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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

Meet the student body presidential candidates: Patrick Lee and Sofie Stitt

Junior Patrick Lee and sophomore Sofie Stitt are presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the 2022 Notre Dame student government election. The pair have served as hall presidents in Stanford and Pasquerilla West, respectively. As that experience comes to an end, they said they want to continue to serve the campus community in a larger role. Their experience in Hall Presidents Council is evident in their policy proposals, as they intend to work with hall leadership on most fronts. 

In an interview with The Observer, the pair broke down of some of the key pieces of their platform.

Reinstating the Student Life Council

The crux of the Lee-Stitt platform takes on the existing Campus Life Council (CLC). The campaign argues the CLC is “cumbersome, bureaucratic and leaves ordinary students out” of the discussion. They say it is “an exclusive body of students” voicing the needs of the entire student body.

According to the Lee-Stitt campaign, this “further [pushes] out non-student government undergraduates from the decision-making that impacts their lives.”  

As former Stanford Hall senator in the Notre Dame student senate, Lee said he noticed the limited access the rest of the student body has to student government. He says the Student Life Council (SLC) is the solution to bridge this gap. 

“Right now, I think one of the only ways that students can be involved in student government meetings is the senate,” he said. “And as a former senator, I cannot confidently say that I would love to invite my friends to a senate meeting to hear what’s going on. Even when I had what I thought [was] productive legislation being proposed. The meetings are not exactly tailored to the public. And so, doing things like communicating better and opening meetings to students, holding listening sessions with students... The SLC obviously will hopefully play a big part in this.” 

Lee and Stitt intend to revert to the SLC. It’s a decades-old structure within the Student Union that “allowed students to stand face-to-face with the University administration and voice their questions and concerns.” 

The Lee-Stitt campaign argues the University should return to the SLC, which would include students, rectors and University officials, “with the goal of including and representing any and every student” at regularly scheduled meetings.

The main difference between the two councils would be another power Lee and Stitt hope to reinstate. The platform referenced how the former SLC held “binding legislative authority over decisions” around student life. Reinstating this authority would force the administration to run policy by the students, they said.

It would require a decision-making explanation before “blindsiding” students with any substantive changes. In the breakdown of their goals, Lee and Stitt said they intend to reinstate this element as well, not just for their one year but for the future.

“We also recognize that this is a big goal,” Stitt said. “And our term would be one year. So, the dream would be for us to bring the SLC back and kind of hand it to the people that would be in office behind us. Hopefully they share that same passion and drive for a diversity of voices and student empowerment and they can continue to build on year after year.”

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Courtesy of J
Junior Patrick Lee, right, is running for Notre Dame student body president alongside vice presidential candidate sophomore Sofie Stitt.

Caring for “the Notre Dame family” and all students

When asked how they would describe Notre Dame in one word, together and seemingly unrehearsed, the pair said “family.” Stitt added that she and Lee want everyone to feel like they are a part of that family.

“This place really is my home,” she said. “I’ve never been somewhere where there’s a group of people — whether I know them or I don’t — who would do just about anything for me. I’ve never felt compelled to serve other people, my friends and strangers in the way that I do here. There’s nothing like it. And I think we try to echo that a lot in our policy. We’ll do whatever it takes to make anybody at this campus feel at home and loved and celebrated. We commit to that. Because that is the open arms that we walked into.”

To protect all members of this “family," they outlined key pieces in their platform regarding gender, race and sexuality. Specifically, they broke down initiatives around gender relations, power-based and sexual violence, support for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as supporting people of color and the different cultures on campus.

Gender Relations and the LGBTQ+ Community

The campaign intends to improve access to GreeNDot training, according to the Lee-Stitt platform. They said they want to talk to hall councils to change dorm GreenNDot requirements, such as setting the participation quota to more than a 15% increase per dorm each year. They said they will also require hall presidents to complete the multicultural model of GreeNDot.

The Lee-Stitt ticket intends to create student focus groups to learn about students’ personal experiences surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation. More actively, the pair plans to “add petitions” praying for the end of discrimination and homophobia. Working with Campus Ministry, they would do so “particularly during weeks of reflection and awareness for the LGBTQIA+ community,” according to the platform. They also hope to promote the Alumni Rainbow Community of Notre Dame (ARC ND), the alumni group for the LGBTQ+ community.

The ticket said they would continue the Njomo-Bisner policy of Safety After Parietals. This allows students feeling at risk of sexual assault to leave residence halls even during parietal hours. Lee and Stitt also discussed how they intend to use Callisto to provide reporting and action options for sexual assault survivors. 

Including “every student” and culture

Additionally, the campaign outlined Lee and Stitt’s plan to protect the “inclusion and celebration of people of color and marginalized students” within the Notre Dame family. Their platform argues that the University “addresses race and ethnicity after a problem has occurred.”To combat this reactiveness, Lee and Stitt will seek to implement “celebrating significant cultural events on campus, as well as uplifting and promoting students of color.”According to their platform, the changes they want to make are within the scope of student government. One of these changes is to provide representatives and coordinators for student cultural groups within Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS) and the Gender Relations Center (GRC). “These coordinators would serve by being the bridge between undergraduate clubs and these departments, allowing more cooperation between the university and more internal support for these student leaders,” Lee-Stitt wrote in their platform.  The pair enumerated other locations where representation lacked and how they aimed to rectify it. This included Black hairstylists, “bringing black artists to ND and hosting an art show to create more avenues for the expression of identity,” and having seats for cultural club leaders on the SLC. In concluding this section of their policy, the Lee-Stitt campaign highlighted the importance of allyship. “Our administration is committed to continuing the good work of previous administrations,” they wrote. “We commit to promoting diversity and inclusion in every part of our positions.”

Sustainability and accessibility

The Lee-Stitt campaign also discussed avenues for enacting positive change in on-campus sustainability and accessibility. On the sustainability front, successfully recycling within dorms constituted their priority. In their platform, they said they intend to make sure recycling is “streamlined and incentivized through the Hall President’s Council.”While the campaign said that most sustainability concerns would be outside the scope of the student government, they maintained they would host a sustainability fair around Earth Day, which would include “speakers, free educational materials, and sustainability-focused service projects.” In regards to accessibility, Lee and Stitt have considered small changes that could open the door to larger ones. Each dorm has a process for work order forms, or requests students can fill out to repair something that is broken. In the same way, the campaign said they want to create a similar, anonymous form to improve accommodations for disabilities. “[Students with disabilities] can submit requests anonymously to the facilities design and operations team,” Stitt said. “And we aim to form a connection with them and then ideally, those changes will get made immediately. Something as little as moving a soap dispenser down lower on the wall or [fixing] inappropriate signage outside the bathroom — we want to get those changes done.”

Interactive directory to improve community involvement

The Lee-Stitt campaign said they want to establish an interactive directory to better understand what the South Bend community needs from the students and the University. “In our opinion, we have 8,600 very socially concerned students who can pitch in to help these partners accomplish their goals. And one of the ways that we want to do that is by building an interactive directory,” Lee said. “Let’s say I’m at Center for the Homeless, and I need students to run childcare during adult education. I could go on this directory and say I’m looking for students on Tuesday and Thursday nights who are comfortable helping younger kids learn how to read and tutoring middle school students in math and languages. They can put that on the directory and students can find them.” But students would be able to access this directory too, he added. “In that way, we can kind of lower the barriers to helping these community partners,” he explained. The pair also envision this interactive directory helping to promote partnerships between student groups and South Bend’s sustainability-focused organizations such as Green Bridge Growers.

A “holistic” mental health approach

Lee and Stitt acknowledged the extreme levels of mental distress Notre Dame students have reported in the last year. The pair thus want to “remove the barriers” to existing resources like the University Counseling Center (UCC) and Rec Sports fitness classes. “Mental health is obviously not something that you wake up one day and you have and you wake up the next day and you lose,” Stitt said. “So, we are not going to pretend like we are going to solve all mental health problems on campus. But the plan that we’ve developed is so attainable. We’ve looked at ways that we can pressure the administration on the UCC, particularly getting a more diverse group of counselors to represent all of our students — particularly those of marginalized groups.” Additionally, the campaign wants to add dorm representatives so a counselor from the UCC is available to every dorm. They intend to adjust drop-in hours as well. The pair wants to extend these to “times outside of class, outside of traditional student activities.” Stitt also described the thought process behind lowering the cost of Rec Sports classes from $5 to a maximum of $1, or even making them free. “[The current cost] is an inappropriate socio-economic barrier to fitness and health,” Stitt said. They said they also intend to make the dining hall easier to maneuver so it can be a space for students to enjoy, since “the gut serves as our ‘second brain’ in producing 95% of serotonin.” The platform promised better dining options both in general and for vegan and vegetarian students.