At the meeting of the Student Senate on Thursday, November 5, 2020 Student Body President Rachel Ingal delivered the State of the Student Union.
Senators, thank you all for being with us at our penultimate meeting of the semester. I know this year has been dynamic, frustrating, and exhausting - but I first want to say that I am incredibly proud of the way that you have all continued to serve the student union in the midst of the chaos. You have brought steady service and ceaselessly advocated for your constituents, peers, and friends. This year more than ever, we needed selfless and courageous students to take the lead on advocating for the interest of the student body - and you have undoubtedly done that. We have all been experiencing an emotional weight this semester, but I do not underestimate the amplified burden that you all shoulder as student leaders, so I want to thank you for being such a force for good on this campus at a time when we were deeply in need.
As we are all aware, we have been living through an unprecedented semester. It has required a great amount of flexibility on our end, considering that there is not a handbook for this. Every day, we have to be attentive to everything from the case numbers, to the national news, and even to the weather. Especially with the recent tragedy that took the lives of Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas, we have been experiencing unparalleled heartache and pain and taking time to remember the light that they brought us. The conversation around mental health has been imperative this semester, and I hope the energy that we are giving it today continues into the future. On our end, we brought this conversation to the Board of Trustees, and spoke to how, in a year without any breaks, many students struggled to adapt to the new cadence of the academic calendar. In an attempt to listen to how the student body was feeling and use their language in our meetings, we sent out a survey that received almost 1000 responses, and we successfully used this data to work with the Provost to modify the spring semester schedule. However, we know that the dialogue on student health and wellbeing extends further than giving days off, and we look forward to continuing the work on the conversation.
The 2020 Presidential Election has also colored a lot of the work that we have been doing to increase national engagement. We know that the political climate at the moment is incredibly divisive. However, we believe that it is on us to facilitate fruitful conversation with the goal of empathetic understanding, so that we all may be active shapers of our nation's democracy. Our Student Government Department of National Engagement has been working all semester in partnership with NDVotes, BridgeND, and all campus political clubs in order to unite on issues of civic engagement and mobilize students to action. We believe that constructive, respectful dialogue is the antidote to the increasing polarization that we see in our nation. For this reason, we hosted or cosponsored a package of engagement activities (Civic Engagement Week, Rock the Vote, Presidential Debate Watch, Converge, and other Advocacy Guides) aimed to keep our campus aware of what is happening in our nation and equipped to be a force for good in it.
Back on August 10, temporary measures were put in place to ensure that the University was in compliance with the Department of Education’s new Title IX regulations. However, over the course of this semester, the Ad Hoc Committee on Title IX Policies and Procedures comprised of faculty, staff, and students has been hard at work drafting more comprehensive procedures for resolving concerns of discriminatory harassment, sexual harassment, and other sex-based misconduct. After hosting over a dozen listening sessions last week, this committee’s final draft was approved by the Academic Council on November 4. We are pleased that the unanimous Senate support of SS 2021-18, “A Resolution in Support of Upholding the Preponderance of Evidence Standard in Title IX and Other Sex-Based Misconduct Cases,” was a contributing factor to the committee’s decision to maintain the preponderance of evidence standard and stand with survivors of sexual assault.
Additionally, we have been consistently putting in work to continue conversations on racial justice and how to make our campus a more inclusive one. Our Department of Diversity and Inclusion partnered with the Office of Multicultural Student Programming and Services to host Race Relations Week. Within it, they celebrated Indigenous People’s Day, held a “Let’s Talk about Race” conversation, promoted “A Conversation with Angela Davis”, put on a “Dismantling Racism Resource Fair”, and concluded with a “Prayer for Unity”. Apart from the programming, Sarah, Aaron, and I have been reevaluating diversity and inclusion from a structural level, engaging in conversations with leadership from Diversity Council and other student leaders about creating long lasting change both within the Student Union and the Student Body. We have been grateful for the conversations we have had thus far, and we are optimistic for the future of these endeavors.
Most importantly, as we close out the semester, I hope that you all take care of yourselves. As a Student Body, we have all been through so much, and it has impacted us in unique ways. Please treat yourself with grace and kindness, and use the break as a chance to rejuvenate and refresh. The end of the semester provides us with a great opportunity to reflect on all you have accomplished and remember why you are here in the first place. You have all proved to be strong and resilient in astounding ways - and I am so proud of your service and to be serving by your side. I look forward to finishing the year strong and reconnecting in the semester to come. Keep fighting the good fight.
The Constitution of the Undergraduate Student Body of the University of Notre Dame du Lac mandates that the Student Body President deliver the State of the Student Union Address once before the end of the spring semester, in the month of November, and in the spring semester before the end of their term.