Striving to serve
By ERIN LaRUFFA
Associate News Editor
Whether it is 2 o'clock in the afternoon or 2 o'clock in the morning, one can probably find student body president Brooke Norton working hard to fulfill her responsibilities to the Notre Dame student body.
Most likely, Norton will not be working alone, but instead will be joined by student body vice president Brian Moscona and chief of staff Jonathan Jorissen.
Despite their long hours, each of them believe the service they provide to fellow students is "definitely worth it," as Jorissen put it.
"The service itself is a reward," agreed Moscona.
"We all love Notre Dame and we want it to be even better than it is now," said Norton.
When Norton and her administration took office in April 2001, they created a list of goals for their term. While some of their initial goals — including their campaign promises to install cable in dorm rooms and to extend parietals — have proven impossible to achieve, many of their other efforts have had significantly more success.
One of Norton and Moscona's main goals was to increase collaboration between the office of the president and other branches of the Student Union. Norton said she believes they have had a great deal of success in accomplishing this goal.
In particular, Norton and Moscona praised their office's diversity division, which collaborated with the Student Union Board (SUB) to plan a multicultural fair in November.
"I think that division represents what this office wants to represent," Moscona said. "This office has worked hard to unify the student body and the Student Union."
Norton added that her office wanted students of all races to participate in the event, a goal she believes the fair accomplished. This semester, the diversity division is planning a Diversity Symposium for sometime in March.
Another of Norton and Moscona's goals was to improve communication between student government and the student body. Their attempts to meet this goal have had mixed results.
"There are 8,000 people at Notre Dame with different opinions, and it is impossible to satisfy every one of them," said Moscona.
Opening the Maximum Resource Center, or the Maxx, last semester was part of their communication plan. Because the student government office is located on the second floor of LaFortune, Norton and Moscona said they wanted another office that would allow them to be closer to where students are. Located on the first floor of LaFortune, the Maxx is intended to give the office of the president and other student groups a place to hold office hours. However, some details need to be addressed before the Maxx will be working properly, according to Norton.
As another part of its communication plan, the office of the president also began holding town hall meetings throughout last semester. Each meeting had a specific topic, such as football ticket distribution or tailgating.
"Some have been effective. Some have not been," Jorissen said, adding that attendance at some meetings has been better than at others.
The office plans to continue holding town hall meetings this semester, but the office is planning to use better "market techniques," according to Moscona. In addition, Norton wants the meeting to have a revamped format that involves University administrators.
"We want to enhance the communication between students and the administration because there has been friction there," said Norton, referring to several incidents last semester involving the University's alcohol policy. "I think there needs to be an open discussion about duLac and a student's place on campus."
Students are sometimes upset at the University's administration, Moscona added, and part of that problem results from the fact that students do not always know the reasoning behind administrative decisions. Moscona believes student leaders must help to bridge that gap.
"Because many students don't have contact with administrators, we're their intermediaries," he explained.
As student leaders, Norton, Moscona and Jorissen have the challenging role of working with administrators while still being students themselves.
"I can't speak for the administration," said Norton. "I can tell students what they told me, but I'm not the one that made the policy, so I can't guarantee anything."
Another communications challenge Norton said her office faced last semester involved knowing how to properly respond to the events of Sept. 11.
In the end, the office of the president was involved in several initiatives in response to the terrorist attacks. Norton's office teamed up with other campus entities, including Campus Ministry, the Student Activities Office and other branches of student government.
The office helped coordinate a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the attacks. Norton, Moscona and Jorissen also played an influential role in organizing the collection of approximately $250,000 for families of New York City firefighters, paramedics and police officers killed during their rescue efforts at the World Trade Center. The money was collected primarily during the Michigan State football game, as well as at campus masses and the candlelight vigil.
"That really showed a lot about the student body," said Norton.
The final part of the office's response was to hold a blood drive in November. Fifty students, the full number that could be accommodated, donated blood.
In December, the office of the president also worked with members of the South Bend community to raise money to replace a New York City hospital's ambulance, which was destroyed when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed.
Norton also played an influential role in having a pre-sale of U2 tickets to students, according to Moscona.
"Brooke lobbied for the students. Without Brooke, the students would not have gotten the presale," he said.
While many office of the president initiatives vary based on the administration's own goals and unexpected events such as Sept. 11, the office also has certain responsibilities that remain the same every year. One of the most important of those responsibilities are three reports every year to Notre Dame's Board of Trustees.
At the board's fall meeting, the office chose to present the topic of students living off-campus.
To prepare the fall report, according to Moscona, the office included several students who had not previously been involved with student government. He said the experience was a chance for them to learn so that they can improve for future presentations. Norton added that the fall report served as a learning experience for her staff which will help make upcoming reports better.
"The problem was that there were so many issues to cover. We could have done a better job than we did, but I think we made some major points," said Norton.
The winter report, which will be presented at the board's next meeting in February, will cover freshman orientation. The spring report will focus on women's issues.
With many different projects to oversee, Norton, Moscona and Jorissen all admit that their jobs are challenging.
"We have so much going on in the office — so many divisions — that sometimes it's been hard to keep it all straight and going forward," said Jorissen. He explained that to help with that challenge, the three have weekly meetings and one of the three tries to attend each division meeting.
"There are days when you wonder what it would be like not to have any meetings," said Jorissen.
All three admitted that sleep is often hard to get.
"With these jobs, there is no end of the day," Moscona said. "We leave LaFortune at two in the morning and then we have to start homework or continue responding to e-mails from students."
"There's always something else you could be doing," said Norton. "You have to give a lot up."
Now that they are back from semester break, the three say they are ready both to continue working on projects they have already started and to begin new ones that they have been planning.
While their office has gotten of to a strong start, there is indeed much more work to be done if Norton and Moscona's administration is to fully live up to its potential.
Board of trustees reports are one area the office will have to put a great deal of work into. The board seemed somewhat uninterested in student government's fall report. To make sure the winter and spring reports are better received, the office of the president need well-researched and organized presentations.
Perhaps most importantly, the office also needs to continue evaluating its communication efforts. Most students probably do not feel comfortable going to the student government office on the second floor of LaFortune, but a flight of stairs alone cannot be the major obstacle to effective dialogue between student leaders and the student body. The Maxx, therefore, is only part of the solution. Norton and Moscona must develop new and better ways of not only getting student input, but also educating students about student government.
Fortunately for students, Norton and Moscona seem to understand that there is much they still have to accomplish.
"We have a lot of work left to do," Moscona said. "We want to continue to unify the student body and continue communicating with them."
All News Stories for Wednesday, January 23, 2002