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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

Observer Editorial: Here’s why you should care about the Student Life Council

Last week, the Student Life Council (SLC) reconvened after a 50-year hiatus. 

In its current form, each SLC meeting has a predetermined theme that is timely. For the first time in five decades, any student could raise their hand and ask the vice president for student affairs Fr. Gerard Olinger, vice president and associate provost for undergraduate educationFr. Dan Groody and student body president Patrick Lee — alongside that week’s guest speaker — anything. 

Although the majority of the event is reserved for discussion on the topic assigned for the meeting, 10 minutes are allotted for any questions about the University or student life. Those are 10 minutes Notre Dame students didn’t have before. 

As the tri-campus independent student newspaper, The Observer acknowledges the SLC as a step toward transparency, but it will only live up to its ideals if both students and administrators invest in the meeting. In order for the SLC to be productive and effective, both parties have to hold up their end of the deal.

Students: Let’s not waste this opportunity to voice our questions or concerns. 

Administrators: Make this effort worth our while by answering our questions in a substantial way.

Last week, that theme was faith and formation, and most of the questions asked that evening reflected a conservative, Catholic perspective. Although many students at the University hold this perspective — and given the topic, this representation imbalance was expected — the absence of questions from even one student of a different faith or with different perspectives on Catholicism was notable. This is something the student body and administrators should reflect on. While this was only the first meeting, it serves as a reminder that the SLC will be most effective when students with a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives show up to voice their thoughts.

The next time Notre Dame student government announces an SLC meeting, seize the opportunity to speak directly to the three permanent members: Fr. Groody, Fr. Olinger and Patrick Lee. Don’t let one side dominate the conversation. 

Though the transparency and open communication once realized by Hesburgh-era SLC meetings might seem far off, Saint Mary’s has already shown how these meetings can still be effective.

This past fall, College President Katie Conboy and student body president Angela Martinez Camacho hosted an open forum for students to discuss issues of sexual violence after several tri-campus students shared social media postsalleging cases of sexual assault. Any student was invited to ask questions or share concerns about Saint Mary’s plans for assault prevention and survivor support. 

“This is a place where you should feel that when something isn’t working for you, you can bring it forward to your administration and we will be responsive to that,” Conboy said at the forum. This instance of responsiveness to student needs by the College is commendable and can serve as a model for open, on-campus dialogue between students and administrators. Notre Dame campus leaders should take a page from Conboy’s playbook in responding to student concerns.

Notably, the University has not widely advertised or announced the SLC. Only student government messages and social media have been used to promote the meetings. We hope clear communication and transparency are one of Notre Dame’s own goals, and we encourage the University to be more willing to advertise the SLC. We ask them to answer questions more decisively instead of deferring to the “we can talk after the meeting” response heard frequently at the first SLC held in this capacity.

Both students and administrators must make an effort to ensure the SLC does its job. It’s easy to write off the SLC as just another performative piece of student government programming, but that's what it will become if we don’t show up.

Student body president Patrick Lee himself acknowledged this risk in an interview with the Irish Rover. The next few SLC meetings will be pivotal in determining whether it sticks around and actually acts as the “instrument of hope” The Observer once called it.

A brief listen to dining hall discussions and dorm room conversations reveal that students have plenty of questions for administrators. What does it say if we don’t follow through when the University opens up that opportunity?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.