Student government tickets address diversity, referendum, COVID-19 policies in town hall
Alysa Guffey | Tuesday, February 23, 2021
The three presidential and vice-presidential ticket candidates met in a virtual town hall Monday night to answer student-submitted questions centered around civic engagement, diversity and inclusion and relations with the administration.
The candidates running for student body president and vice president this year are juniors Allan Njomo and Matthew Bisner, juniors Max Siegel II and Zachary Holland and juniors Mabry Webb and Jacob Calpey.
Judicial Council President Thomas Davis introduced the tickets. Some questions were addressed to all three tickets while others were specific to each pair of candidates. Each ticket was allotted 25 minutes to speak based on a random drawing. Njomo and Bisner spoke first, followed by Webb and Calpey and finally Siegel and Holland.
Njomo said he believes he and Bisner are prepared to lead the student body through unexpected challenges based on their five combined years of student government experience. They are running on a platform of boldness and uplifting marginalized student voices and prioritizing student well-being.
In response to a question on how their plan to be bold would work with an administration that is at times reluctant to change, Bisner said his ticket wants to remind students of their power as undergraduates in the Notre Dame community by navigating them to the right channels.
“We know that boldness is certainly sometimes associated with irrationality. And so that’s why we’ve worked so hard to marry the creative, innovative and bold solutions that we have on our platform to feasibility within the scope of Student Union power,” Bisner said.
The Webb-Calpey ticket is running on the promise to prioritize response to sexual assault, urge transparency from both student government and the administration and serve minority groups.
As the only woman on any of the tickets, Webb said her ticket will bring a perspective on women’s health issues to the forefront of discussions.
“I’m especially passionate about certain women’s health issues that we’ve been able to address in our platform, including preventing and advocating for survivors of sexual assault, as well as other general mental and physical health issues,” Webb said.
Siegel and Holland want to promote equity on campus by increasing funding for cultural clubs, making student government more accessible and rebuilding community in their term as president and vice president.
While Siegel and Holland said they have found leadership experience in areas outside of student government, they are ready to adapt and learn in the roles while bringing a new perspective to the office.
“I’m a big believer in horizontal leadership rather than vertical leadership. And this means that while I’d lead the senate, I’d recognize that every single individual there has earned a seat in the senate and they’ve got their own issues that they’re passionate about, and true leadership means taking the time to understand every single person and help them pass initiatives that they support,” Holland said.
Davis asked each ticket what their contribution to diversity and inclusion would be in their term.
Njomo responded that he and Bisner would seek to diversify offerings on campus, such as offering haircare options particularly for the Black community and building accessibility for disabled students. Bisner added that a main goal of theirs would be to work toward making Notre Dame more affordable for low-income and first-generation college students.
Webb and Calpey want to protect identity clubs as special interest organizations as well as work with residential life on the challenges of LBGTQ+ students in dorm life. Webb also said they want to work with the Office of Financial Aid to alleviate the challenges of the position of resident assistant for low-income students.
Siegel simplified his and Holland’s goals in regard to inclusion and diversity into three feasible goals: implementing a cultural advocacy program for dorm staff, diversifying the Welcome Weekend teams so students can see ambassadors that looks like them and reporting public records of racially-charged violence to the community.
In addition, each ticket was questioned on their response to student concerns regarding the new Campus Compact as part of COVID-19 policies. All three tickets shared worries about the lack of due process and inadequate time for defense, as well as lack of a fair trial.
On Wednesday, as well as voting for the student body president and vice president, students can vote on a referendum that would raise the number of signatures necessary for a petition to reach the student senate from 200 signatures to roughly between 442 and 707 signatures, or 5 to 8 percent of the student body. All three tickets said they do not support the referendum.
Njomo said raising the number of required signatures does not allow every voice to be heard.
“The honest truth is if every Black student signed a petition here at Notre Dame — if the referendum number is raised — that number is not enough to get a petition to the student senate. That is wrong,” Njomo said.
Webb said supporting the referendum would go against her ticket’s goal to uplift marginalized groups and give them representation.
“Additionally, many dorms have 200 or less students and they all have their own senators. So the fact that they have that representation I think that a petition can kind of constitute the same sort of representation,” Webb said.
Siegel stressed that he and Holland saw the problem as more procedural and do not see raising the number of signatures as productive.
“I think this really comes from the idea that raising the threshold is really going to negatively impact communities of color and a lot of the issues that they face,” Siegel said.
Election day is Wednesday, Feb. 24 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Students will receive an email to vote for president and vice president, as well as on the referendum, Davis said.