By Will Greenberg, Daily News Editor
Published July 15, 2014
In case you didn’t know, last year was an incredibly busy pair of semesters for the Central Student Government.
Maybe it was something in the air, maybe it was just a high demand for involvement from a restless student body, but the activity was electric.
Admittedly, not all of the action was particularly cheery. Fall 2013 saw students voice their displeasure with the football student ticket policy, incidents like the Theta Xi racist party and the University’s refusal to allow students on the presidential search committee.
From there, the winter brought social movements like the #BBUM Twitter campaign, which incited a response from University administrators. CSG also conducted its own investigation into sexual misconduct, prompted by The Michigan Daily’s exclusive story on Brendan Gibbons' permanent separation from the University. There was also the #UMDivest campaign to divest funds from companies that hold contracts with Israeli militia, led by the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.
Public Policy senior Bobby Dishell, CSG President and last year’s vice president alongside president Michael Proppe, this coming school year should be a chance to continue his work from last year.
Dishell said he has been working primarily on two projects over the summer. The first is continuing work on last year's Night Owl bus route, which had success in helping increase safe evening transportation for students on the weekends. The second, new mental health program the Wolverine Support Network, which looks to supplement the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services office, comes from Dishell’s presidential campaign,
He said he is in the midst of discussions with CAPS and several student organizations, though he declined to state who he’s worked with until plans are more final.
The plan is for the program to be staffed by student volunteers trained by CAPS. Dishell said the current CAPS offices fail to create an ideal space for discussion, something that a student-run program would better facilitate. He added that the program would be funded by CSG and be up-and-running by the Winter Term at the latest.
“Peer support — it’s been demonstrated at the high school level and also on a few different college campuses — is an effective way to help foster mental health,” he said.
As the incoming president, Dishell also takes on the position in the fall with both previous successes and previous shortcomings from last year’s assembly.
The handling of the #UMDivest campaign was the most controversial issue from last year. It started as a proposal from Students Allied for Freedom and Equality that encouraged the University to divest from companies working with Israel. The resolution received neither approval nor disapproval from the assembly; the CSG assembly instead chose to indefinitely postpone the resolution, which then-CSG president Michael Proppe said was an unprecedented action at the time. The result was a sit-in staged by SAFE and their allies in the CSG chambers, creating a tense campus conflict, where threats were exchanged between students on either side of the issue. The resolution was eventually voted down the following week at the most highly-attended CSG meeting of the year.
The incident was largely considered a failure of CSG to give a voice to the student body by postponing the vote instead of taking a stand on either side. While Dishell was not a voting member of the assembly as vice president and will still not be as president, he acknowledged that he could have done a better job of reaching out to both sides and facilitating conversation.
He said he expects this year’s representatives are prepared to properly represent the student body but that he would have to work on a case-by-case basis to decide if any other action would be needed in the future from the executives.
CSG’s response to the football student ticket policy, on the other hand, was a win for Proppe and Dishell. Executives worked closely with the athletic department and were able to revise the student ticket policy from last year, which worked on a first-come-first serve basis that many upperclassmen felt was unfair, since they had expected to get priority seating for senior year upon entering the school. Dishell said he hasn’t heard much feedback since about the new policy but understands that some students are disappointed with the schedule of games, a decision made solely by the athletic department typically years in advance.
Other important points carrying over from last year are relations between the CSG and University administration, as well as the University’s efforts to improve sexual assault prevention.
The CSG task force investigation of the University’s sexual assault services and the Office of Student Conflict Resolution was another accomplishment for CSG last year. In the wake of the news that football team kicker Brendan Gibbons had been permanently separated from the University for sexual assault, the task force found that the University has been understaffed and ill-equipped to handle the high volume of reported cases. Their findings were submitted as a contribution to a federal investigation of the school by the Department of Education, the results of which should be made public soon, Dishell said.
Dishell has also met with new University President Mark Schlissel and he said he feels there is an open line of communication between the two. Administration worked heavily with student groups this past year, most notably in response to the Black Student Union’s demands for improved racial climate on campus and in facilitating discussions during the SAFE sit-in.
Dishell said the University’s choice to exclude students from the presidential search committee was a setback for CSG’s relationship with administrators, but that it has since created an avenue for improved contact.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article referred to CSG President Bobby Dishell as "newly-elected."