Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a 1990 University of Michigan alum, visited East Quadrangle Residence Hall on Saturday at an event organized by FlipBlue to discuss the importance of being politically active, answer students’ questions and encourage young people to vote to let their voices be heard.
Starting the event, Nessel addressed an incident in East Lansing, Mich., during the Michigan vs Michigan State football game on Oct. 30 where Nessel was photographed having too much to drink. Nessel said while reporters discussed her drinking habits off-the-clock, one of the biggest cases in Michigan regarding the Flint water crisis was also being settled and the news overwhelmingly reported about Nessel at the game instead, Nessel said.
“I think it is a commentary on our society, that one of these things got so much more attention, and the other got virtually no attention at all,” Nessel said. “And maybe that’s why we have to keep a better eye on our government ourselves, because we can’t always count on the media to do it for us.”
This year, FlipBlue is putting together a speaker series called “District Dialogue,” which intends to bring in every elected official representing members of the campus community to speak to interested students in Ann Arbor and answer their questions.
Public Policy junior Adam Grimes, co-president of FlipBlue, commented on the purpose of the speaking series and the greater impact the organizers hope it makes on the student body.
“It is about discussing issues that affect the community, issues that affect students here on campus and then also sort of a view into how students can get politically involved, either in the future or while they’re still students,” Grimes said.
The discussion took place in the format of a Q&A so students had the opportunity to ask Nessel questions. Students across all grade levels came and asked questions, many of which centered around sexual assault.
When asked about how to better tackle the sexual assault epidemic on campuses nationwide, Nessel discussed the issue of liability.
“It’s about the fact that the university doesn’t want to expose itself to liability,” Nessel said. “And I’m not saying that liability isn’t an important consideration for all regents and trustees or the Board of Governors at Wayne State or anything, but I guess you have to weigh and balance that against the need to protect students and making sure that there’s a full accounting of what happened, why it happened, how it was allowed to happen and make sure that it never happens again.”
The University of Michigan has grappled with numerous instances of sexual misconduct in recent years, including cases against late U-M athletic doctor Robert Anderson and former Provost Martin Philbert. Allegations of sexual misconduct against former lecturer Bruce Conforth and multiple professors from the Computer Science and Engineering department have also recently surfaced, leading to increased community focus on addressing the University’s mishandling of sexual misconduct on campus.
Public Policy junior Ethan Story, director of policy and research for FlipBlue, said Nessel was the first statewide official FlipBlue has featured in the speaker series.
“I’m really glad that we got to talk about sexual assault,” Story said. “That’s something that I know is on the minds of a lot of students here. (It) definitely needs more organizing behind it and the AG is somebody that we thought would be a great person to speak to about that.”
After the event, LSA freshman and audience member Zach Brzezicki told The Michigan Daily he believes open communication with elected officials is important.
“I think it’s really important for students to talk to their elected representatives to see what their viewpoints are and to see them as human beings that have a mission to fight for change, not just as robots who are power-hungry, like politicians are always assumed to be,” said Brzezicki. “We are their constituents, and I think it’s important for them to not only listen to what we have to say but also for us to hear what they have to offer to the table.”
LSA junior Jackie Hillman, co-chair of social media and marketing for FlipBlue, discussed her views on Nessel, saying the perspectives Nessel had were “authentic and real.”
“It was really refreshing to hear from a politician who clearly put so much passion of her own personal experiences into the work that she’s done already in office and the work she hopes to do,” Hillman said.
In an interview with The Daily after the event, Nessel emphasized the importance for young adults to be politically active and to use their vote and their voice.
“If young people don’t get involved and don’t really make their own way and dictate what their future is going to look like, someone else is gonna do it for you, and I guarantee you’re not gonna like what it looks like,” Nessel said. “You can’t just let the next generation, the generation after or after make those decisions for you. You have to make those decisions for yourself, and that means getting involved politically and getting your voice heard.”
Daily News Contributor Marlee Sacksner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.