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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Meet the student body presidential candidates: Sierra Stinson and Dane Sherman

Student body presidential candidate junior Sierra Stinson and vice presidential candidate sophomore Dane Sherman have created an expansive platform built on equitable improvements to the Notre Dame student body through policy change and creation in partnership with the University and student groups.

Their 26-page platform is divided into three thematic sections, which also spell out the ticket’s slogan: accompany, implement, mobilize. 

A resident of Lewis Hall from Spokane, Washington, Stinson is a political science and Program of Liberal Studies major and serves as director of academic affairs in the student government executive cabinet. She said she is running for student body president because when she was a first-year, she often felt like she did not belong at Notre Dame. 

“I want to make sure that every student knows that they deserve to be here,” she said. 

Sherman had similar reasoning, saying he wants every student to feel the same way he does when he looks at the Golden Dome driving up Notre Dame Avenue after an academic break. He said he only feels excitement, “not feeling dread or [like] I don’t belong here.” 

Sherman, an American studies and peace studies major from Seattle, Washington, is the current director of University policy in the student government executive cabinet.

Junior Sierra Stinson, left, is running for Notre Dame student body president alongside vice presidential candidate sophomore Dane Sherman.

Stinson said in addition to their connections within student government and the administration and their shared experience in leadership and policymaking in student government, the pair’s experiences as students who have at times pushed back against what Notre Dame could be, qualifies them as candidates for student body president and vice president.

“And I think that makes us special in the fact that we understand some of the difficulties that some people have had with Notre Dame, and we’re willing to work on that,” she said. 

Policymaking and change

Stinson said one of the most feasible of their goals is to increase support and resources for sexual violence prevention and education and support for sexual violence survivors, including the continual rollout of Callisto across the tri-campus. 

The ticket’s most ambitious goal is their residential life policy changes, including paying a wage to resident assistants (RAs).

Another goal of residential life improvements is the ticket’s plan to “Accompany Students to Express Their Gender Identity,” part of which seeks to increase gender equity in Office of Community Standards (OCS) processes.

“Right now, there is a disparity between men and women’s dorms,” Stinson explained. “Women seem to be OCS’ed more frequently than men dorms, and there’s not a lot of party culture within women’s dorms.” 

Stinson and Sherman said that, from conversations with many students and hall presidents, they came to the conclusion that even when men’s dorms on campus are the location of more unofficial parties, female students are written up with OCS violations — often referred to with the verb “OSC’ed” — at higher rates. However, Stinson said that in meetings with University officials, the administration expressed a disbelief that this disparity existed. 

“What we need to do is make sure that the administration sees that there is a disparity,” Stinson said. 

The ticket plans to audit OCS and compile data on violations and disciplinary processes between men and women’s dorms to formally lay out this alleged problem. Stinson stressed the purpose of this plan is to ensure women’s dorms can also participate in typical dorm culture. 

“We’re not trying to limit or OCS men’s dorms or limit the amount of parties,” she said. “What we're actually trying to do is show the administration that women are not allowed to do the same fun events that men’s dorms are allowed to do.” 

Sherman noted the plan to audit OCS requires cooperation with the University, since OCS is beyond the power of student government and deals with individual students’ privacy.

However, Sherman said, “this is actually some work that I’ve actually been working on already with, specifically, Erin Oliver and the Office of Institutional Equity, and I had a meeting with Heather Ryan, who is the head of OCS.” 

Other issues Stinson and Sherman plan to take on and change are the 15-minute limitation on unapproved campus protests and the organizational recognition requirements and Student Activities Office (SAO) rules that prevent certain student groups organizing around or discussing certain issues such as LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.

Additionally, Stinson and Sherman seek to take on national issues of legality by advocating for the availability of University health insurance for students registered under Medicaid and partner with student body leaders at Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross to lobby for students’ issues. 

Diversity and accommodations

When asked what the biggest problem facing Notre Dame students is, Stinson said there are not enough resources and attention provided for Notre Dame’s increasingly diverse student body. 

“Every year they say this is the most diverse class we had, whether it’s low-income or economic, racial, religious or any of those things,” she said. “There’s not representation of these races within teaching or within our professors. There’s not enough resources in OSE [Office of Student Enrichment] for low-income students. There’s not enough interfaith conversations for students of different religions.”

To address the issue of diversity at Notre Dame, their platform “Accompany Affinity Groups on Campus” offers a number of solutions. Some include encouraging departments to allow class excuses for students to attend events such as Race Relations Week and Gender Relations Center (GRC) events, working with administration to ensure the Potawatomi flag flies throughout the year and partnering with OSE to subsidize trips to Black hair stylists in the South Bend area. 

Additionally, the ticket plans to establish a “Cultural Awareness Week” to celebrate diversity in Notre Dame and religion, establish a student-run Civil Rights Commission to hear discriminatory reports, finalize the implementation of an LGBTQ+ Mass on campus and continue to work towards the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in Notre Dame’s non-discrimination clause.

From their list of policy changes and administration goals, the ticket told The Observer their first priority when taking office will be to focus on improving the Notre Dame experience of first-generation and low-income students, which has been a goal of the current Njomo-Bisner administration as well. 

“One of the first things that we’ve talked about working on is expanding the Transformational Leaders Program,” Stinson said. 

In their vision, low-income students could attend programming the summer before their first year to further prepare academically, such as how to write an essay that meets the standards of Notre Dame academics, among other things.

Sherman noted that — especially in light of the recent lawsuit alleged against Notre Dame for price-fixing financial aid with other universities — it’s important to financially and academically support first-generation and low-income students.

When asked to describe what Notre Dame means to them in one word, Stinson said “self-discovery,” thanks in part to the disagreements she has had with classmates over the years.

“Without that challenge from other groups or other students, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today,” she said. “… Now, I’m very proud of the fact that I’m a brown woman, and I know the power of being a brown woman because I’m able to surround myself with other brown women who are have the same ideals as me, and also be challenged by people who don’t have the same beliefs [as] me.”

Sherman responded to the question with the word “grace.”

“We’ve talked with a lot of students and, I think, hearing their stories of love and hurt and pain and joy has been a really eye-opening and transformative experience,” Sherman said. “Whether ... we win or lose.”