Q&A: Meet presidential candidate Alex McKenna

Theresa Balick

Staff Writer

Your campaign slogan is “Back to the Future.” What exactly do you mean by that, and how do you plan to live up to that?

“The idea behind ‘Back to the Future’ is obviously based off of the movie ‘Back to the Future,’ but more importantly, I think it’s very apropos for COVID-19. I was vice president for Student Government for 2019-2020, and unfortunately my tenure was cut short because of COVID. So there’s sort of a nostalgia of going back to some of the policies that we would like to have seen, but also looking to the future of hopefully a university that’s going to have less COVID regulations in the fall.

“Our hope for living up to it is emphasizing empowering student leaders on campus, so really looking at Student Government through the lens of not ‘What can we do as a group of 20 people?’ but ‘What can we do to help the student leaders on campus impact change and present the events and initiatives that they want to complete?’”

You mentioned being vice president in the 2019-2020 school year. What other experience do you have with Student Government?

“Spring of 2018, before I was even a freshman here, I was invited to be executive assistant for the Martinez-Gessler administration. I was involved in Student Government from then all the way through to 2020 in being vice president. I served in the executive assistant capacity and then in the internal auditor capacity.”

What are your main campaign goals? Have you taken concrete steps to actualize these goals?

“The first goal we have is mental health, and the first subpart of that goal is awareness — in particular, making sure that mental health stigma is addressed on campus and that we have events. (We’re) looking forward in the future to a mental health series as well as opportunities for Mental Health Mondays, whether that’s a mental health speaker on a Monday … or bringing therapy dogs on campus, a fun activity related to mental health, something destressing, etc.

“Our secondary idea building off of that is not just awareness but what we can do to make structural changes, and how we can help to make sure we have the resources both internally and externally that students need, and what we can do to collaborate with the Wellness Center to do that.

“In terms of what we’ve done to prepare for this, there have been a lot of meetings. We’ve met with multiple professors; we’ve met with multiple students on campus to get their perspectives, both people who have been to counseling, people who’ve worked in the counseling center and student positions. It’s also been talking to external resources as well.”

“It also comes down to our second policy point, which is fun on campus. This is just fun. That’s why I love this point. I think it is the background in many ways to our mental health point because creating a campus culture that is holistic and appreciates the persons on campus is integral to sound emotional health. With that, we’ve got some ideas. I’d love to have a community garden on campus; I’ve already talked with some interested students about that. We’d love to have a drive-in movie theater on campus; that would be a temporary thing hopefully for a weekend in the fall. … We’re already hoping to make steps with that.

“More importantly … it’s taking steps for beginning empowering the student body, for the initiatives they want to see achieved and the events they want to put on. Unfortunately, it’s not very glamorous; it’s not the ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ campaign promise that everybody looks for, but it’s a structural change that I think is integral to promoting a flourishing of life on campus and campus culture.

“What we’ve worked on mainly in regards to that is developing a sort of business plan form that clubs and individuals can go through to take an idea and make it a reality. It both serves as an opportunity for them to flush out their idea and take it from the idea stage to the fundraising, funding, marketing and operation stage but also as a sort of intake form for hopefully use in Student Government next year, where we can get these ideas through Student Government and have more than just an idea that someone gave us in conversation.”

You mentioned mental health. What exactly does this mean to the student body?

“It means first of all awareness: awareness of mental health on campus. We’re going to start with removing any stigma that there is of mental health on campus or people who go to counseling. But it doesn’t stop with that. An integral portion of that is what can we as individual students do for our mental health, the emotional health of ourselves but also those closest to us. If there’s one word that I think sums up our mental health point, it’s subsidiarity. What can we do to empower the people who are closest to the problems to effect real change? That’s ultimately the most important change.

“Where the impact comes in for the student body, I think, is ensuring that the resources are available, that the resources are marketed clearly and effectively, … but also I hope to see a change in culture, that we can change the mental health culture to be one that is promoting good mental health and not a stigma.”

How do you plan to collaborate with the student body and the Wellness Center to figure out what is most important to the students regarding mental health? How do you plan to communicate that to the administration?

“I think this is something Student Government continues to work on and develop, but having a real, robust survey program I think is pretty incredible. That takes on two forms: it takes on the form of senators and administrative personnel … who are out there talking to students … getting perspectives and anecdotal evidence and anecdotal stories of what is going on and what’s not. But it also means more concrete surveys. I would love to see — going into the fall — the opportunity for doing some real intensive surveying of the student body to get at a much larger pool of people and what are the nitty gritty details that need to be discussed.

“We’ve also discussed the option of potentially partnering with faculty at the university to see if a mental health study can be done on campus — that both benefits the research of the faculty and the students who work for them but also benefits campus wellness as a whole.

“In terms of a relationship between Student Government and the people who can effect change, I think that that in particular looks at being able to meet with people and discuss with them, collaborate with them. We’re coming from one side; you’re coming from a different side; where is the common ground, and what can we build on this common ground? I think that the university has a heart for service, and the administrators at the university have a heart for service, so partnering with them in that desire to serve the student body will be critical.

“(As far as) addressing concerns to the administration, I think it begins with a listening ear and collaboration, both sides being willing to listen to each other and then build off of that common ground, collaborating to build the best system for the student body.”

How do you plan on improving spiritual and residential life on campus, especially in light of COVID-19?

“As far as spiritual life on campus, this was something Josh (Schutte) and I have discussed and we (also) discussed with personnel at the university. We believe … that spiritual life is the primary importance of Franciscan’s life, but that it’s not necessarily the role of Student Government to get involved in it. What I mean by that is, sometimes we can politicize religion on campus and politicize spirituality on campus. Student Government is an advocate and is the advocate for the student body, but reminding the student body that sometimes our spiritual differences are conversations … that need to happen outside the realm of Student Government.

“In regards to resident life on campus, that’s something that we hope to address in our empowering (of) student leaders on campus. The integral part of that is our RAs. … Each resident assistant has to do six programs a year, so providing funding, marketing and strategic planning assistance for our resident assistants so that they can have these programs and really make an effective impact.

“In regards to COVID-19 on campus, God willing we’ll be past most of the regulations that we’re seeing today. I’m very hopeful for that, and certainly my administration will be hoping to continue to bring us to normalcy that is not a new normal.”

What makes your campaign different from the other campaign?

“I would say it’s our vision, our vision of empowering students on campus for the initiatives, the events and the change they want to happen. Student Government cannot be and is not the end all be all. We are not the head honchos that decide how the university and the student body is run, and it’s certainly not our prerogative to bring forward all of the ideas and all of the events. But, when we collaborate with all the students on campus, when we work with each other, when we bring in people from outside of Student Government and we see all of the ideas come from the vibrant student body that we have, that’s where I think we can make common sense change. … Ultimately, (our goals) are a reflection of what are the student interests and how we can get as many parties involved as possible so that what you want to have happen happens.”

What sort of lasting initiatives do you hope to implement at Franciscan?

“We talked a lot about mental health and fun on campus, and I think that those are hallmarks of the culture at Franciscan. Setting those pillars as continuing the tradition of Franciscan life is integral to our campaign. I am also a passionate outdoorsman. I would love to see more outdoor opportunities for students at Franciscan. That obviously means starting with working with the Outdoors Club, but one of our campaign hopes is to have a community garden. Just someplace where students can come, and they can see: what is gardening like?

“I’m also, as some of my friends can attest, addicted to maple syrup. I love maple syrup. … I run the maple syruping right now on campus. … I’m really hoping that becomes a tradition on campus, that we have almost a maple syrup festival every year where students can bond over this unique item of sweetness that we have at Franciscan, and enjoy a good time together.”

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