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viewpoint

What I learned

| Monday, February 24, 2020

I ran for student body president in this election alongside my close friend, Jack Rotolo. Unfortunately, we didn’t gain enough votes to move into the runoff election, so our time as candidates was brief. However, I can say that even that short period was still one of the biggest learning experiences of my life. I thought I’d be sad or angry when I learned that we had lost, but I was shocked by the overwhelming sense of peace and relief I felt when we learned our time in the election was over. After a few days of reflecting on why I was feeling this unexpected tranquility about the whole thing, I’ve learned that it is because I realized I could not have done half as good a job as Elizabeth, Pat and Linde have this year. Thus, I was disappointed and surprised to read “The student body president does not matter” as I grabbed my usual morning breakfast in South Dining Hall.

Now, I know I may be biased in my support for Elizabeth, Pat and Linde as I not only worked for them in their Executive Cabinet but also consider each of them some of my best friends at this University. Thus, for the sake of proving that not only the student body president (and student government as a whole) do in fact matter, I will speak solely based on achievements for the entirety of the next paragraph.

The Department of Campus Technology has already launched the early stages of its mega-calendar of campus events, introducing a far simpler alternative to examining the [email protected] when it hits our email inbox. They have also created a ride-share application that will connect students who are interested in hailing an Uber or Lyft into Chicago. The Department of Community Engagement & Outreach rolled out its South Bend Adventure Guide, giving students information on various restaurants, events and sites to explore in the local area. They have also worked with ND Votes to register 700 new student voters as well as planning a “South Bend module” to incorporate within the Moreau First-Year Experience. The Department of Faith and Service has launched numerous interfaith initiatives. The Department of Diversity and Inclusion has made instrumental steps in implementing diversity training in every dorm on campus. The Gender Relations Department led the effort to pass a student senate resolution requiring all enumerated positions within the Student Union Constitution to be GreeNDot trained during their term in office and negotiated for free menstrual products in several campus buildings. The Department of Health and Well-Being has introduced a key partnership between McWell and the UCC to better promote all of the health resources available to students.

I could go on and name even more accomplishments from even more departments, but for the sake of the people reading this, I won’t belabor the point. (If you want more information on the work of student government this year, I encourage reading the Observer’s mid-year marks for the departments.) Needless to say, the student government still accomplishes a lot to positively impact students, trying to make them better connected to each other, this University and the local community. All of this has been accomplished through a phenomenal group of department directors committed to best serving Notre Dame under the leadership of not only a great student body president but also a remarkable vice president and chief of staff who have embraced their roles as student leaders amidst an immensely challenging year in the life of our school with the utmost grace and determination.

Oftentimes in recent years, our student government elections have been mired by controversy and allegations, leaving us wondering why good people don’t run for these positions. However, why would good people even want to be a part of this process that we so frequently try to make miserable? The student government elections have not been a process of discovering the most innovative platform points, looking at the strengths of each ticket and ultimately choosing the ticket with the greatest strengths. Instead, they have become a short week of intense judgment on simply the weakest points. Few people want to subject themselves to the incessant criticism on their weakest platform points, having no opportunity to discuss the strengths of their candidacy. Last year’s election was the exception to this recent streak of controversy, and I think that only speaks further to the character of not only the winners of that election, but of all individuals who participated. I am sorry that we could not uphold that similar standard of being above muddy politics in this year’s election, but I thank the Judicial Council for spending countless late hours holding each and every ticket accountable to the rules. Going forward, we need to do our best to make this an uplifting process in the future to encourage the best possible individuals coming forward to seek meaningful change.

I admire the passion of this newspaper to challenge this University’s administration to be more mindful of student voices. However, that fierceness to take on the administration also often turns its frustration onto its fellow students, particularly those in student government. This bitterness towards classmates only hurts the student body’s ability to accomplish any form of meaningful, long-term change on this campus. I hear and support the Observer’s call for fair treatment of its off-campus students, a genuine tri-campus community and commitment to diversity, and overall transparency from the university administration. All of these subjects featured in editorial pieces from the Observer in the past year hit the nail on the head when it comes to some of the most important structural issues that face our University. If we want to take on the long-term, deep-rooted issues on this campus, it is going to be through a united student body, not tearing down the progress of campus leaders. The process will be difficult and frustrating at times with how slow it can be. Nonetheless, the only way this University’s administration has a chance at listening to the student body is if it stops bickering over who is doing the most to impact student lives and works collectively.

Connor Whittle

junior

Feb. 23

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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