A government should represent those whom it governs and fight for what those people want. Though representatives each bring their own unique set of issues to government and work hard to represent their constituents, they cannot experience the day-to-day lives of many of their constituents or meet with all the hundreds of students we work to serve. That is why all student governments here on campus must work harder to have a more diverse representative body.
I won’t tiptoe around my connection to this problem; I serve in two student governments as an elected representative of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts Student Government, and as an appointed member of Wolverine Consulting Group, a commission within Central Student Government. I also will not ignore who I am or what my background is. I am white. I am male. I am cisgender. I come from a middle class background. While I bring an important perspective to student government, I recognize I cannot and should not speak on behalf of many students with whom I don’t share the same story.
CSG elected a Black woman as president of Central Student Government in 1992, a Japanese international student in 2000 and a gay president in 2010. But for the eighth year in a row, the University of Michigan’s student body will likely elect a man to the CSG presidency. The status quo must change.
The fact that only data about diversity in CSG and not other student governments has been studied in the past makes it clear we need to investigate the extent to which this lack of diversity affects other student governments. And regardless of the degree to which this lack of diversity exists in other student governments, these bodies can still take similar approaches to seek a more diverse representative body that reflects diverse backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender orientation, socioeconomic status and more.
Though a lack of diversity shows itself in student governments, this deficiency begins with University policies concerning minority enrollment and incorporation of minority students into campus life. These policies must change so that minority representatives in student governments do not feel ostracized as Others, forced to speak for all people who share their background. In light of the ruling on affirmative action in Michigan by the Supreme Court, other options are being and must continue to be weighed by the administration.
While the University reviews its policies, student governments on campus must step up to implement policies to help better recruit candidates that reflect the constituency of the University as it is. The first way for this to be done would be for each student government, acting through an election director unbiased by student politics, to recruit candidates.
Using money apportioned from dues paid by those in student government, this election director would employ student recruiters and pay for the printing of recruiting materials such as flyers or advertising space inside University buildings and other places around campus. Distribution of recruiting materials must be spread across campus to all different demographics and to students in different locations, both off campus and on North Campus.
Next, students in student government should work with University administrators to secure funding for a scholarship for students of low socioeconomic status to participate in student government. Finally, student governments must work to make the atmospheres of their organizations welcoming, where members will feel respected and supported in pursuing projects that will help underprivileged students.
People should have the ability to represent themselves in student government so they can work toward projects that help them better their own and other people’s situations. In the absence of programs to seek out a wider variety of representatives, the status quo will continue. Diverse bodies of people, through much research, have been shown to produce this increased creativity and performance across a range of different activities. Diversity within our representative bodies will help them come up with resolutions and projects within the University that affect the most people in unique and creative ways.
Connor Kippe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.