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‘The strength of your team is your strength’: Outgoing student body leaders express gratitude for each other, accomplishments

| Monday, April 4, 2022

Outgoing Notre Dame student body leaders sit together in the student government offices on the third floor of LaFortune Student Center. From left to right, Matthew Bisner (Vice President), Alix Basden (chief of staff) and Allan Njomo (president). Courtesy of Allan Njomo
Outgoing Notre Dame student body leaders sit together in the student government offices on the third floor of LaFortune Student Center. From left to right, Matthew Bisner (Vice President), Alix Basden (chief of staff) and Allan Njomo (president).

Allan Njomo and Matthew Bisner were elected in early 2021 to serve as Notre Dame’s student body president and vice president, respectively, for the 2021-2022 term. Along with Alix Basden, their chief of staff, the three said they started their term not really knowing what they had gotten themselves into. By the end, they said they gained an appreciation for their school and each other and have shared an incredible experience that they are immensely grateful for.

“The most immersive, intense lab you will ever be a part of”

On April 1, 2021, Njomo, Bisner and Basden started their term.

They had a big win early on. The University announced that MLK day would now be observed with a full day off for students, faculty and staff.

Basden explained a lot of the work surrounding the observance of MLK day had been done before the beginning of their term by 2020-2021 Johnson Family Hall senator Eliza Smith. She said that Cassidy Ferrell, director of student empowerment, adopted the resolution when the Njomo-Bisner administration took over.

The Senate passed a resolution calling for the full observance of MLK day in late March 2021 at the end of the Ingal-Galbenski term. The resolution was passed to the faculty senate and subsequently tabled until the fall semester. However, when the senate reconvened in the fall, the decision had already been made by the academic council, which Njomo serves on.

The Njomo-Bisner administration also worked to make University sexual health resources more clear to students. The team worked with University Health Services (UHS) staff and University graphic designers to make posters that show students the sexual health resources UHS offers. The posters were distributed to rectors to post in the dorms.

The team also made tremendous gains in University affordability, working with programs such as the Office of Student Enrichment (OSE) and the Transformational Leaders Program. They worked with the assistant provost for academic advising to make tutoring more accessible.

They also collaborated with administrators about the opening of the new Center for Diversity and Inclusion. The center will be located on the second floor of LaFortune Student Center and will combine the Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS), OSE and the Gender Relations Center (GRC).

The administration was similarly focused on the implementation of Callisto across the tri-campus community. Basden explained that Callisto’s model is based on the statistic that most people who sexually assault victims are repeat offenders. Students from all three colleges can report incidences of sexual assault and, if the offender’s unique identifier (such as their NetID) has been entered before, the victim student gains access to 10 hours of free legal counsel.

“It’s a service for survivors, and it is a service that hopefully attempts to eliminate the phenomenon of repeated sexual assault instances on campuses by the same person,” Basden explained.

Other accomplishments that occurred during the Njomo-Bisner administration were the founding of the interfaith council and the push to divest from fossil fuels.

The interfaith council, Njomo said, is a council of many major religious groups on campus including the Muslim Student Association, the Jewish Club and the Ansari Institute.

“[The interfaith council] creates a space for dialogue about how we address and collaborate on different issues of faith that we see on campus,” Njomo explained.

The divestment of fossil fuels by the University was a push that came from the student senate. Njomo said that the project was headed by the social concerns director Aidan Creeron and sustainability director Avery Broughton. The groups came together to pass a resolution in the senate and organize marches.

Bisner noted that their work with the divestment push was mostly reactionary following the University’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, which was in line with the Laudato Si’ action platform.

Proudest moments

The team said they were especially proud of the Pridefest celebration that student government put on near the end of their term March 24 – 26.

Pridefest, Njomo explained, was meant to create a space for the celebration of LGBTQ+ students on campus.

The focus was on celebrations and promoting happiness, Basden said, because a lot of the events surrounding LGBTQ+ students have negative undertones.

“The three pillars of Pridefest were education, celebration and healing,” she said. “We really envisioned something that wasn’t all about difficulty and wasn’t all about hardship.”

Basden, who is the sister of a wheelchair user, said her proudest accomplishment is the conversation the team facilitated surrounding accessibility.

“We worked with the University architects to open up a lot of conversations about potential accessibility improvements in the halls,” she explained. “The fact that we got to choose to pursue it in this way is really meaningful to me.”

Bisner said the project he was most proud of was re-assembling Back the Bend, a full-day service project that hundreds of students take part in. Back the Bend, which took place the first weekend of April, hadn’t been done since COVID-19 shut down the University in spring 2020. They credited Mary Elizabeth Stern and Erica Maggelet with having done a huge amount of work to pull together the event.

Njomo expressed his pride in the entire team of people they worked with, including the senate and executive cabinet.

“I’m just proud of how everyone came together and worked diligently on what they were passionate about,” he said. “It’s one thing to have members in a team and it’s another to have those people fully devoted to their work and be able to tangibly track progress along those lines.”

Moving forward

The three will head out on very different paths when their time at the University concludes in a few weeks.

Basden will be a legal analyst at Goldman Sachs, an investment banking company. Bisner will be heading back to Mississippi to take a gap year before hopefully heading to law school. Njomo will be working as a consultant in the healthcare sector.

They all explained that there are numerous lessons they will take with them into their respective careers.

“I think what Notre Dame has taught me is patience,” Bisner said. “Patience either to keep moving along with these multi-year projects or patience to deal with stuff as it comes up.”

Bisner said he agreed with how one of his mentors had described the entire experience as an “immersive lab.”

When asked if there’s anything else they’d like to add, the team, breaking down in tears, expressed their extreme gratitude to each other for the time they spent together and all that they accomplished.

“I just want to continue expressing my gratitude for Matty and Alix. They carried me through this entire thing,” Njomo said. “Reflecting on our time, there’s no way I do this without them.”

Bisner joked about the fateful conversation that started their entire journey.

“Allan, I had a crazy idea, and I sat you down for lunch well over a year ago. I said, ‘Do you want to be president?’ and I thank God every day you said yes,” he said.

Basden reflected on how the three became like a family over the year they shared together.

“At the end of the day of the end of your time in college, it’s about where that time went, and so much of it went to these two goofballs. I’m just so happy, it’s been a privilege,” she said.

She also noted how grateful she was for the passion her team exuded.

“The strength of your team is your strength. Not only are Allan and Matty my biceps, my quads, my delts … but also the whole team, the cabinet, everyone who was on their departments, the senate,” she said. “What you find is the strongest possible network of students who are passionate, who are involved and who are motivated, and that for me, it’s better than going to class.”

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About Bella Laufenberg

Bella Laufenberg is a sophomore biological sciences major, who likes news much more than organic chemistry. She is also in the journalism, ethics and democracy minor. At The Observer, she currently serves as an Associate News Editor.

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