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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Outgoing ND student body president, vice president reflect on an unprecedented year

When Rachel Ingal and Sarah Galbenski first took office as the Notre Dame student body president and vice president in March 2020, they had no idea what the next year held for them.

Ingal, a senior political science major and business economics minor, said she has always been involved with Notre Dame student government. When she was a first-year, Ingal served on First Undergraduate Experience in Leadership (FUEL). Ingal said she enjoyed it so much that she came back and co-directed the FUEL program her sophomore year.

As a junior, Ingal said she took a step back from student government to do her fall semester away from campus in Washington, D.C. She said it was during that semester away from campus that she decided to run for student body president.

Galbenski is a senior majoring in Spanish and global affairs with a concentration in peace studies. Unlike Ingal, Galbenski said she had no previous experience with student government before being asked to join Ingal’s ticket.

Galbenski said she believes the pair have a good balance since they had different background experiences from before becoming president and vice president.

“I think [Ingal] was looking for someone to balance her out — someone that had experience in other spheres on campus and could bring fresh perspectives to the table, but it also is great to have her institutional experience and knowledge to help bring me into the fold,” Galbenski explained.

Ingal and Galbenski ran on a platform of striving to “accompany, advocate for and amplify every student on this campus.”

Sarah Galbenski (left) and Rachel Ingal served as Notre Dame student body vice president and student body president, respectively, for the 2020-2021 term.

Ingal said she believed the best part of their campaign is that they knew students had a lot to say.

“Something that I think was the coolest part of our campaign was that we didn’t believe we needed to be a voice for the voiceless,” Ingal said. “And I think we just had a fundamental belief that nobody here is voiceless; everybody has a voice. They have incredible perspective and have lived experiences to contribute and share … all we wanted to do is just strive to amplify that.”

When students were asked to stay or return home within their first week on the job, Ingal and Galbenski pivoted to set aside their more ambitious campaign promises in order to prioritize what students needed. Ingal said she was very proud of how they were able to adapt to the new circumstances so quickly.

“We were adapting so much, and you just have to be on your feet in terms of trying to be as attentive as possible to things that we needed, specifically for our COVID year,” Ingal said.

The main two things Ingal said they focused on, in terms of COVID-related changes, were increased HERE dashboard metrics and more testing.

“And that's something we were big advocates from the beginning and consistently brought up on a weekly basis to all of our advisors and slowly but surely, they started to do that,” Ingal explained. “A lot of the work and accomplishments that we made were in very informal conversations, and it literally was just instances of us being a liaison between the students and the administration.”

According to Galbenski, they were very nervous about the year to come during the turbulent start to their term.

“We were a little bit nervous when that curveball was thrown at us that it would be all cleanup and disaster relief — and it was a lot of that, because that’s just what the community needed and you have to respond to the community’s needs as a public servant — but we still were able to embark upon our own plans and dreams as well,” Galbenski said.

Despite the tumultuous start to Ingal and Galbenski’s term, they said they achieved many of their campaign goals and other initiatives that came up during the year.

Ingal said one of her favorite programs Galbenski and she got started on over the past year was the Women’s Leadership Forum.

“We wanted to create a women’s leadership forum as a way to expose all these great, high-achieving women to leaders on campus who have had incredibly successful career paths and who’ve kind of done it all,” Ingal said. “But also, we wanted to create a network of women student union leaders, so that they could kind of lean on each other, and just form those relationships.”

Galbenski said she considered adjusting Title IX regulations one of the most important achievements of her term.

During the Trump presidency, Title IX regulations were changed to make the evidentiary standard for both student and faculty sexual assault cases the same. In the past, the Notre Dame faculty evidentiary standard had been higher than the student evidentiary standard.

Galbenski said since she was a student liaison for the faculty senate, she played an integral part in changing the Title IX rules so that the student evidentiary standard would not increase from “preponderance of the evidence” to a “clear and convincing” standard as a result of the new Trump-era regulations. She said it was very important for both Ingal and her to stand with sexual assault survivors by making the reporting process easier, not harder.

Both Ingal and Galbenski said they are grateful for the opportunity they had to serve as Notre Dame student body president and vice presidents during this unprecedented year.

Ingal said that she will take the leadership, flexibility and resilience that she’s cultivated during her time here into whatever her future holds. Galbenski said she will always value the lessons she has learned and relationships that she made.

“It’s just been the people that have been the best part of it — that have taught me so much,” Galbenski said. “I’m really grateful.”