Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to add further context
The University of Michigan’s Central Student Government discussed the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) initiative to increase the University’s minimum wage to $15 an hour on Tuesday night. A group of 26 students also attended the assembly to communicate the harm felt by the Palestinian community following CSG’s decision to archive its May 2021 statement in support of Palestine from CSG’s Instagram page on April 12.
LSA freshman Natalie Leach, president of YDSA, a student-led organization aiming to promote social and economic equity, discussed their organization’s petition to urge CSG to support establishing a universal $15 minimum wage for students working within the University. With June marking the University’s Board of Regents’ vote to finalize next year’s budget, Leach asked CSG to use its influence to advocate for the raise and highlighted the board’s lack of student acknowledgment.
“In the summer of 2021, the Board of Regents approved a $15 minimum wage for all non-temporary employees across the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses,” Leach said. “What they failed to do is extend this wage to temporary employees … it happens that all students are classified as temporary employees.”
“We’re at a point where student workers cannot afford to attend the University that they are working for,” Leach said. “(The endowment) money could be used to uplift students. It would only cost $29 million a year to bring students up to a $15 minimum wage … The administration has the money. We’re just not using it.”
The YDSA presentation concluded with Leach asking CSG to support the organization’s fight for a $15 minimum wage and use its power to influence the board prior to its upcoming budget vote scheduled for June 2022.
Following their recent administration transition on April 19, CSG published a press release explaining its April 15 archival of 200 Instagram posts made by previous administrations, claiming the choice was “content-neutral” and “routine.” Among the posts archived was CSG’s statement of support for Palestine and their condemnation of Israel’s violence in Palestine from May 10, 2021.
Palestinians on campus reported feeling hurt by the decision to archive this post, as they felt it communicated a lack of continued support for Palestine from CSG’s new administration. This hurt was expressed below CSG’s most recent Instagram post, with comments primarily centered around the deleted post. LSA Student Government released a statement affirming their support for Palestine and their condemnation of Israel’s violence on April 17th, two days after the archival. At Tuesday’s assembly meeting, 26 students spoke in opposition to CSG’s removal of the post and explained how it impacted them.
Music, Theatre & Dance junior Juan Gonzalez Valdivieso, former SMTD representative on CSG, said CSG’s support for Palestine and Palestinian students should be emphasized despite leadership changes.
“I understand that a change of administration also means a shift in public presence and social media content,” Valdivieso said. “But the commitment of this student government to the Palestinians and by extension to all who suffer from flagrant violations of human rights and international law should remain stalwart and unwavering, regardless of who occupies the seat as president, vice president, assembly member and the like.”
Various student organizations, students and advocates for Palestinian rights described feeling hurt and unrepresented by the student government following the removal of the statement from CSG’s Instagram account.
Engineering senior Ali Baker, a Palestinian student from Jordan, said CSG’s statement had allowed him to feel represented on a campus where he is often disrespected because of his identity. Baker said CSG is supposed to represent all the students on campus, and their removal of the post caused him to lose trust in the organization.
“The CSG statement that was put out last year was the first time I felt seen on campus,” Baker said. “The amount of privilege for you guys to say that ‘we just removed it because that’s something we usually do every single year’…it’s just so much privilege. You understand how much life is different in Jordan or Palestine compared to here. The thing is that the whole meaning behind the statement, it helped a lot of Palestinians feel more welcome on campus.”
Public Policy sophomore Zeinab Alhashemi offered insight into students’ feelings of betrayal following the statement’s archival. Alhashemi explained how students felt that the removal of the post symbolized CSG’s lack of support for and representation of Palestinian students on campus.
“It is truly a sad day when this body who claims to be representative of all students on campus finds itself actively silencing and suppressing the voices of student activists on this campus,” Alhashemi said.
Public Health senior Nithya Arun, former president of CSG, emphasized her support for the Palestinian community. As a co-signer of the original statement, Arun offered her advice to the new administration.
“CSG solidarity with underrepresented groups is not and should not be contingent upon the administration in power,” Arun said. “CSG should always stand for justice and equity. In saying that, I hope that (the communication team) puts all of the posts back up, especially the statements.”
Following the student statements, CSG representatives responded with apologies and said they have every intention of either republishing the original statement or writing a new statement that aligns with the current wishes of the Palestinian students on campus.
LSA freshman Ben Thomas, a CSG representative, apologized alongside his fellow representatives and promised to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian students.
“I would like to deeply apologize for my own ignorance in this matter, as it pertains to me as a representative, and promise that I will work as hard as possible to move forward in participation with Palestinian students to make this right,” Thomas said.
LSA junior Jacqueline Hillman, CSG Vice President, also addressed the concerns of the students at the assembly.
“I recognize that this decision, albeit for intentions that were not malicious, was hurtful,” Hillman said. “I plan to work with the members of the assembly who have expressed their support and within the executive administration to ensure that this campus is safe, inclusive and representative of you all particularly … I want to work with you, not against you.”
Daily Staff Reporter Sailor West can be reached at email@example.com