By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 28, 2011
Though the Michigan Student Assembly’s main focus is on University issues, it plans to extend its reach to the state of Michigan.
MSA will host the Student Association of Michigan conference this weekend in the Michigan Union, where college student governments from across the state will meet to discuss how to increase student voter registration and SAM’s future events.
Started in 2007, SAM is comprised of the student governments of Michigan's 15 public universities and represents more than 300,000 students in the state. The conferences occur every month except in December and once every three months in the summer. Each school sends a delegation from their student government.
By bringing student representatives together, the group works to address problems on a broader scale and pass measures agreed on by all 15 schools.
“We are representing the entire state of Michigan,” MSA President DeAndree Watson said. “That's really when you get action from the state legislature.”
At last month’s SAM conference, MSA sponsored and helped pass a resolution in support of bill in the Michigan Senate, which requires school districts to make policies to discourage bullying.
Watson said the assembly previously passed a similar resolution, but the resolution is not as effective as the one passed by SAM. To make the resolution known, copies of it will be sent to the media, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, Michigan legislators and state university regents and presidents.
Independently, MSA doesn’t usually address state-level issues because it lacks the power and resources to have a large influence, Watson said.
“As a student government, we kind of throw our hands up because we don’t … really make a lasting impact,” he said. “But with an organization like SAM that represents all 15 public universities, you have a body that really represents (the students of) Michigan.”
Watson said SAM also recently discussed an initiative to register 30,000 Michigan college students to vote by February 2012. To reach this goal, SAM will start a friendly competition among universities to see which school can register the most students.
At their weekend-long conference this week, SAM members will also plan its Advocacy Event — a rally in Lansing in March. In addition to raising awareness about student issues during the rally, SAM hopes to meet with state legislators one-on-one to discuss funding reductions to higher education.
One of SAM's most important goals is to correct “extraordinary cuts to education,” according to Sean Wasler, LSA junior and chair of MSA's external relations commission. The state decreased higher education appropriations by 15 percent, or $225 million, for the current fiscal year.
While MSA was not actively involved in SAM in the last few years, Watson said the assembly is recommitted to SAM’s success.
“We've begun to realize that SAM is important and that in order to have a strong student voice in the state of Michigan, you need a strong SAM,” he said.
Walser added that SAM has recently gained stability and a better sense of direction.
“SAM in the past has not done as much as it could,” Walser said. “But it's really on the right path now, and it has solid leadership that's making it very worthwhile to be a member.”
Nevertheless, not every student government is on the same page, Walser said.
The student governments of Eastern Michigan University, Central Michigan University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn were all absent at last month's conference, according to Sathi.
“They saw the early stages of SAM,” Sathi said. “They didn't see how it was going benefit their school.”
Sathi and Walser said they planned to call each of the student government presidents represented by SAM to encourage participation at this weekend's conference.
“If they were to have the opportunity to see this progress, I think they may change their mind and start attending SAM conferences once again,” Sathi said.