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Student senate discusses effectiveness, representation

| Thursday, January 23, 2020

At its weekly meeting Wednesday evening, the Notre Dame student senate focused on issues of representation and reflected on its effectiveness in serving the student body. The session began with a conversation about race and reactions to Walk the Walk Week.

“I think this is a really valuable time, especially during Walk the Walk Week, to reflect on how we can do a better job as individuals and as a senate and as a campus in combating racism, combating injustice and prejudice as it exists on our campus,” student body vice president Patrick McGuire said.

Alumni Hall senator Jack Rotolo mentioned the candlelight prayer service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday night, at which the Carroll Hall rector spoke about a book called “Black Domers.”

“One of the students was constantly asked, ‘Are you studying abroad? Do you plan to study abroad?’ and her answer was, ‘I feel like I am abroad,’” Rotolo said. “I feel like that’s something we really, especially as senators, need to keep in mind because we’re supposed to represent not only our dorms, we’re also supposed to represent the University. … We always have to make sure we’re going out of our way to make sure that everyone feels that this is home for them as well.”

Allan Njomo, Stanford senator, brought up the difficulty as an African American man of getting a haircut on campus and how small inconveniences can add up.

“There’s little things like that that maybe we can do more work to see if we can bring in a barber who has experience with natural hair,” Njomo said. “There’s stuff where we can try to foster a conversation. … There’s little issues like that that are dispersed throughout where it would be cool if senate said, ‘Maybe we can help with that.’”

McGuire segued the conversation into a discussion of senate’s internal conversations and whether it is fulfilling its role as representatives of the Notre Dame student body. Junior class president Sam Cannova pointed out the “self-editing” nature of senate resolutions.

“We really need to see how we can expand our roles as senate beyond writing our own resolutions but serving as a conduit for others to do that,” Cannova said. “I think one of the big misconceptions or misunderstandings or lack of understandings on campus is what Student Gov does and how it does it. … It would be really neat to see how we can partner with students at large to sponsor resolutions and statements. So finding people who are passionate about particular issues and then empowering those voices using our roles as a conduit.”

Director of constitutional procedure Thomas Davis compared student senators to United States senators who bring the concerns of their constituents to the table, saying club members and hall residents are those constituents.

“Your voice represents your constituency, not just yourself,” Davis said.

McGuire asked how senators engage with their dorm communities and how strong that engagement is. While Dunne Hall senator Keegan McArdle offered the example of informal and good-natured debates as a way in which he engages with his community members, other senators pointed out a sense of apathy. Lyons Hall senator Gabrielle Grant mentioned the off-campus senior exclusion policies as a key factor in that.

“There’s a big feeling that nothing can be done to change anything and that we’re all powerless as students and student leaders and the administration will just do what they will,” Grant said. “I feel like that has contributed to the lack of enthusiasm. Maybe part of it is making people more aware of what actually can be done.”

Off-campus senator Quentin Colo added senate has not been particularly ambitious this year in the discussions it has taken on, while Fisher Hall senator D.C. Morris said senate should not be afraid to take on larger issues, even if it is just to make student voices heard in the form of statements and resolutions. Rotolo pushed back on the idea that senate is powerless, saying expressing student voices is important and powerful.

“I think it’s fair to say that we do have some power over what at least the administration is, what’s being brought up to them and what they’re seeing and really try to let them know that this is the issue students care about,” Rotolo said. “Maybe we can’t physically change that, but we can definitely make an effort to get the conversation started and then change it.”

No resolutions were passed and the senate will reconvene Wednesday evening.

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