administrators, with organizers of the movement, students in general.”
As student government works on this issue, Boyle said the goal is to increase inclusivity on campus.
“I think our goal in all of this is to play the role that ensures students are treating each other with kindness and respect, going back to the root of Notre Dame,” she said. “The actions that caused it are absolutely horrendous and should swiftly be condemned. … We’re now trying to work through our own avenues at how we can best support, perhaps, the movement and students who have felt continually marginalized on this campus.”
While Boyle, McGuire and Hoffman have managed to accomplish a few goals, progress has been slower on other initiatives, including their work on reforming the University’s non-discrimination clause — one of the group’s main campaign proposals.
“We’ve spent a lot of the semester developing a robust understanding of the issue, developing strategies for how to approach it,” McGuire said. “But things like that won’t change within a couple months. Larger priorities like that, though we’re working on them still and we’re very pleased with how they’re coming along, still have a ways to go.”
On the whole, Boyle said her objectives are to build a more positive experience for students in the realm of policy and beyond.
“We’re trying to engage the community on all fronts,” she said. “Not just on policy, but also on very public-facing, inclusive environment on campus.”
Boyle, McGuire and Hoffman set very ambitious goals in their platform. One of their main goals was to “empower” the school. Student government does seem more open and receptive than it has been in years past. The leadership team has also faced multiple controversial University policy changes. Conversation with administrators, campus groups and other students seems to be a hallmark of this administration. While this development is welcome, talking cannot come at the expense of action. It would be nice to see some more concrete changes carried out. Important and previous absent groundwork has been laid, yet it remains to be seen if it will come to fruition.