Equity, Community, Transparency: Siegel-Holland Interview

Juniors Max Siegel and Zach Holland, candidates for 2021 Student Body President and Vice President, joined The Irish Worker Editors Ashton Bieri and John Clark over Zoom on Friday to discuss their campaign and platform. Their words have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Ashton Bieri: To start, could you briefly introduce yourselves?

Max Siegel: I’m Max Siegel and I’m running for student body president. I’m a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Council (SAAC), I’m also on the football team, and what really got me started in a lot of the work I’m doing now, and ultimately why I want to continue this work through Student Government – was getting involved in terms of addressing racial and social injustice on campus; I started doing a lot of writing and I was able to talk to Fr. Jenkins, Erin Hoffman Harding, Provost Miranda, and from that we had a lot of dialogue and conversation. But I realized there’s only so far you can get without working through Student Government, and I feel like this is the next step, in terms of furthering the efforts that other students and I have worked on, to bring them to fruition, and see all of our hard work pay off.

Zach Holland: I’m Zach Holland, a junior political science and economics major; Max and I used to live in Zahm together but now we’re off campus. I’ve done some work in Student Government before as a part of the First Undergraduate Experience in Leadership (FUEL) as a freshman, which gets you involved in how to be a student leader on campus; how to work through SAO, organize events. I was a member of the Department of Community Engagement and Outreach my sophomore year, setting up events before COVID cut that short. Then I joined Junior Class Council – which Max is on as well – so I have some experience in Student Government.

However, most of my experience as a student leader comes from outside, such as being the Vice President of College Democrats and then Co-President of College Democrats last semester; we did a lot of great work leading up to the election, and I’m proud of what we were able to do to get people civically engaged. I also led a policy project to reduce homelessness with the city of South Bend, where we had a team of 10-15 people to present policy solutions, and I’m hoping to see a lot of progress on that.

I’m running because I think Max has a fantastic vision for what we can with Student Government, but I also want to really work with building back our community in the wake of COVID. After a year of being socially distanced, a lot of our relationships and community has been damaged; freshman haven’t gotten the typical Notre Dame experience, juniors that were supposed to go abroad didn’t get to, and really every single student has been impacted, and I’m running for student body vice president because I want to bring people together after this crisis.

John Clark: So you’re both kind of outsiders, to an extent?

MS: We are outsiders, and we really embrace that. We didn’t plan initially on running, either one of us, but it was events within our community that really drove us to run. I think that because in a normal year we might’ve not ran proves that we’re both very excited and eager for this challenge, but also that our drive is genuine. We both believe that we’re more than qualified to lead the student body, and while we are outsiders we’re also seasoned in terms of leadership and experiences that we’ve had.

JC: So what I gathered from your backstory is that you’ve basically done everything you can do outside of Student Government, and now you’re running for Student Government leadership so you can go even further?

MS: yeah, I would say., like I’ve said, we’ve been able to talk and have conversations with Fr. Jenkins, Erin Hoffman Harding, and Provost Miranda, but there’s only so far we can go with these conversations and asking the administration to come forward with this, and so I think that this next step will help us enact different policies that we think would really help both bring the campus together, in terms of COVID and what was lost on that, but also bring people together in terms of the racial divide that’s on campus as well.

JC: I really appreciate how this isn’t something you’ve been plotting since your freshman year, and instead you embraced it as a course of events.

ZH: Yeah, I think that often when tickets have run in the past – while there have always been some absolutely fantastic tickets – with certain tickets you just get the sense that they wanted to run for student body president and vice president, and then they figure out what they want to do, they come up with a good platform to help them get there. Max and I have visions for what we want to do, and we want to use the office and the institution of the Student Government to help us achieve those goals, because we think its beneficial.

JC: Your campaign slogan is Equity | Community | Transparency; how does that guide your policies and how will it help shape your leadership if you’re elected?

MS: One of the biggest things for us is that even before Zach and I started to petition, we sat down and had a meeting, and we spent about 2 hours going back and forth about what we wanted to focus on, what categories we think we can make a difference in, and we think we have a good perspective to change and bring new ideas to the table.

We settled on Transparency, Community and Equity because we believe that although these things have very distinct differences about them, there are some underlying connections between them that bring them all together. A good example of this is something we’ve kind been working towards over the summer and want to push forward is transparency in terms of racially charged incidents on campus. Often you don’t hear what happens after an incident, and while you might get an email or there’s an investigation, you don’t get much follow-up. Our goal here would be to have a transparent system, similar to the campus crime reports – that give the time, detail the event, and keep you informed. What we want is to open up and expose the mechanisms and processes that go into addressing the incident, and that’s an area where we see both transparency and equity come together. And the third part is community; it’s uncomfortable and worrisome to hear about these incidents, especially when you don’t know how the University’s handling them, and don’t know about the outcome for the perpetrator of the incident. By keeping the process transparent we can build safety and togetherness in the community by letting students know that not only is the University with us, they’re also working to better the experience of minority students on campus.

ZH: In terms of guiding our leadership, I think if we were elected equity would guide our vision. We want to bring help where help is needed, and a great example is our plan to develop equitable club funding. Right now club funding is dependent on size of the club, and so minority and cultural clubs tend to get less funding than they need because of their small size. But those clubs are small because of inequitable issues within the community, and so we really need to bring help where help is needed.

In terms of community, we want to bring people back together and rebuild the community that we had, and a lot of our policies and initiatives will plan to do that. I think the two work together, and as Max and I realized, if you want to have a strong campus community you need equity because if 70% of students on campus are having a fantastic time and the other 30% are not, that’s not a real community – that’s division, and that’s not as strong as we can be. We really want to create a Notre Dame that’s for every student in that regard.

AB: How will you, in your roles as president and vice president, serve to be a liaison between the student body and the Notre Dame administration?

MS: This goes back to our idea of transparency, and for that we have a 2-pronged approach: the first part is exposing the mechanisms in Student Government and University administration, so students understand where they’re coming from. The second part is that we believe the way Student Government is right now, it can be hard for the average student to start to get involved, in terms of wording and procedure. What we want to do – and our vision of transparency – is not only making the workings of Student Government open to everybody, but also putting it into easily understandable language, not like you had to be at the meeting to understand it. We want to make it easily understandable to everybody. We’d carry that approach over to the administration as well; we not only want to be for the people and represent them, but also when the University makes a decision and sends it down, we want to explain it and let everyone know why the University came to that decision.

ZH: I think being the liaison is something we take seriously and want to do a good job at. One of the first things Max and I discussed was how we want do to things for Notre Dame, with Notre Dame. We think that mindset is different from a lot of past tickets because a lot of tickets come up with great ideas that they want to do for Notre Dame – and that’s great – but often these ideas are just their best guess as to what people want. What we want to do is increase communication between the student body and its leaders, and if we do that we can better communicate what the student body wants to the administration; one of the programs we’re planning is called Speak For ND, which has gotten roots in Student Government this year. The idea is to create a platform where any student would be able to create a 4-minute video expressing their views: an issue related to the University, such as a policy that people widely object to, a policy that you personally object to, or it could be a national policy.

Basically, to give students a voice and let them be heard; we think this is important because if there’s a video out there that students are engaging with, it holds us accountable because there’s tangible evidence telling us that students want this and we have to do something. We really want to serve as a liaison: we want to do things with Notre Dame, and want to do it as a community.

JC: Max going back to your point on community, what would you say to the 70% of people having fun that would that think maybe there’s no problems with the community?

MS: This actually ties into some of my current experience: right now, I’m a volunteer for Microaggression Intervention at Notre Dame (MiNDful). For people who don’t know what it is: we go out and talk to people about and how to address a microaggression when you experience one yourself or see one taking place, and learn about what to do in that situation. You learn how to be an ally, and to be a very effective ally. I’ve spoken at Zahm, Stanford, Alumni and Fisher, and have a meeting at Stanford for this semester on Saturday. One of the biggest eye-openers for people is the Campus Climate data that we have. And so what I would say to these people is that, whether you see the problems or not, they exist, and that I’ve gone through myself. I don’t have the data in front of me right now, but there’s data about how many people experience offensive jokes or adverse treatment based on the way that they look, sexual orientation, stuff like that. One of the ways that we can start to bridge the community and start to bring us back is to make training such as MiNDful, or another form of cultural efficacy program, mandatory for all RAs, rectors, and hall staff – because that shapes the experience of dorm life. We think that by being able to do this, we could start bridging that gap and have people recognize and address when microaggressions and adverse treatment occurs. That’s a powerful first step and moving forward that’s something that we’re going to push for and work towards the hardest.

ZH: I think that right now we have a really good opportunity because I’d agree with the statement that in typical years, a very large portion of the Notre Dame community would say that the community works very well for them. I would say in most years, but this isn’t a normal year. A lot of people are feeling really left out from the community, and I think that’s important. Obviously, a lot is COVID-related, but people are becoming more aware of the disparities. I think that we’ve got a good opportunity as we build back the community in the wake of COVID; we’ve got the opportunity to build it back better in a way that brings more people into the mix and makes it better than it was before.

JC: Could you elaborate on the ways that people are noticing the disparities in the community as exacerbated by COVID?

ZH: I think that most of the freshman class is just completely detached from each other. Student organizations are having to meet on Zoom right now. Students are starting to realize the connections, the everyday connection that you got on an everyday basis. Especially in the wake of Black Lives Matter movement this summer, people are also starting to pay more attention to the impacts on campus. The combination of people realizing how detached they feel right now, and the social movements that have been going on are building empathy; they’re allowing people to realize that there are people at Notre Dame that might be getting a different experience. I think that provides legitimacy and strength behind our potential efforts to create a more equitable community.

MS: Something else that is happening because of COVID is that people are forced to deal with the disparity in the campus experience. I think that this example really exemplifies the disparity: in the fall semester, there were a bunch of people that were encouraging other students to call the police whenever they see people not following COVID guidelines. On one hand, you have to respect, and listen to their desire for a safe campus. But the issue with this is once you become, in a sense, too eager to call the police – a lot of these people aren’t considering the relationship that a lot of different minorities have with NDPD. And so this was a growing issue: we saw a lot of debate over this issue, where there were these two groups of people where they didn’t necessarily interact, or the differences between them didn’t really clash before this. There’s a lot of people that have to acknowledge, and come to terms with the fact that if you see people breaking COVID guidelines, and you call the police on them, you could potentially be exacerbating the issues that already exist with people of color and NDPD. I think that moving forward we want to work on those relations between students and NDPD. I’ve talked to people over at NDPD, and listened to some conversations; they’re doing a great job of moving in the right direction, and what we want to do is help them and provide more avenues on campus to allow NDPD and the communities of color on campus to work together and bridge this gap that’s existed between them as well.

AB: Going off how you’re talking about the community being detached. How do you plan to improve the campus environment specifically with regards to gender relations and LGBTQ+ students?

MS: I think that the first thing in terms of coming up with discussions about gender relations on campus, is to bring people that aren’t like us to the table. Obviously, you look at the two of us and we’re two men, at first we don’t have that diverse perspective, and something that Zach and I decided to do, we sat down and we said that on our team, we want to have a lot of women; we want to have a very diverse team behind us. I’m happy to say that half – if not more – of our team is composed of women, and this has informed our decision-making in terms of gender relations of what can be done. Obviously, people always talk about parietals, and the enforcement of parietals and other rules in women’s dorms as opposed to men’s dorms.

I think something that would be a lot more interesting is if we can start creating different diversity weeks on campus; one of the weeks that were planning on bringing back would be Civic Engagement Week, and I think that could be really helpful. We could do this for both gender relations as well as for the LGBTQ+ community; have weeks dedicated to those specific causes, a week filled with events. Whether that’s guest speakers, presidents of different clubs, coming to speak; creating a very robust idea of what it means to be a woman or a member of the LGBTQ+ community at Notre Dame. What we want to do is – I mean, we’d be the first to admit that we don’t have the perspective of women; we’re not women, and neither Zach or I are members of the LGBTQ+ community, but I think it’s because we recognize that we aren’t that we’re able to listen, make sure that we have these kinds of people on our team so that we can have meaningful dialogues with them and figure out aside from these focus weeks, where can we go next, and what can we do?

ZH: And I have to admit that it’s been frustrating and disheartening because I’ve seen the last three Student Government administrations, all of which tried and really wanted to help the LGBTQ+ community, but the administration has often had a terse or openly hostile relationship with the LGBTQ+ community, and a lot of this change has to happen at University policy. It’s disheartening because the Student Government doesn’t have the ability to change those hurtful policies, but we do have the opportunity to get in their ear and make sure that they know that a lot of people are angry about this. We can go after them about – I know that there was progress made on the nondiscrimination clause a couple months ago. I would love to work towards making sure that transgender students are able to live in the dorm that conforms with their gender identity. There’s all sorts of things that I think that Notre Dame could do a lot better on, and I plan on being as loud as I possibly can to the administration about changing some of these things.

But with that said, Max and I are both focused on tangibles; we really want to try and get things done, even if it might be smaller than what we could accomplish at the university policy level. But I really want to give a microphone to the experience of LGBTQ+ students; I think it’s easy to dismiss something or push out of out of your mind if you’re not being reminded of it constantly; so I’d love to, like Max is saying, sponsor a week, to give a voice to the LGBTQ+ community. I also know that like a Notre Dame professor has made a map of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and I’d love to publicize that. Max and I are committed to doing everything we possibly can through the executive branch, but it breaks my heart that so many of the problems are just up at the University policy level. But I promise you, I promise every member of the community that, um, we’re going be as loud as we possibly can in terms of getting change at the administrative level.

AB: The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted campus life and student health, with one in five undergraduate students infected since last August. What changes should be made to promote student success and the health of our communities?

ZH: I think the first thing is that the University has shown that when they get pressured, they’re willing to change. I remember the beginning of the fall semester the COVID testing program was laughable, in terms of what they were offering to undergraduates, but people got really loud about that. Surveillance testing keeps students safe, and fortunately they developed it to once a week with a couple of random tests thrown in there, which is good. I think that we can always do better.

A lot of this is advocating for University policy; Max and I plan on being as loud as possible about this.

The other thing that we can do – I grew up in a college town, both my parents teach at the University of Georgia and I’ve seen their COVID dashboard, as well as the dashboard of many other universities. The amount of data that they have, of when spikes are occurring, when they’re likely to occur, why they’re occurring; they’re so much more detailed than what we have at Notre Dame, and I would love to push for a lot of this stuff.

If I could change everything I wanted, I’d institute a retroactive pass/fail option, as you can see from our platform, for all the courses during the pandemic. I know that it was a big help for a lot of students in terms of their mental health during the spring; it would have been nice to have it last fall, although that didn’t happen, and it would be nice to have it right now. I know that when if we were to get inaugurated and take office in April, it would be a little bit late, but I think that we can be as loud as possible on that issue.

I think that we need to take the Campus Compact very seriously; everybody should be following it, but for those that have allegedly violated it, we need to give them more due process. When you make sure that they’re getting a fair hearing rather than just saying that this happened, and you’re now on COVID probation without any chance to state your case. I think that there’s a lot of work at the University level that can be done. Max, do you want to talk about what we can do as an executive branch?

MS: Going back to our pillar of transparency: something that Zach talked about that we can emphasize is making the COVID data and a lot more transparent, and something that’s missed about the data the cases that are retroactively added, so sometimes you can’t really grasp the full situation until a couple days after. We could increase the awareness and explanation of the data that we have, as well as expanding the data that’s available. We can also work towards making more events on campus accessible. What we’re seeing now – especially with the latest spike – a lot of in-person events are cancelled, and we’re seeing a lot of people who are feeling frustrated and trapped, and because it’s the winter and so cold people can’t meet outside. So students are opting to go off campus, to various venues or houses, to unwind and relax; the issue with that is that a lot more of the outbreaks are among people living on campus. What we need to do is not only have the lodges that have been built, but we also need to actively create programming, and have different COVID-safe events that students can attend. Right now there definitely are events, but we need to work a lot harder; it’s one thing to have these events and say students can come, but it’s another to really push for these events and have as many as possible that students can go to. Our goal for this situation would be – if someone were to ask, what can I do on campus?, we can send them a bunch of events for the week, and it would be so many events that they feel overwhelmed. I would love for students to say, there are so many events we can attend on campus that are COVID-safe, I don’t know what to pick. That being said, that’s going to be something that we need to work towards for now because even though a vaccine’s coming out, we don’t know when students will get it, and we need to plan for however much longer with COVID. In addition, we need to go back to pushing for events and ways for students to be able to relax and unwind, aside from the Restoration Week we had last semester; I think it needs to be more robust, and I can promise if we get inaugurated that that’s something we’ll push for very hard. We want to have events that are safe on campus that people can attend.

JC: Going back to marginalized student populations – another part of the student body that can often be overlooked is students that have disabilities. What will you do to support students with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, and to promote overall mental health?

ZH: There’s a lot of work that we can do on this: specifically, that a lot of buildings on campus are pretty old. In Zahm we have a staircase that’s about 3 feet wide, a little elevator that you can fit about 3 people into, and for physically handicapped members of our community, I don’t think they were able to live in Zahm at all.

I do know that Zahm is scheduled to get renovated in a few years; so one of the things we can talk about with the University is that when they hire architects, to renovate or rebuild these communities, to emphasize making all of them handicapped accessible. Wider hallways, more accessible elevators, that means building ramps because Zahm only has stairs, and generally just prioritizing.

It also means working more with Sara Bea in terms of working with professors, kindling that relationship, and generally just allowing physically or mentally handicapped students more opportunities to more fully partake in the Notre dame community – because right now it’s very much geared towards people without handicaps.

AB What issue will be your first priority if you were elected?

MS: I would say my first priority is the equitable club funding that we talked about. To expand on that –we know as outsiders that looking in, it feels like every year in Student Government they say we’re going to get more club funding, and it never happens; and that you have to move around the budget and make room for club funding. What Zach and I have talked about (with our campaign manager, actually) is going out and bringing outside money into club funding, and that would take the form of grant pursuants. We feel like there’s plenty of money, and that there are many people not on this campus – alumni and other groups – that want to fund and cultivate the college experience for minority and other college students. We think that being able to bring in outside money is a good way to get around the focus of having to change the budget or move money around to get funding.

JC: Which of your goals are you most confident you can get done?

ZH: On our platform, we divided it into 3 sections (Equity, Community, Transparency), and within each of those 3 sections, separated it into University Policy and Executive Branch Policy; this is to recognize the fact that Student Government often focuses on big issues that are extremely important to the community, but often depend on changes in the University’s policies. Last year there was a lot of fuss about the off-campus differentiation program, where off-campus seniors weren’t allowed to participate in dorm activities; before that, there was a lot of push to implement Callisto (a sexual assault reporting service); and before that, it was to implement the emergency blue lights. We support all of these things, we think they’d be absolutely helpful – but they’re largely out of the control of Student Government. This is why our platform is set up this way, into the Executive Branch policy and Student Government Policy, all of which are things we’re able to do. Student Government is really good at sponsoring events, bringing people together, so we’d certainly be able to give a microphone to the marginalized communities on campus. We’d be able to expand various trainings, like greeNDot, MiNDful, and mental health training; I think we’d be able to implement those very well. I think that we’d be able to implement information campaigns very well, because Student Government is fantastic in doing that – spreading information to the student body, shedding light on resources and student services that aren’t often explained. All of those things I’m 100% confident that we’d be able to do. If we went to work right away we’d certainly be able to get a greater amount of club funding, make sure that it’s equitable club funding. These are just some of the things that we’re passionate about, because I know that Max and I – this isn’t something we planned for; we really just saw a need, that Notre Dame needs to build back the community. Notre Dame needs to build back from this pandemic, and in order to do that we need to look at tangibles. Our platform is very much focused on doing things we think can be accomplished, with a couple of big ticket things that we’re sort of shooting for the stars on.

AB: Is there any part of your platform that you’d like to bring up, that hasn’t come up during the interview or that you haven’t addressed as much as you’d like?

MS: Zach, do you want to talk about divesting from private prisons?

ZH: This is something that both Max and I are passionate about, because it combines all 3 aspects of our platform, and that is the divestment of the University from private prisons. I know that there’s been a lot of great work done by SRI in building working towards this. When I’ve worked with SRI their biggest issue is that there isn’t a single person you can go to and say that this issue needs to be fixed. Because the University has a fiduciary obligation to produce as much profit as they can for the people that invest, and so in order to get divestment, you have to go to individual professors and convince them to opt for the socially responsible portfolio. What Max and I really want to do is we want to use the power of Student Government and the collective power of the student body to spread information about this across the entire campus, so that each student has the opportunity – to target their professors and talk to them about this.

I think that, as a student body we’re really powerful, and it’s a great example of what we said at the beginning: Max and I have been pursuing these goals, of equity and community, but at a certain point you hit a wall, and you need to use the infrastructure of the student body and collective action. This is a great example; if we were to get elected we’d be able to disseminate information about this, spread awareness, and ask students across the entire campus with one email, to talk to their professors about this. I think something that we think we can make a lot of progress in this regard, and we’re really excited to try this.

MS: I’d like to add something to that – in terms of giving insight as to why this is our position – Notre Dame often prides itself on being a Catholic institution. We think that being a Catholic institution and following the Catholic Social Teachings, specifically respecting dignity of the human person, you can’t invest in these private prisons at the same time – the only exception to the 13th Amendment (abolition of slavery) is prison labor. We think that if the university wants to continue taking pride in their Catholic identity, that they’re going to have to act on the Catholic Social Teachings: respect the dignity of the human person, and not benefit from the abuse and exploitation of these people, that are oftentimes from marginalized communities as well.

You can view more about the Siegel/Holland platform on their website or Instagram page. The Student Body Town Hall Q&A is Monday at 7pm in Duncan Student Center, and livestreamed. Primary election day is Wednesday, February 24.

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