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Adding Native American history to Moreau falls short in final senate meeting

| Thursday, April 30, 2020

Meeting virtually for the final time before the summer break, the Notre Dame student senate made many decisions Wednesday night. 

Last week, the senate heard a presentation from Judicial Council president, junior Matthew Bisner over why he, many of his predecessors and many in the current student government believe the governing body to be in need of improvement. As a solution, the senate passed a resolution establishing an ad hoc committee on governmental reform.

The passed resolution, drawn up by Bisner and student body vice president, junior Sarah Galbenski, said, “It is our position that an ad hoc senate committee will provide the best forum for public policymaking, maximum responsiveness to the student body and transparency throughout the entire reform process. It will also help us chart the middle ground between the formal and informal routes we have before us.” 

Over the summer, a preliminary committee will work toward drafting an official document mandating guidelines to the senate in the fall semester on how to move forward in making institutional changes to the student body government and/or constitution. 

“By the end of the fall semester or beginning of the spring semester, this committee should be prepared to deliver an advisory report to guide reforms within the Student Union,” the resolution read. 

Additionally, the senate started a conversation at last week’s meeting over a resolution that would formally request the incorporation of Native American culture and the University’s history with Native Americans into the Moreau First Year Experience course. After concluding the debate, the resolution did not pass, with 20 votes for and 11 votes against it. The resolution needed a 67% majority to pass and only garnered 64.5%. 

The main points of opposition came from: a concern over the opinion of first year students in the matter, concern over the place of Native American history in the course and concern over consulting certain University administrative offices, especially Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS), about the resolution.

Sophomore, Dunne senator Michael Murakami and others believed the resolution failed to garner the support of first years.

“If the entire principle of this resolution is to bring a voice to those who are silenced, I think we should bring a voice to our first years before we decide to change what they are going to be going through inherently for years to come,” he said.

Walsh senator Grace Franco said she is not sure the group should wait for feedback from first year students to pass the resolution.

“An integral part of the Moreau First Year Experience is cultural competence, and I do think part of cultural competence is understanding Native American history on Notre Dame land,” the sophomore said. “Really heavily weighting the enthusiasm from first years may not be as important as integrating a really important part of our history.” 

Director of diversity and inclusion, senior Kaya Lawrence and director of academic affairs, sophomore Lauryn Pugh, who jointly drafted the resolution, intended to work with Moreau First Year Experience faculty to integrate Native American culture and history, as well as Notre Dame’s history with the Pokégnek Bodéwadmik Pokagon Band of Potawatomi tribes into the course. The exact nature of this integration would have been determined as the fall semester grew closer, according to Pugh. 

After the resolution failed to pass, student body president, junior Rachel Ingal, on behalf of herself, Galbenski and chief of staff, junior Aaron Benavides, expressed their disappointment in the matter in an email sent to The Observer.

“Advocating for diversity and inclusion initiatives and amplifying student voices has always been at the forefront of our priorities, and we were disheartened to see that the senate could not come together to make steps towards this,” Ingal said in the email. “Educating students about how integral the Pokagon-Potawatomi are to the Notre Dame narrative and recognizing and celebrating this group is incumbent upon us. We hope that, in the future, the senate will embrace initiatives of diversity and inclusion and work to uplift every member of our community. As student leaders, we are called upon to make Notre Dame a Notre Dame for all. We will continue to move forward with bringing education and incorporation of Native culture into Moreau, and it is our goal to walk hand in hand with students toward inclusivity in the future.”

Lastly, at the recommendation of Student Union treasurer, senior Grace Stephenson, the senate established an independent financial account titled the “Student Union COVID-19 Response Financial Account.” 

Under normal circumstances, Student Union surplus would be placed into a rollover account for the next year. However, this account has a cap of $100,000, and this year’s surplus is around $200,000. This surplus will now be placed into the COVID-19 Response account to be used and supervised by the Financial Management Board.

Concern over the potential loss of revenue from The Shirt and the pending possibility of campus not resuming classes as normal in the fall prompted this order.

“I think this is the best fiscal step for the Student Union,” Galbenski said. 

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said student body president Rachel Ingal sent a statement to the senate and The Observer, but it was not sent to the senate. The Observer regrets this error. 

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