On Sunday night, the Central Student Government Detroit Congress held a sparsely attended monthly meeting in the Michigan Union.
The Detroit Congress, sponsored by the Commission on Detroit Engagement, aims to bring together various student organizations and initiatives that work in and with the city of Detroit to collaborate and discuss Ann Arbor’s connection to the Motor City.
CSG members noted that attendance was down due to sickness, as norovirus continues to be present on campus. Three student organizations were represented at Sunday’s meeting: Detroit Revitalization and Business Initiative, Detroit Urban Debate Education and Trotter Multicultural Center organizers.
The meeting was chaired jointly by LSA sophomore Dylan Bennett and LSA junior Rohin Patel, co-chairs of the Detroit Congress. Despite the low turnout, Bennett said there are several other student organizations who have attended previous Detroit Congress meetings, including Detroit Partnership, JDs in the D and Seven Mile Music.
Two of the three organizations were new to the Detroit Congress, according to Patel who said he believes the lack of attendance overall did not keep them from having a productive conversation.
Sunday’s meeting focused primarily on the issue of transportation difficulties for students traveling between Ann Arbor and Detroit.
Several representatives voiced concern that their organizations do not have the resources to transport people to and from Detroit.
Students who want to get involved in Detroit are often asked to drive their own cars to downtown Detroit, attendees said. They may also be asked to pay for taxi cabs or Zipcars. The organizations often have the funding to reimburse their members for their travel expenses, but this places a financial burden on those members to pay money out of pocket before being reimbursed.
Currently, the University runs the Detroit Connector, a bus system that takes students from the Central Campus Transit Center to three different locations in downtown Detroit which runs four days a week.
However, LSA junior Alexis Lowe, the representative from Trotter Multicultural Center, pointed out that because the Connector requires an Mcard, Detroit residents cannot utilize the transit system to get to Ann Arbor.
“Because we hold cultural events at Trotter, I think it’d be really beneficial for Detroiters to come up here for that,” Lowe said.
Lowe added that this would fill the Connector during hours when it is less-used by University of Michigan students. She suggested implementing a small fee for use by non-students.
Several of the representatives voiced concerns that the Connector often runs regardless of whether people are riding it, meaning it often runs empty.
CSG representatives added that the Connector also has a marketing issue — few people know of its existence. Business junior Danny Kaprielian, the representative from Detroit Urban Debate Education, remarked that he had not heard of the Connector until this meeting. His organization sends students to Detroit regularly.
The Connector is funded through the Office of the Provost and will expire June of this year. The funding will then need to be renewed.
The transportation issue is one that underscores the lack of communication and coordination across student organizations working in Detroit organizers said, which is what the Detroit Congress is working to combat.
Bennett said some of these issues with the Detroit Connector are to be expected, such as a disconnect between those who are running the transportation and those who need to use it.
“So I guess it’s just a lack of communication in different aspects, as one might expect,” Bennett said.
The meeting ended with a broader discussion on what the organizations can do to strengthen the relationship between the University and the city of Detroit.
Patel said he finds it helpful to structure the Detroit Congress’ meetings around common problems that all the student organizations can relate to.
“It’s very beneficial to talk about broad issues surrounding Detroit engagement like social justice, community service, business and transportation, like we discussed today,” Patel said.
The next meeting will be in March. Bennett and Patel said they're attempting to bring University administrators to upcoming meetings.