Students of the Year: Kevin Mersol-Barg

Terra Molengraff/Daily
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By Jennifer Xu, Columnist
Published April 12, 2013

“Attracting other leaders is what I’ve done the best.”

Anxious, restless and disarmingly modest in manner and speech, Public Policy senior Kevin Mersol-Barg does not resemble your typical political figure. Whereas some great orators have relied on theatrics to get their point across, Mersol-Barg’s speech patterns are completely and utterly drama-free.

Yet this lack of drama might in some sense be Mersol-Barg’s greatest strength.

“He doesn’t need to be at the center in order to be a leader,” said LSA senior Amy Navvab, who ran alongside Mersol-Barg in the 2012 Central Student Government elections. “Kevin really works to bring out the best in the people around him.”

Mersol-Barg’s resume boasts an impressive collection of experiences. To name a few: College Democrats, Human Rights Through Education, a columnist for the Daily and presidential candidate for Central Student Government. His greatest achievement, however, is the creation of the Coalition for Tuition Equality, a group of affiliated human rights organizations whose mission is to extend in-state tuition towards undocumented students in Michigan.

Over the past year, CTE has become widely known across campus for the incendiary nature of its political message. The organization’s efforts to change University policy for undocumented immigrants culminated at a breathtakingly emotional Regents meeting last December.

More than 150 students with red tape plastered over their mouths huddled in the Anderson Room of the Michigan Union, calling attention to the 29,000 undocumented students residing in the state of Michigan deterred from attending the University due to the steep price of tuition.

CTE is a youthful organization. Its official birth date, October 2011, roughly corresponds to the time Mersol-Barg began his tenure as an LSA student government representative.

One of his platforms was “diversity,” but Mersol-Barg admitted, “I didn’t really know what I was talking about at the time.”

Still, he was willing to learn. After talking with various students from minority backgrounds, Mersol-Barg found tuition equality for undocumented immigrants to be an issue that rose quickly to the top of his list.

Mersol-Barg said he was attracted to “the immediacy and urgency” of such a divisive political issue.

“It just kind of struck me at a time when I was looking to do something meaningful,” Mersol-Barg said.

Perhaps one of Mersol-Barg’s greatest virtues is his eagerness to collaborate. CTE’s website bears little mention of Mersol-Barg’s name, and he modestly credits the leaders of other progressive organizations like Migrant Immigrants Rights Advocacy and the American Civil Liberties Union for the success of the coalition.

“Instead of imposing my rule on this group, I’ve kind of brought together a lot of other brilliant people and found a way for all of us to work toward this common cause,” Mersol-Barg said.

Mersol-Barg expressed a desire to push against the inertia of the status quo. He believes in actions rather than speeches, an attitude not unlike that of the progressive student activists of the 1960s.

“You can go day in, day out, and not really develop a new approach,” he said. “That kind of static feeling doesn’t feel right.”

Here are the other Students of the Year.