Friday night’s Central Student Government debate, hosted by The Michigan Daily, was highlighted with emotion and tension, with many candidates using personal experiences at the University of Michigan to illustrate their policy platform.
Issues of diversity, inclusivity, student mental health and platform feasibility took center stage as the president and vice president candidates from Your Michigan, newMICH and the Defend Affirmative Action Party answered questions from moderators and Twitter users over the course of the hour and a half long debate.
All six candidates from the three parties offered several solutions to change the current social climate in CSG, saying it is not currently not an inclusive student space that encourages open and honest dialogue.
LSA junior David Schafer said if elected as CSG president, his party, newMICH, would aim to create a space which encourages the progressive communication each party wishes to see by hosting Q&A periods with not only students, but also administrators, faculty, staff and the Division of Public Safety and Security. Schafer is running with LSA junior Micah Griggs, newMICH’s vice-presidential candidate.
“The diversity, equity and inclusion efforts were a fantastic step, but they didn’t go far enough,” Schafer said. “I think holding these open Q&As, which is something we called for, would provide the impetus to hold administration, faculty and staff accountable for improving diversity on campus inside and outside of CSG.”
Ford junior Thomas Hislop, Your Michigan’s presidential candidate, highlighted inclusivity and diversity as important areas of Your Michigan’s platform as well. To best do that, he said, CSG needs to recruit from new areas of campus life. Hislop is running alongside LSA junior Cam Dotson, Your Michigan’s vice-presidential candidate.
“That starts with going to different orientation groups, going to the summer Bridge Program and really starting to recruit from those very first steps on campus,” Hislop said. “Let’s get these students excited about making a difference on this campus.”
In response to a question from moderators, DAAP noted several unique goals in their platform, such as removing standardized testing from the admissions process and ensuring undocumented students are safe on campus.
Both of the party’s candidates said they would encourage the University to adopt the Texas 10 percent plan to increase minority enrollment — in Texas, the plan guarantees admission to the top 10 percent of graduates from public school in the state to a University of Texas campus.
DAAP’s platform also states they aim to make the University’s campus a “sanctuary campus,” meaning immigration officials wouldn’t be allowed to deport undocumented students, and in a direct question from moderators they were asked why their platform states making the University’s campus a sanctuary campus should be a priority for CSG.
“I believe everyone has the right to a public education, the right to be able to afford school and come on the campus and feel safe,” said LSA sophomore Chalse Okorom, DAAP vice presidential candidate.
LSA senior Keysha Wall, DAAP’s presidential candidate, added that CSG needs to be an organization that makes all oppressed people safe.
“Not just in words, but in action,” Wall said. “You cannot live and feel safe knowing you could be deported at any time.”
Mental health was also a recurring topic, with both Your Michigan and newMICH using statistical evidence to make their point that there should be more mental health resources on campus.
NewMICH candidates stated that the ratio of students to counselors on campus is 1:1,300, and that for the University to meet the gold standard 11 more counselors need to be hired. They cited a frequently emphasized campaign goal — putting a student on the Board of Regents as a voting member — to increase funding for CAPS.
“Ohio State put a student on the Board of Regents, and the Board of Regents got the funding to increase CAPS — double the budget — and get eighteen more counselors,” Griggs said.
Dotson said upcoming renovations to the Michigan Union could be a way through which the stigma of getting help for mental health on campus can be positively altered.
“Giving CAPS its own space is crucial,” Dotson said. “In doing so we make it a more inviting and productive space where student feel comfortable receiving help.”
DAAP responded to the need for improved outreach and accessibility of mental health resources on campus by drawing on personal experiences, with Wall sharing her experience with depression and attempted suicide.
“It’s hard to get help,” Wall said. “It’s hard when campus is signaling that they don’t care about you. When you have to wait a few weeks for a CAPS appointment. We need more action to change the climate on campus.”
During the debate, several candidates also engaged with each other on several heated points, with newMICH and Your Michigan disagreeing over the tangibility of each other’s goals, experience on the assembly and budgeting plans.
As part of a response to a question from moderators, Griggs argued that Your Michigan lacked a platform, with Schafer then mentioning a few of newMICH’s goals he said were more feasible in comparison.
“We often talk a lot about cross student government collaboration,” Schafer said. “We talk about the creation of an academic scholarship and leadership scholarship and stipend fund. We view these two scholarships would be greatly benefitted if they were jointly pooled financially from not only CSG, but also LS&A student government, Engineering Student Government, among some of the other school and college student governments on campus.”
In response, Hislop said he thought his party’s platform was more beneficial to campus than newMICH’s because of its budgeting.
“Not only do we have a platform, but you can find it online,” he said. “You’ll find that it is the only platform that is is financially feasible. It’s the only one that keeps in mind that CSG has a budget. To run a platform that makes so many costly demands is not a platform, but a list of demands.”
Throughout the debate, various candidates urged the audience to realise that while each party had similar broad goals for campus – such as improving diversity and mental health – the difference lay in how they approached them, and their specific policy objectives within them.
Hislop said in his closing remarks that he felt disconnected from student life when he entered the University as a freshman after his mother passed away.
“I want every single freshman that comes to this university to feel comfortable, every senior who leaves to feel like they’ve found their calling,” he said. “I want every student in the University who has ever felt alone to know that when Wolverines feel weak, they lean on other Wolverines. I want them to know this because this is the experience that every University student should have.”
In their closing remarks, Okorom noted that the University had not always felt like an inclusive environment for her, with both candidates calling on CSG to become more of a forum for open and honest debate, and stand with students.
In newMICH’s closing statement, Schafer turned to the audience to ask his own question.
“Who do you trust to get these initiatives passed? Who do you trust to get these things done that will really make a change on campus.”
CSG’s presidential elections will be held on March 23 and 24.