LSA Student Government hosted their annual candidate forum in Angell Hall on March 24. At the forum, 12 of the 20 candidates running for the 19 open LSA SG representative spots presented their platforms and highlighted key initiatives they plan to enact if elected. The candidates talked about proposed improvements to student mental health services like Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), sexual misconduct on campus and open communication lines between the student body and University of Michigan administration. Several candidates discussed sustainability initiatives as well.
Each of the candidates also answered a question about the University’s five-year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan (DEI 1.0) which is set to conclude at the end of the academic year. The candidates were asked to speak about how LSA SG plans to work with University administration to support students from diverse backgrounds during the upcoming two-year transition period before the DEI 2.0 plan is released in fall of 2023.
LSA freshman Christian Loredo-Duran said he hopes to improve communication between LSA SG and the student body. Loredo-Duran said through his experiences as a first-generation Latino student, he believes fostering a more diverse and inclusive campus starts with opening up lines of communication between student government and communities on campus.
“Through my involvement with the Michigan Marching Band, La Casa, the Spanish Language Internship Program and as an appointed rep for student government, I’ve come to see how we are truly a remarkable community made up of dedicated, driven and genuine students,” Loredo-Duran said. “Nonetheless, I’ve also seen the disconnect and lack of advocacy that can oftentime be felt between the students, staff members and the University. As a first generation, Latinx student on campus, it becomes evident that there are areas in which we need to better support and uplift the voices of students that can be easily silenced on campus.”
As representative, Loredo-Duran said he hopes to establish an Outreach Liaison that will amplify the voices of minority communities on campus. If elected, Loredo-Duran looks forward to amplifying the voices of minority students and advocating for communities that feel disconnected from the University.
“Through advocacy, compassion and empathy for one another, I truly believe that we can promote equity and inclusion on campus,” Loredo-Duran said.
LSA sophomore Ava Kelsey said she is passionate about expanding mental health resources on campus. Following the pandemic, Kelsey said it is more important than ever that students are able to access longer-term solutions for mental health care.
“It is really important that we see it through that students are getting the longer-term care that they need,” Kelsey said. “Additionally, more personalized care for students of all identities so that they’re represented properly and getting the care they specifically need for their own issues.”
In addition to expanding mental health resources, Kelsey said she hopes to promote sustainability by educating students about the various resources available to the campus community.
“We have a lot of good sustainability programs here on campus but a lot of those aren’t being used as they should because students are not as educated as they should be,” Kelsey said. “Things like compost bins and recycling bins … that’s very useful but if students don’t properly know how to use them, it’s kind of going to waste.”
LSA Junior Joo Hyun Kim, a current LSA SG representative, said she wants to advocate for the international student population and other communities that she said have not been adequately represented in student government.
“Even though Korean (students) are the third largest international student population on campus, we’ve never been reached out to from outside sources,” Kim said. “I would really appreciate it if those organizations who are aiming for diversity, equity and inclusion would just reach out to us first and then just discuss the issues.”
Kim said she plans to work on expanding communication between minority groups on campus and LSA SG as well as ease the transition to campus for incoming international students. If elected, Kim said she will ensure international students and underrepresented populations are prioritized and heard by both the student government and the administration.
LSA junior Luise Reyes-Gonzalez said she wants to increase DEI initiatives on campus, promote long term mental health solutions for students and make affordable housing more accessible.
“We should foster more communication with the administration and local leaders to find ways to further solve (the lack of affordable housing),” Reyes-Gonzalez said.
Reyes-Gonzalez also hopes to promote DEI on campus by increasing student government outreach initiatives.
“I think one of the best ways to foster a more diverse community will be to establish more events and outreach. For the typical student who goes to class and goes back home, they aren’t aware of the efforts of DEI,” Reyes-Gonzalez said.
LSA sophomore Annelise Rice said she will prioritize sustainability, conversations on sexual harrassment, mental health resources and DEI on campus if elected. As a student enrolled in the University’s Program in the Environment, Rice said she wants to ensure the University meets its commitment to reach carbon neutrality on all emissions by 2040.
“A main focus of my campaign will be sustainability and decreasing carbon emissions in a timely manner,” Rice said. “While we have a plan now, it is important for students to hold U of M accountable for their impact on the environment.”
Additionally, Rice emphasized the importance of student input in the ongoing selection process for the next University president. While it is expected that the next president will be named over the summer, Rice said she hopes the chosen individual will uphold the values of the student body.
“The installment of the new president of the University should be something that students have a say in, as they are greatly and directly affected by this,” Rice said.
LSA sophomore Lydia Kado said she is passionate about combating sexual misconduct on campus. As the current chair of the Sexual Misconduct Response and Prevention (SMRP) task force, Kado hopes to continue her efforts to improve education around sexual assault policies on campus.
“Sexual assault is a problem on campus right now that we need to address as a government,” Kado said. “Another thing we are working on is reviewing and summarizing the University’s sexual misconduct policies to boslter student understanding on how to navigative these adminisitrative resources because it is really difficult as a student.”
If elected, Kado said she plans to work to provide protection kits for students with pepper spray, safety whistles and drug tests for beverages to improve student safety.
LSA freshman Mario Thaqi, who currently serves as a Central Student Government representative, centered his speech on promoting environmental justice, advocating for tuition affordability and championing diversity with regards to race, socioeconomic status and gender. Thaqi is the only candidate endorsed by U-M’s Sierra Club chapter, an environmental justice group.
“I also go into my support for the municipalization of the Ann Arbor power grid,” Thaqi said. “They will provide more clean energy and cheaper energy to students who live on the University of Michigan campus as well as in the city of Ann Arbor.”
Thaqi, a first-generation student, spoke about how scholarships and financial aid can help provide opportunities for first generation and lower income students, especially those who have to sacrifice club involvement to work.
“Providing more scholarships (for students) that are involved in student governments and any kind of organization on campus kind of forfeits the ability to work on campus and put time towards (them),” Thaqi said. “So I feel like LSA Student Government can really provide insightful ways to help students from different backgrounds.”
LSA junior Vince Tedrick, a current LSA SG representative, spoke about the ongoing process of creating a needs-based scholarship fund for a more affordable and equitable student government during his tenure on LSA SG. If elected, Tedrick also said he aims to help first-generation students and those from low-income backgrounds as a representative.
“We need to try to reach out to more groups that encompass a lot more first generation students,” Tedrick said. “I’ve seen a lot of great different projects that I can’t take responsibility for … whether it be the calculator program or the partial reimbursement for therapy … I love the ideas, and I want to try to continue to create a more fair LSA SG.”
LSA sophomore William Addison, elected representative in LSA SG, spoke on the disconnect between LSA SG and the LSA student body. He said it was discouraging to not see many LSA students at the forum, besides those directly involved with LSA SG.
“We are acting almost as a foreign body to our own students,” Addison said. “I feel like it’s time to shift our focus from internals into externals. We are here to represent the constituents of this campus, not ourselves. A big point is showing ourselves off, getting out in the streets, talking to people in their organizations and everyday lives to get their opinions on things so that we can better represent them.”
If elected, Addison also said he plans to prioritize affordable housing on campus to support low-income students who want to live closer to campus. Addison also said he would like to increase transparency about the financial implications of student loans prior to taking them out.
“(The University is) trying to make the cost of coming to the University more than the gain you can get after you graduate,” Addison said. “I would really like everyone who is elected — even if I am not — to focus on … (giving students an idea) of what their debt would be after they graduate.”
LSA sophomore Mithun Vidhya-Ponraj has been active in student government for the past year as an elected representative and originally joined LSA SG to promote increased communication with the student body. Vidhya-Ponraj said he helped a fellow representative create a calculator renting service in October 2021, which allows all students to rent Ti-84 calculators.
“I was able to work with the health committee and (communications committee) to distribute flyers (about) health,” Vidhya-Ponraj said. “I think that’s something we started to do a lot better … working together as LSA SG between committees so that we can better outreach to students.”
Vidhya-Ponraj also spoke on the importance of using social media to encourage interaction between different student groups and to gather constructive feedback from the student body. Vidhya-Ponraj said working with the health and communications committees in the LSA SG helped promote outreach.
LSA freshman Noor Alchalabi began her speech by discussing the rise in partisan politics in LSA SG, which she hopes to prevent if elected.
Alchalabi also said she hopes to promote sustainability initiatives, increase access to Kosher and Halal meal options in dining halls for Jewish and Muslim students, workers rights to unionize and to provide a platform for students who commute to address their grievances.
Alchalabi also spoke about the importance of continuing to support Ukrainian students during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been ongoing for over a month. Earlier in March, members of LSA SG’s Diversity Affairs Committee worked with Ukrainian students to hold a vigil for victims of the war. Alchalabi spoke about LSA SG’s ability to continue to aid students from diverse backgrounds.
“In the LSA student government, as was previously mentioned, we have a privilege in that we can directly go to the administration and promote that accountability,” Alchalabi said. “We need to make sure within (LSA SG) that we all kind of have that shared effort to promote DEI and to continue to hold the University accountable.”
LSA junior Brandon De Martinez, president of the LSA SG Diversity Affairs Committee, focused his speech on advocating for LGBTQ+ communities on campus and elevating an intersectional approach to diversity. De Martinez said he has previous experience in spearheading task forces that support LGBTQ+ students as an appointed SG representative during the past six months.
Martinez created the first LGBTQ+ task force at Calvin University, the institution he previously attended. He hopes to do the same at the University of Michigan, where the task force has already been approved but not formally created.
“Combining intersectional approaches, especially for women of color who might be Queer or who might face difficult challenges at the University (is something) that I’ve been working on,” De Martinez said. “(I want to) create the first (LSA SG) LGBTQ+ task force in the history of the University of Michigan.”
Elections for LSA student government representatives will be held Wednesday, March 30 and Thursday, March 31. The ballot can be found at vote.umich.edu.