Elections held in dorms after officials move off campus due to coronavirus concerns
Maria Luisa Paul | Wednesday, August 26, 2020
The ongoing pandemic has given rise to several changes at Notre Dame. Beyond the ever-present HERE campaign stickers and the mask mandate across campus, there was a shift in residential life. Due to possible health concerns, students were given the option to continue living at dorms, take a gap year or opt to move off-campus.
In turn, this change in residential policy affected different halls’ leadership positions, as officials in Alumni, Dillon, Howard and Lewis Halls and Morrissey Manor decided to move out of their respective dorms.
According to Article 17, Section 3 of the Student Constitution, officials — such as the hall senator, president and SUB representative — must reside in the dorm they wish to represent throughout the entirety of their term.
Junior Matthew Bisner, the Judicial Council President, said that once the news about the shift in residential policy was released in June, the Judicial Council, in conjunction with the President’s Council, began to work on establishing what procedures had to be implemented in case of a vacancy.
“The whole President’s Council and senate contacted their people and basically asked them to self-report. The final number was six officials, and I reached out to them to confirm this,” Bisner said.
Junior Noelle Dana, who served as senator for Howard Hall and opted to have a year off, confirmed she had received an email from student government president Rachel Ingal, vice president Sarah Galbenski and chief of staff Aaron Benavides asking her to report her living situation. However, she added that student government told senators they would have to step down if they moved out of their halls.
“I got an email from Rachel, Sarah and Aaron saying, ‘If you decide to move off campus, you have to vacate your position, and we’ll coordinate with Judicial Council to hold another election,’” Dana said.
Dana, who was replaced as senator by sophomore Albertina Estrada Martinez, said the decision was “disheartening” as it lacked deliberation.
“There was no asking, there was no, ‘Hey, we should maybe meet at the senate and discuss this.’ There was no, ‘Let’s meet with your dorm and ask your dorms if you want to discuss it.’ It was just the lateral decision-making,” she said.
Ultimately, the five dorms replaced their officials. However, the process was different for each of them. Dillon, Howard and Morrissey held elections, while Lewis chose to forgo them. In Alumni, elections were contemplated, but the decision was facilitated because one candidate ran unopposed.
According to Bisner, the main reason why the solution varied across dorms is due to a lack of information in the Student Constitution.
“The biggest complication is that our Constitution isn’t built in a way that’s comprehensive,” Bisner said. “So right from the get-go, people were asking about lines of succession, which is nothing that’s in the Constitution. We really had to think on the fly about how this process would work for most of them and proceeded as the Constitution requires.”
An unprecedented Constitutional dilemma
As stated by Article 14, Section 3 of the Student Constitution, a new election must be held within two academic weeks if there’s a vacancy in an elected office “due to resignation or recall.”
However, this merely pertains to positions within student government and not Hall Presidents Council (HPC) and does not inform the procedures that must be followed if an official moves off campus. The same shortcomings are found in HPC bylaws. This lack of information gave rise to a dilemma in Lewis Hall when the elected fall vice president, junior Meghan Allman vacated her position.
According to Lewis Hall president junior Clair Wilson, Judicial Council sought to implement an election, but she argued the spring vice president, junior Radka Pribyl Pierdinock, should take over Allman’s duties as the three had been elected as a ticket.
“The only way to repeat the process would be if the entire ticket vacated and we ran a re-election for all positions. I argued that there were no grounds for this in the constitution because the process couldn’t be replicated if our entire ticket wasn’t subject to a re-election,” Wilson said. “Nowhere in the Constitution does it specify that VPs have to be elected for a specific semester, but rather that they have to be elected for one semester.”
According to Wilson, after an “extremely challenging” process, Pribyl Pierdinock was selected as the sole vice president for Lewis Hall.
“It was very frustrating, but in the end, the Judicial Council in conjunction with our advisor helped us to come to a solution,” Wilson said. “I did feel like I shouldn’t have had to fight for the outcome, given that it seemed like the simplest and most obvious, but I respect that those involved were trying to follow the guidance of the Constitution.”
Bisner said the “Vice President Transition Rule” — having the spring or fall vice president fully take on the position’s duties — was implemented in other dorms as well to simplify the process.
In Alumni, for instance, junior Marcelo Castellanos became the dorm’s sole vice president when junior Clay Talbot, the former spring vice president, took on the president’s position after junior Matthew Dotson vacated. The same was established in Morrissey, as the spring vice president, sophomore Tom Novy, became the only vice president when junior Matthew Kearney departed the fall vice president responsibilities. Also in Morrissey, first-year Logan Stucke replaced junior
Brennan Horvath as SUB representative.
Looking toward the future
The decision to withdraw was not an easy one, according to Alumni Hall’s former president, but “nothing comes before health during a pandemic.”
“Vacating the position was an extremely difficult decision. I fought with it for weeks and went back and forth a couple times,” Dotson said. “I felt as if I was letting down the dorm; however, these are obviously extraordinary circumstances and that calls for some tough decisions.”
Dillon Hall’s former president junior John Plaza echoed Dotson’s sentiments but said it was the best decision for his residence hall.
“Serving as the president of Dillon Hall was an honor I was looking forward to. However, after seeing how different dorm life is this year and how difficult it is to be a freshman given the current circumstances, I understand that the leader of the Dillon community should be living amongst his constituents,” Plaza said.
Even though he was “extremely upset” in the beginning, Plaza said he trusted that Dillon’s new president, junior John Sayut, “will be the exact leader Dillon Hall needs during this very unusual time.”
“I’m hoping that [Sayut] will be able to find creative ways to engage the freshmen this upcoming year,” Plaza said. “I know that many of the things freshmen typically rely on to build strong relationships will no longer be possible due to COVID-19, so it will take a lot of brainstorming to find solutions that engage the community as a whole.”
Sayut became his dorm’s president Friday after running against five other candidates and ultimately winning the run-off election. Even though he has never held a student government position, Sayut said he aspired to engage with the community and possible holding events in the future.
“I’m looking forward to hopefully having the time necessary in like, March, April to organize events like Opening Day and Stache Bash,” Sayut said. “Also holding president and VP office hours. So hopefully be listening to a lot of people’s ideas about socially distant events and how people want to stay connected.”
For his part, Talbot, Alumni Hall’s new president, was inspired to run after working during Welcome Weekend. He said he was striving to find ways to enable the first-years to meet different people.
“We were talking about doing socials with a lot of the other dorms, that way our freshmen could have a way to meet people. And then we hope to do events in the future like Dive Night,” Talbot said. “We can’t use the Rock, but we’ll figure out a way to get like kiddie pools or something. And then we’re going to see if we can have a whole bunch of stuff outside that we can just do as a dorm.”
Talbot said that his term’s goal was to maintain the community spirit in his dorm, as residential life has played an essential part in his growth at Notre Dame.
“Dorm life at Notre Dame is something that’s absolutely magical and completely different from any other campus,” he said. “I know I have a certain bias towards Alumni, but I just think there’s a lot of stuff that’s happened on campus in my past year and a half of being here that’s turned me into the person I am today.”