The University of Michigan’s Central Student Government elections will be held March 24 and 25, with three executive tickets on the ballot.
The three campaigns in the running are ORGANIZE, consisting of LSA junior Sujin Kim for president and LSA junior Sam Burnstein for vice president; IMPACT, with Public Health junior Nithya Arun running for president and Engineering junior Carla Voigt for vice president; and CHANGE, with LSA junior Abner Santiago running for president and LSA junior Nicole Lin for vice president.
In light of increased local and national attention to racial justice issues, each campaign has made anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts a priority on their respective platforms. The Daily spoke with all three executive tickets about how they are incorporating anti-racism and DEI efforts into their platforms.
The Black Lives Matter movement — and its resurgence this past summer after the police killing of George Floyd — spurred many University of Michigan students to demand changes to how campus is policed. The Graduate Employees’ Organization strike in September 2020 called for a diversion of funds away from the Division of Public Safety and Security, a demand that was not satisfied by the University. One of the agreed upon stipulations for ending the strike, however, was that the University would include GEO in a task force to examine current policing practices. All three campaign platforms include a plan to work alongside GEO.
These demilitarization demands also came after the University implemented —and soon after repealed — the controversial Michigan Ambassadors program that hired students and armed police officers to walk around campus to ensure students followed public health guidelines. Many racial and social justice organizations called on the University to discontinue the program shortly after it was introduced.
While these policing demands were made increasingly public after the GEO strike, they are not new — following the 2014 police killing of Aura Rosser, a Black woman, community members rallied to raise awareness about instances of police brutality in Ann Arbor. The Independent Community Police Oversight Commission was also created after Rosser’s death to help bridge the gap between community members and police.
ORGANIZE has DEI efforts listed as their fourth policy item, on pages 17-19 of their platform. ORGANIZE has laid out five main points of improvement that they want to see the administration implement on campus — these points include expanding the Go Blue Guarantee to Flint and Dearborn, requiring syllabi to include sections about reporting discrimination to the Office of Institutional Equity and holding a standing weekly meeting between members of racial justice organizations and CSG. Their plans also call for increasing diversity among faculty and staff and raising awareness about bias in teaching evaluations.
IMPACT candidates said they chose to use the term “anti-racism” in their platform rather than DEI to be more explicit in their demands. Their platform calls for ensuring that the Bridge Program, which has become increasingly white in recent years, increases enrollment of underrepresented minority students, as well as organizing an annual research symposium led by students of color and LGBTQ+ students and working with GEO to “demand disarmament” of DPSS and the Ann Arbor Police Department.
CHANGE’s platform aims to support already-existing DEI efforts within student groups and racial justice organizations; screen professors and administrators for a possible history of racial discrimination and sexual misconduct; and work broadly with GEO to meet their demands.
All three campaigns expand their initiatives to include international students. Both ORGANIZE and IMPACT hope to create a student-held position within CSG to represent international students, while CHANGE says they will work to figure out ways to secure internships for international students.
Business sophomore Ayodele Ojo currently serves on the Bachelor’s of Business Administration DEI committee as the recruiting director and outreach ambassador. She has spent her time on the committee analyzing the Business School’s lack of diversity and working on outreach to high school students in low-income and minority communities.
Ojo is running for a seat in the assembly as a Business School representative with ORGANIZE. She said in an interview with The Michigan Daily that she chose to work with ORGANIZE because they plan to fund advocacy groups on campus.
“ORGANIZE isn’t just for fluff,” Ojo said. “We’re really working on advocating and implementing changes, and we’re doing that by providing funding to different advocacy campaigns like advocacy groups on issues. We’re doing this by partnering with different advocacy groups at Michigan and really hearing their needs and really hearing what needs to be done and then pushing that forward.”
Ojo said she sees this year’s campaign and ORGANIZE’s platform as an opportunity to implement much-needed change at the University.
“The University of Michigan has nowhere to hide,” Ojo said. “They can’t put on a persona and say that they’re working on (anti-racism) when they’re really doing nothing because alumni and families and communities across the country are looking at universities. We can really see if they’re putting in the work and going to make a change that way they’re not contributing to institutional racism and institutional oppression.”
In Oct. 2020, following the GEO strike, the University released plans for new anti-racism initiatives, including a scholarship in memory of George Floyd, expanded hiring of new faculty members, in addition to the creation of the task force evaluating DPSS practices.
Months later, the Students of Color Liberation Front — a coalition of racial justice organizations at the University — released a list of longtime as well as new demands calling on the University to take more concrete steps in their anti-racism initiatives, including giving each board member of the organizations $1,500 in funding starting this semester, increasing staff of color in key support area such as Counseling and Psychological Services and the Spectrum Center, and making Indigenous People’s Day a U-M holiday, among other things.
Ojo said she is hopeful that if elected, GEO and ORGANIZE will have a positive working relationship that will benefit both groups on campus.
“We’re going to have constant communication with one another, really listening to each other’s needs and wants,” Ojo said. “I feel like the GSIs and the GEO union are in a different position than (undergraduate) students are, and we can leverage our positions differently to bring these changes.”
Engineering freshman Maria Fields is running for a seat on CSG as an engineering representative with IMPACT. Fields told The Daily that IMPACT has chosen to use the term “anti-racism” rather than DEI to make sure the platform is clear in identifying discrimination.
Fields said the campaign decided to use this terminology after seeking advice on their platform from the Students of Color Liberation Front, who told them that the term DEI may come off as “sugarcoating the actual issue that they’re trying to work with.”
“By acknowledging the problem, that’s a big step in finding the solution,” Fields said. “So when I saw that, I completely agreed with (IMPACT’s) rationale and really appreciated that (Arun and Voigt) had reached out to students who are part of these communities and had them put their input on it and actually made (changes) in the platform.”
Fields said she is passionate about starting an admitted students event that would highlight student organizations focused on diversity so that prospective freshmen could see the opportunities available to them.
“I think it’s good for freshmen who are incoming to know what exists and that there’s a community for them that’s there,” Fields said. “It’s really easy when you’re coming in as a minority student to think ‘I’m the only one coming from these circumstances or maybe has certain ideologies,’ and that’s not true.”
IMPACT is the only campaign that calls for complete disarmament of both the AAPD and DPSS. With national calls to defund, demilitarize and disarm police forces, Fields said IMPACT has a role to play in addressing policing on campus.
“Given the context of America, these issues (are ones that) we’ve constantly been grappling with and they need to be solved,” Fields said. “So I think what it really shows is that people are serious about this and they want change.”
The CHANGE campaign, which is running solely as an executive ticket with no representatives, declined to comment for the article.
LSA freshman Makiah Shipp is a commissioner on the Ann Arbor Independent Community Police Oversight Committee and has recently focused on community work involving youth advocacy and civic engagement. Shipp said though she agreed with the focus on disarming the campus police forces, she wished the plans were more specific in how they would address policing.
“I noticed there was a trend pretty much across the board with the campaigns that are running about them wanting to demilitarize AAPD and DPSS and I completely advocate for that as well, especially on campus,” Shipp said. “What I’m more concerned with is there weren’t very many specifics, at least now, that I have seen about how they plan on executing that and how they plan on working with other groups on campus that are already established in that area.”
Shipp said she thought ORGANIZE did the best job at outlining specific ways they would implement DEI initiatives, especially through their plan to appoint a student activism coordinator.
“I didn’t necessarily see that across the other campaigns — actually acknowledging the organizations that are already in place, because there’s a DPSS advisory board that’s already in place,” Shipp said. “I would have liked (the other campaigns) to acknowledge the way (the board is) functioning in the way that they want it to or not want it to.”
Shipp said she would like to see the candidates put sustained pressure on the University to make changes to policing methods.
“I feel like in order for them to be effective, they actually have to apply the pressure, and they actually have to not be afraid to to get pushback and not be afraid to actually feel lost sometimes,” Shipp said.
Engineering sophomore Zaynab Elkolaly, who was previously dual-enrolled in Engineering and LSA, is the current CSG DEI advocate and holds a seat in the Assembly as an LSA representative. She is currently running to be an engineering representative after unenrolling from LSA, but is not affiliated with any campaign.
Elkolaly said she was pleased to see that there was representation for students of color on the tickets. She noted that she originally got involved with CSG because it has traditionally been a white and male-dominated body. Elkolaly, who is currently working on establishing a BIPOC task force, said she hopes to continue pushing for increased diversity within CSG.
Elkolaly said that in order for the campaigns’ DEI initiatives to be effective, the needs of marginalized communities must be at the forefront of their policies.
“We simply need to demonstrate commitment to the people, the student body and the staff, as opposed to modifying their strategies to appease administration, which is sort of what we got going on right now,” Elkolaly said. “Vulnerable communities on campus are not going to put any faith in CSG if CSG doesn’t demonstrate commitment to them.”
In an email to The Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University will work with whatever CSG ticket is elected.
“The university remains committed to working with the elected CSG leaders to help them accomplish their goals,” Fitzgerald wrote. “CSG leaders have regular contact with various university officials – including the president, provost, vice president for student life, dean of students and others – as they refine their areas of focus for the year ahead.”
Elkolaly’s said whoever is elected must make sure they are not overlooking the people who need their help the most.
“You are only as good as the most vulnerable person you’re helping,” Elkolaly said. “So are you helping the masses or are you helping the people who truly need it most?”
Daily Staff Reporter Martina Zacker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this article said Engineering sophomore Zaynab Elkolaly transferred from LSA to Engineering. She was actually previously dual-enrolled and unenrolled from LSA recently.
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