On March 21, the University of Michigan launched the COVID-19 Campus Challenge, an initiative open to all University students looking to propose possible solutions for an in-person and public health-informed semester. 

In an effort to include student input in the decision-making process for reopening activities, two Engineering class of 2020 alumni, David Chang and Sujai Arakali, proposed this idea in collaboration with the College of Engineering and Student Life. 

“We all are experiencing this challenge, and so I don’t think it should be just one party that’s working on solving it, but as many minds as we can get trying to promote solutions,” Arakali said. “Hopefully, this can lead to further opportunities for students to participate in other challenges and voice their concerns to the administration, which can create more of a community between everyone.”

Students all across the University are eligible to participate. Working in teams, students have the option to sign up for a project on housing, transportation, food insecurity, mental health, co-curricular activities, and diversity, equity and inclusion. Teams will work with mentors throughout the summer months and will later propose their ideas to a panel of judges.

In an interview with The Daily, Chang noted students are in a unique position to provide insight into these topic areas, given they are the ones experiencing them. The collaboration between the University and students, Chang said, is crucial to problem-solving some of these issues. 

“The best way to figure out how to support students is to get the opinions of the students themselves and to really understand how students deal with the problems that they are facing and let them try to contribute their thoughts on how to solve some of their problems,” Chang said. “We really tried to hone in on the topics that would be most affected by social distancing. Students have a lot of experience with these topics, so they are in some ways experts in these topics because they have lived them and can contribute a lot to them.”

While student’s proposals are not guaranteed to be implemented in the fall, teams with the most feasible solutions may have an opportunity to work with administrators to incorporate their solutions into the semester. 

Jeanne Murabito, executive director for student affairs at the College of Engineering, believes it is vital to ensure that this project is interdisciplinary and reaches students outside of the College of Engineering. She also shared the value of working with students in this project, given how these decisions impact their time at the University. 

“I’m in student affairs, so my role is to work with students and my passion about higher ed is students,” Murabito said. “It’s always, for me personally, very important to have a student voice in what we’re doing knowing that students may come up with different ideas than administration, faculty and staff will. We cannot make any promises that any of these will be implemented, but definitely having the voice and having the opportunity to think creatively about your own home, the college and the University, is really, really important.”

LSA senior Bridgette Pollaski is planning to participate in the project in hopes of calling attention to the challenges that first-generation and low-income students experience on campus and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am first-generation and I am low-income, and it’s kind of a different reality for low-income students and first-gen students on campus already as it is without a pandemic,” Pollaski said. “I was thinking, how is the University going to address this particular niche of students when this particular niche of students is already left out of discussions and implementations within University policy?” 

Pollaski shared she is particularly interested in the food security and diversity, equity and inclusion topics of the challenge. She said her specific project is looking to provide transparency and specify flexibility for students experiencing obstacles that often get left out of the conversation.

“By participating in this, the hope is that my concerns will be heard and potentially put into policy,” Pollaski said. “I would like to see that the ideas are heard but also the energy and the labor going into a project such as this is met equally. I would like to see the University as passionate about it and as responsive as I am.”

Summer News Editor Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu.

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