Student government leaders look onward to the 2021-2022 academic year
Isabella Volmert | Monday, August 30, 2021
Student government is the name and “onward” is the game this year for student body president Allan Njomo, vice president Matthew Bisner and chief of staff Alix Basden.
The administration started its term in the spring semester of 2021 and now, as the new semester starts, plans to focus on bringing back Notre Dame’s traditions and culture to the student body in addition to spearheading initiatives related to affordability, ethical investing, sustainability and more.
“I think we are falling back on the idea of moving onward,” Njomo, a Stanford Hall resident and business analytics major said. “[We’re] trying our best to frame how we approach events and policy initiatives as our way of moving forward to as much normal as we can move forward to.”
Over the summer, the three leaders were part of the Student Advisory Group on Campus Reopening and worked with Rev. Gerard Olinger to communicate the needs of students as the pandemic continues into a fourth academic semester.
Njomo said a priority for the administration this year is the health of students but also a return to the traditions held at Notre Dame that were not possible to hold last academic year.
“I think something that is fundamental we’ve begun to learn is that we have two classes of students who don’t fully know what Notre Dame has always been about: what some of our traditions are, some of the events that are key parts of the Notre Dame experience are,” Njomo said.
Student government’s Student Union Board has hosted a number of events to kick off the school year including the Bounce Back Bash and Flick on the Field. Now that the semester is in full swing, the administration is looking to advance its campaign goals into the 2021-2022 school year.
“A big part of our platform was ‘Be Bold,’” Njomo said. “So we want to continue to do that as we hit the ground running.”
Coming into this semester, Njomo said a policy from their campaign the administration is focusing on is affordability.
“How can we ensure that students, especially students from low-income backgrounds, have access to textbooks, summer classes [and] tutoring?” Njomo said.
Njomo said conversations have been initiated with the Office of the Provost, University Relations and the Office of Student Enrichment among others to discuss how the University can care for students in tangible ways.
“I think that’s very much shaped by our identity as low-income students,” Bisner, a political science and peace studies major living in Baumer Hall, explained.
The administration was excited to see the Office of the Provost begin its transformative leaders program last week, Bisner added. The program seeks to bring QuestBridge students together “to see what needs are still in the community.”
Some of these conversations have included potentially introducing OpenStax, an affordable textbook provider, to campus.
“I think another rallying point of this semester is student voices,” Bisner said in regards to policy decisions within the classroom, residential life and others.
Njomo said that one way the three have thought about their goal in making policy decisions is through the metaphor of a potluck: taking the students’ voices, ideas and opinions and enjoying them all.
“Democratizing through potluck,” Bisner joked.
Bisner said the administration has also initiated conversations with the University’s administration and the Mission Engagement and Church Affairs office about where the University should be investing its money.
Chief of staff Basden, an international economics major with a concentration in French living in Howard Hall, added that the administration, in light of their commitment to sustainability, was delighted to see this year’s Notre Dame Forum devoted to the topic.
“Our director of sustainability within the executive cabinet is working really closely with the folks over at the forum to give student perspective about what that could look like and what action items could come from the forum,” Basden said.
The Office of Sustainability has also initiated a partnership with the Student Activities Office to host more events that are “green approved” on campus.
Additionally, the Njomo-Bisner administration is overseeing a continual restructuring of campus government, the planning of a large Pride event in the fall, the establishment of an interfaith council as well as efforts to increase sexual health and education resources on campus.
Reflecting on the spring semester
Looking back on the end of last semester, Njomo said student government concluded the academic year on a high note. Njomo spoke highly of the Student and Faculty Voice Summit that concluded at the end of the spring semester, in which community members discussed what to bring from pandemic learning into the following fall semester.
“Last semester, we were really building up for this semester,” Bisner said.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Coalition, started last spring, recently pushed for the full observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day through the University’s academic council.
“I’d love to give props to all the students involved with that,” Njomo said.
The coalition included Eliza Smith, Cassidy Ferrell, Amaya Medeiros, Grace Franco, Luzolo Matandu, Natalie Ortega, Max Siegel, Zoë Case, Renee Pierson and others, Njomo said.
“They spent a lot of work in meetings over the summer with different members of the administration to advocate for the full observance of the holiday,” he said.
Under the direction of Hallie Butterfield, director of gender relations, the administration has been working with Holy Cross College and Saint Mary’s College to implement the sexual assault prevention app Callisto, which has been whitelisted at Notre Dame, across all three campuses.
Finally, the three leaders all stressed that their doors, offices and inboxes are open to the voices, opinions and ideas of all students.
“Student government represents the students,” Basden said. “At the end of the day, if the students have something that is of concern to them and we miss it, we haven’t successfully filled out the promise of our jobs. So we really want to meet people and hear their concerns.”
And the student government office is always open to any student who wants to utilize it, Njomo said.
“If you ever need a space to take a call, use my office,” he said. “If you ever need a place to do some homework, feel free to take any desk and do so.”