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‘There’s still so much to be done’: Notre Dame student leaders emphasize the importance of listening to student needs

| Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Notre Dame’s student body leaders for the 2021-2022 term have focused their time and energy on ensuring student needs are not only heard but fulfilled.

Student body president, Allan Njomo, a senior from Stanford Hall, said that the focal point of everything he has done so far in his term is about bringing marginalized students into important conversations — something he learned how to do during his time as Stanford Hall’s president.

“At the core of [leadership] is inclusion and being able to serve as hall president and as a senator, I worked to find how to bring people who are usually at the margins in on conversations that they needed to be a part of,” he said.

Student body vice president, Matthew Bisner, a senior studying political science, peace studies and gender studies, echoed Njomo’s statements saying their work with PRISM before being elected has taught them valuable skills about working with marginalized groups on campus.

Also working with Bisner and Njomo is their chief of staff, senior Alix Basden. She has worked in student government all of her undergraduate years, starting with serving on FUEL (first undergraduate experience in leadership) her first year. She said her experience helps her when it comes to knowing the right people to talk to within the administration.

The Njomo-Bisner administration has implemented many strategies in effort to ensure all student voices and needs are being amplified. One of those ways is through platforms that they call student voice summits.

Basden explained that the summits are between students and faculty and cover several different topics.

“We’ve partnered with the Office of the Provost and all of the deans to organize these large-scale meetings of a lot of different students and faculty members to talk about the ways that students and faculty view their educations,” she said.

Basden said they have put on summits covering COVID-19 education policies and academic testing, and they hope to soon host one about campus policies. She said the summits are done in a collaboration with a student group called Design for America, which helps to “harness the power of students who are really motivated.”

Bisner said that a huge part of the successes of the fall semester was simply bringing students directly into conversations with administrators. For Bisner, one huge priority and accomplishment was improving accessibility issues, specifically the lack of braille on signs around campus, with the help of students from ND Access-ABLE.

“[Njomo, Basden and I] presented to the Board of Trustees on accessibility issues, on issues affecting racially diverse students and LGBTQ students to ensure those student voices aren’t swept out of those big decision-making rooms but are brought into the center of those rooms,” Bisner said.

Njomo highlighted the student-driven initiative of bringing a service called Callisto to be available on campus. He and Basden explained that the service is meant to be an anonymous sexual assault reporting system.

“[Callisto] hinges on the assumption that most people offend in college, who commit sexual violence in college, will re-offend or are more likely to re-offend,” Basden said. “It takes unique identifiers of the person, the offender, and if another person reports the same offender, it matches the two of you, and then you get a legal options counselor that tells you all of the options that you have going forward.”

Basden also said she is excited about the cooperation between the tri-campus student body leaders and how valuable it has been to Notre Dame’s leaders to get to know the others.

Heading into the spring 2022 semester, the Njomo-Bisner cabinet will continue their focus on integrating marginalized voices into important conversations as well as putting on campus-wide events to foster community, such as Back the Bend, a Taste of South Bend and a PRISM-sponsored pride celebration.

The Njomo-Bisner administration is focused on transparency and inclusion, especially for marginalized groups on campus, which is extremely important in the fight to upgrade Notre Dame’s campus to be more in line with the values of today’s society.  Although the administration has done a phenomenal job at including more students in important conversations, they could further open the conversation to reduce stigma around standing up to Notre Dame’s potentially discriminatory policies and not sugar-coating the difficulties faced by certain groups on campus. 

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About Bella Laufenberg

Bella Laufenberg is a sophomore biological sciences major, who likes news much more than organic chemistry. She has a supplementary major in classics and is in the journalism, ethics and democracy minor. At The Observer, she is the New Writer Editor and works production.

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