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Student government to respond to the times while maintaining original campaign values

| Thursday, August 13, 2020

When the senior executives of student government took office last spring, president Rachel Ingal, vice president Sarah Galbenski and chief of staff Aaron Benavides received some general advice to respond to the needs of the times.

“But wow, I did not think it would turn out the way it did,” Ingal said. 

Although the administration is working with new challenges posed by local, national and global developments since last spring, the three said they are still determined to uphold their original campaign values.

“It’s definitely a balance,” Ingal said. 

In an email sent to student leaders Sunday, the executives encouraged elected and selected officials to reevaluate their roles. 

“Now that we are back together, we really need to take the time to reflect on our platforms and refocus on what the present needs are of our student body and University,” Benavides said. 

The student leaders are beginning to see how the pandemic and its effects intersect with diversity and inclusion,  health and wellbeing and University policy, Ingal added.

Over the summer, the student government released four statements. Two addressed the government’s commitment to anti-racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, one offered a commitment to the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month and the final was a call to action against ICE policy affecting International students.

“Diversity and inclusion was a hallmark of our campaign,” Benavides said. 

As part of this commitment, the Department of Gender Relations made and provided booklets for Welcome Weekend captains this year, in an effort to promote inclusive language. Galbenski said the government is looking to send a comprehensive resource email to first-years soon, which will provide information about cultural and identity groups/clubs on campus.

Another original goal of the administration was to encourage national engagement, originally centered around the first presidential debate. Ingal said the student government recently worked with many political clubs on campus to incorporate voter registration into Moreau modules. These groups are hoping to work together to foster healthy political dialogue as Election Day approaches. 

Student government is especially focusing on the first-years, in order to ensure they still experience the Notre Dame community during these times when many social traditions are in flux. 

Over Welcome Weekend, student government hosted two events for this reason. The annual Flick on the Field showing of “Rudy” Friday drew an estimated 2,000 attendees who sat socially distanced. Additionally, around 1,000 participants watched the Saturday Night Live Stream in the stadium.

“We’re hoping to have events of similar spirit going forward,” Galbenski said. 

The government still plans on hosting the annual 9/11 Memorial Prayer Service and Race Relations Week in October. 

In an email sent Monday, the administration encouraged students to consider their personal responsibility to others and the Notre Dame community when engaging with the new health and safety protocols. Ingal said student government has also been in discussion with those involved with the HERE campaign to include mental health considerations in their communications. 

Additional student government initiatives include working with Campus Life Council to provide more diversity and inclusion education and work towards the creation of a Native Studies minor. They are also looking to give away 500 sets of reusable utensil sets to students to use in place of the disposable ones currently available in the dining halls. 

Ingal and Galbenski said they are looking to start sending monthly newsletters to the student body regarding updates on actions taken, efforts underway and policy goals they hold looking ahead.

“That regularity of communication is important to us,” Ingal said. “We are just trying to lead with an energetic and optimistic spirit.”

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About Isabella Volmert

Isabella "Issy" Volmert is a junior majoring in English and minoring in theology and journalism, ethics and democracy at the University of Notre Dame. She currently serves The Observer as assistant managing editor. Follow her @ivolmertnews for niche JED Twitter content.

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