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The next chapter: MSA president Chris Armstrong works to re-define his presidency after Andrew Shirvell

Jed Moch/ Daily
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Published December 6, 2010

When Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong first applied to college, he had visions of becoming a video game engineer. His college essay was about the artistic merits of his favorite video game, and he only applied to colleges with excellent video game design programs.

But when this self-proclaimed nerd eventually came to the University of Michigan, he decided to take a different path. Armstrong immediately joined the University’s LGBT commission when he arrived on campus. He later became chair of the commission, and then ran for MSA president last spring.

Armstrong’s term as MSA president is halfway over, but his presidency has already received more publicity than most who serve in college student governments. Last fall, Armstrong gained national attention for the attacks he received from now former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell. The incident has been front and center in Armstrong’s presidency, but he hopes to change that in the four months he has left.

Armstrong joined MSA as a freshman and quickly rose through the assembly ranks as a representative on the assembly’s LGBT Commission.

“I immediately wanted to get involved with LGBT groups on campus because I wanted to meet other gay people,” Armstrong said last week in the offices of The Michigan Daily.

Armstrong made a lot of progress on the commission. He helped plan a launch event for National Coming Out Week in fall 2009 and was integral in helping the University become the host of the 2011 Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Ally College Conference.

“I started getting involved and it just sort of spiraled and spiraled,” he said.

That same year, Armstrong met Jason Raymond, a fellow MSA representative, and the two became good friends. Two-and-a-half years later, the pair decided to run for office together.

Both were interested in the top position, but it was ultimately decided that Armstrong would run for the presidential spot. Raymond explained that putting Armstrong in that position was viewed as an excellent opportunity to represent his issues and break down a lot of barriers within MSA, since Armstrong would be the first openly gay MSA president at the University.

“We’re very much a team and we didn’t really care about the titles,” Raymond said, “but we decided it would be a great victory for Chris’s community for him to be MSA president.”

Freshman year, Armstrong and Raymond also met Alex Serwer, who helped build their campaign when they decided to run. Once elected, Armstrong appointed Serwer his chief of staff. Like Raymond, Serwer said putting Armstrong in such a distinguished position sent a powerful message.

“It’s a big moment for LGBT individuals.” Serwer said. “Seeing another (LGBT) student in such a prominent position is a really big deal for that incoming freshman that doesn’t really know what the LGBT community is like on campus,” he said.

Armstrong and Raymond ran with the organization MForward — a party that stands on the platform of representing a diverse group of students on the assembly, which they founded.

MForward viewed Armstrong’s future legacy as the first openly gay MSA president as an important milestone, and the party’s platform focused on LGBT issues. However, the party didn’t try to use Armstrong’s personal story to their advantage, and the issue of his sexuality wasn’t brought up by either party during the election.

“We always had the same issues that we wanted to work on, and that was never something that we had to make special arrangements for or consider in a different light,” Raymond said.

Serwer emphasized that the platform of the campaign was built around issues, and not Chris’s personal decisions.

“We made sure that whatever we were preaching to the students as they were voting was what we stood for, rather than Chris’s sexual orientation,” Serwer said.