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Lee-Stitt administration rides momentum into final semester in roles

Notre Dame student government leaders Patrick Lee, Sofie Stitt, Nicole Baumann and their directors took office on April 1, 2022. Now, at the end of the second semester in their roles, The Observer spoke to the executive cabinet to get an update on their plans and progress. 

Lee and Stitt, the student body president and vice president, respectively, said one surprising outcome of their work is how close the executive cabinet has become. 

“[One indicator] of great success to me is just the relationships that we have with our directors and between the directors,” Lee said. “We have a very strong sense of group identity now, we’re all very close. That, to me, has been an unexpected blessing this semester.”

Stitt, agreeing, said their cabinet is a “complete joy” to work with. 

Chief of staff Baumann, who works closely with the cabinet, explained that this semester contained more action steps rather than planning. 

“Last year in the spring was a lot of the dreaming phase and planning,” she said. “[This semester,] not only have we been able to see a lot of execution of those plans that we thought about back in March of last year, but we’ve also been able to form really good relationships with people in administration.”

Lee compared the cabinet’s movement toward carrying out long-thought plans as putting “rubber to the road” and is confident they will reach 100% completion of the goals outlined in their progress tracker. Currently, 46% of goals have been met, with around 50% of the group’s term now in the rearview mirror.  

“A lot of the hardest work in student government is the work that’s behind the scenes: the research, the report writing, the initial meetings that are sometimes uncomfortable on some of the biggest initiatives,” Lee said. “Those are out of the way, and we’re ready to reap the rewards of the really hard work that we’ve done this semester.”

Stitt explained that many goals are right on the precipice of being completed, noting that “Walk the Walk Week” will occur in the first week of the spring 2023 semester. This year’s programming will focus on the theme, “Education, Celebration and Participation” and will feature a service project, multiple panels and a dinner celebration. 

The leaders highlighted a few of their cabinet members for exceptional work throughout the semester: Anna Dray, Lane Obringer and Collete Doyle. 

Dray, the director of University Policy, has been developing the ND Safe App with police chief Keri Kei Shibata, leading the transition to mobile identification (ID) cards and organizing efforts to upgrade residence hall exercise facilities. 

In the aftermath of a series of various allegations surrounding Title IX earlier this semester, director of gender relations – Title IX and women’s initiatives Obringer led with “strength and grace” to come up with practical and supportive solutions, Lee said. 

“’I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lee emphasized. “She’s so reliable. She’s so passionate and is always ready, even when she’s feeling stressed, to help others.”

Lee also heralded the leadership of sophomore director of communications Doyle, saying, “The communication efforts of our group will be radically changed, and that is in part due to her organizational capabilities and just unending source of effort.”

When asked about the challenges faced by the student body this semester, such as two student deaths and widespread discussion regarding Title IX, Lee drew a comparison from the University to the broader community. 

“Notre Dame is emblematic of the world in a lot of ways, and the struggles that we’re seeing in our society related to Title IX and issues of gender relations as well as a mental health crisis among young people — that’s nationwide, and we have to learn how to cope with those,” Lee said. “I would just say, in those moments of deeper sadness, I’m even more immensely grateful that we are together in a community.”

In terms of challenges within the office, Stitt noted that they chose their cabinet because the students would not give up after the first “No.”

“[Our directors are] going to continually advocate for students and advocate for our campus community. So I would say there have been challenges as we work through a pretty ambitious list of initiatives, but I have been so impressed and in awe of the way that our directors respond,” Stitt explained. 

Looking ahead, the three leaders pointed to many initiatives that will take effect next semester, including a collaboration to improve University Health Service communications, a visit from Bishop Robert Barron, a program to bring free menstrual products to all campus restrooms called Code Red, Taste of South Bend, Vocation Fair and many more. 

Lee, Stitt and Baumann all re-emphasized how honored they are to serve the student body. 

“We are a broken record every time, but it’s just an absolute privilege and a joy for us to serve the student body. If there’s anything we can do, for anybody on campus or in the tri-campus community, please don’t hesitate to reach out,” Stitt said. 

She also noted the overall excitement the cabinet has for the end of their terms and for some rest over the break. 

“I am honestly, really excited to enter this next semester. We’ve got this spectacular team, and we’ve got a lot of momentum behind us,” Stitt said. “But it’s important for us to remember that our directors and everybody in student government is a student first.”

Review: The Lee-Stitt administration has been clear and straightforward surrounding their platform and plans for the year; however, the cabinet is not forthcoming with barriers and issues they have faced while attempting to accomplish their goals. The administration is making definite strides but has not yet reached full transparency. Additionally, the leaders responded soundly to Title IX allegations raised by alleged victims with both practical and supportive solutions to ease students’ pain and gather suggestions for policy updates to bring to University administrators. 

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

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Explained: University leaders talk about the history and purpose of SpeakUp

SpeakUp Notre Dame is a call to the campus community to not be silent but heard.  

Following the Inclusive Campus Survey, which uncovered that only 15% of the student body knew how to use SpeakUp, the Observer spoke to University administrators and other leaders to dive deeper into the history behind the tool, the intended purpose and how it works in practice. 

Historical Significance 

SpeakUp was first published as a resource for the Notre Dame campus in 2015 after recommendations from the Diversity Council and the Division of Student Affairs. 

Director of communications for the division, Kate Morgan, explained that around the same time, student affairs was made aware of several “concerning” incidents surrounding racial discrimination on campus. 

“The roots are in really related to race,” she noted. 

They realized, she said, there was a need for a space where anyone on campus could file a complaint or report an issue to the correct office. 

“[The division] wanted to make a space for people to be able to report and have more ease doing that, because [anyone needing to report] didn’t know where to go,” she said. 

After the first iteration, SpeakUp underwent a reorganization in 2019. Morgan said she oversaw the redesign that was informed by the 2018 Inclusive Campus Survey. 

“We revamped it based on the student feedback, and I think it’s a lot easier to follow once you get on the site and really realize that it is a reporting tool,” she explained. 

As part of the reworking, Morgan said she and Office of Community Standards (OCS) director Heather Ryan worked together closely to make the site more user-friendly and answer common questions about the reporting process, including detailing the difference between confidential and non-confidential resources on campus, options for reporting and what reporters can expect next. 

Morgan noted specifically that anyone who works with the University is a non-confidential resource, with the exception of medical staff, anyone within the University Counseling Center (UCC) and a vowed religious acting within the capacity of their vows. One example Morgan used was a priest who also serves as the rector of a residence hall. She explained that he would be considered a non-confidential resource because he is not specifically working within his duties as a priest. Morgan also mentioned there is a difference between being a non-confidential resource and a mandatory reporter. 

Morgan said she is very proud of how the SpeakUp site is organized now and believes that students will have an easier time navigating the site to learn the tool’s purpose and filing a report correctly if the need arises. 

The Mechanics

Anyone with a Notre Dame NetID (the beginning part of any Notre Dame email address) can access SpeakUp and file a report. 

Ryan referred to the tool as a “landing page,” explaining that from the SpeakUp website, a student can file a variety of different reports based on the specific incident. On the reporting page, a reporter has five different options of which type of report to file: an incidence of racial or discriminatory harassment, anything related to sexual harassment and wrongdoing, hazing or initiatory events, retaliation or violation of a University order, and any other type of incident. 

Based on which report is chosen, the completed form is routed to the corresponding office. For example, an incidence of sexual harassment that was reported would go directly to the University’s Title IX office. 

Director of diversity and inclusion for race and ethnicity Faith Woods explained that the purpose of SpeakUp is to be a “direct connection” between the administration and anyone who has been involved or witnessed an incident of wrongdoing. 

Ryan and Morgan both emphasized although the process varies within the circumstances of the incident, someone from the addressing department on campus will reach out to those involved in a timely manner about the next steps. 

“I think one piece that’s important to note is that [within 48 hours], you will hear from someone to go through what next steps would be appropriate for that particular complaint or grievance,” Morgan noted. 

Ryan said that specifically within OCS, outcomes of a filed complaint will take one of three routes: the meeting, the conference and the hearing. She said the meeting is the least formal, consisting of a meeting with a rector or hall staff for a first-time offense; whereas, the hearing is a more severe outcome with possible University dismissal in the realm of decisions.

“The conference is the middle part, it’s sort of a middle ground with a lot of formation and growth can occur,” she said. “It still has some disciplinary status outcomes available, but that’s not maybe the first place those conversations start.”

Future Directions and Drawbacks

Both Morgan and Ryan acknowledged there is still work to be done to publicize the SpeakUp tool. 

Outside the student-led focus groups coming out of the Inclusive Campus Survey, another of the steps taken recently was a joint campaign with the Division of Student Affairs and Notre Dame student government, specifically student government director of gender relations for Title IX and woman’s initiatives Lane Obringer. 

Obringer said she noticed that a lot of the promotional material for SpeakUp was outdated and saw an opportunity to raise awareness for a tool she believes is extremely important. 

“I thought that just bringing [SpeakUp] to the forefront of the student body’s attention would be super important as we began the school year, especially because the time from the first day of school until Thanksgiving break is known as the Red Zone of increased sexual assaults and violence on college campuses,” she said. 

Over the summer, Obringer worked with Morgan to design new promotional material for SpeakUp.

One place Obringer hesitates in regard to SpeakUp is that she knows the decision to bring an incident forward to University officials is difficult. 

“I’m really, really grateful that SpeakUpND does exist — we need a platform for students to be able to share their experiences of the bad things that have happened on this campus,” she emphasized. “But I also understand its downsides.”

When asked about her views on SpeakUp as a whole, Obringer began to tell a story of when she sat in on a faculty senate meeting. 

Obringer said that when SpeakUp was brought up in the meeting, none of the faculty knew what it was or how to access it. 

“That was really worrisome to me, that faculty, and sometimes staff members aren’t aware of SpeakUpND, and they don’t know its purpose,” she said. “Yes, SpeakUp is important. Yes, it is a vital resource for our campus, but all eyes need to be on it.”

Director of multicultural student programs and services (MSPS) Arnel Bulaoro said he encourages students to utilize SpeakUp when they face situations with harmful racial harassment, bias or discrimination. He noted that part of his role as director is to help the administration and assist students who experience racial microaggressions. 

Bulaoro pointed out that although the reporting tool aims to decrease incidents of wrongdoing on campus, reporting itself can be a burden at times. 

“The nature of SpeakUp as a tool is to raise awareness of incidents, investigate and to support. It is not designed to cause harm to those who are injured by these incidents, but it is fair to say that reliving them can be a source of pain,” he said in an email. 

As far as the future goes, Bulaoro wrote that he believes the University can do more to promote SpeakUp to the student body. 

“Several years ago, Diversity Council suggested to the University to create a reporting tool and to that end, SpeakUp is serving its intended purpose,” he said. “Perhaps, it is more fair to say that our campus community can raise awareness that this tool is available to help make our community a better place.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the housing office of SpeakUpND. The Observer regrets this error.

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu