Rabab Jafri: CSG, you do not represent me

Thursday, January 21, 2016 - 12:04pm

In the past year, the University has taken on several diversity initiatives, but in order for a significant shift in campus climate to occur, minority student voices need spaces to be heard throughout the year on multiple platforms. This means more than just diversity town halls and discussions, as the University should take an active role in recognizing that Central Student Government has disregarded minority voices. If Central Student Government’s purpose is really to represent the student body, this is a project they should undertake. But instead of doing so, the assembly has only turned away minority students, as evidenced when 10 members of the Campus Inclusion Commission under CSG resigned. Months later, we are still left with 10 fewer voices on CSG, and still no resolve in the aftermath of this and other incidents involving CSG.

On November 19, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality organized a demonstration on the Diag meant to represent Israeli checkpoints. I do not consider myself a very active member of SAFE, but I still participated. During the demonstration, CSG representative Jesse Arm approached several members of SAFE, and one encounter was recorded. Afterward, SAFE called upon CSG’s Ethics Committee to look into the matter, claiming Arm’s conduct was unethical as a CSG representative. After conducting an investigation, the Ethics Committee concluded that Arm would not face disciplinary measures.

I was one of the first people Arm approached. During one of the breaks in the demonstration, my friend and I started talking. We both wear a hijab, the Muslim headscarf, but were distanced from the mock wall demonstration. As we were talking, Arm walked up to us and began yelling about how insensitive he thought it was to have the demonstration on this day because of deaths of several American students in Israel. We froze, unsure of how to react as he continued questioning us. We then redirected him to Devin Jones, a member of SAFE, who Arm then began questioning.

After the commission’s decision to allow Arm to retain his spot on CSG, Arm said his “goals and things that I want to accomplish in this assembly are not related to my status as a Jewish student.” “I’m Jesse. I’m not Jesse the Jew, I’m not Jesse pro-Israel, I’m Jesse who wants to see a better campus for the University of Michigan.”

I understand where the sentiment of not wanting to be singled out for your identity comes from, but that is exactly what Arm did when he directed his speech at my friend and me. CSG members should realize that diversity and inclusion are primary goals to build a better campus for the University.

Students who want to voice their opinions against these demonstrations also have the right to do so, but there is a responsible way to start a discussion. Though this may not be grounds for his dismissal from CSG, we should not condone this type of action at this University. Approving this conduct in the name of freedom of expression is not progressive. Instead, it only fosters a greater mistrust between minority students and CSG.

To clarify, I am not calling to change the Ethics Committee's decision or speaking as a judge on Jesse Arm’s character. I simply want to put a voice and a name to the person Arm directed his speech toward, though I do so with great caution, with the knowledge that minority voices on campus are not always respected.

Though I commend CSG for taking the time to care for one of its members, it seems that this is not a standard held across the board. This is an issue that manifested itself when the 10 members of CSG resigned. As Sindhu Sreedhar wrote in an article for the Daily, the reason for the resignation was that he and the rest of the commission “came to the conclusion that CSG’s efforts to make campus more inclusive weren’t entirely genuine and we felt that working with them wasn’t in our best interests.” As Sreedhar explained how it took her time to bring up the microaggression spoken against her from a member of CSG, I spent time questioning whether my perspective should be shared — but it is time that the student body and the University hold CSG accountable.

If members on the committee in CSG — whose purpose is to allow minority voices to be heard  — are marginalized to the point that they collectively resign, there is a much larger problem that needs to be addressed. The collective resignation of 10 CSG members received less attention from CSG and the student body than the accusations against Arm, as if minority voices are disposable. It is not enough to have a two-week diversity summit and ignore these incidents. The University must look into the attitude of CSG toward minority students in order to sustain minority student representation throughout the year. Administration and students alike must see that this can no longer be ignored and overlooked, as we look back and see that in the time since these events occurred nothing has changed. There cannot be a true campus climate change when CSG does not truly represent the student body.

Until then, all I can say is: CSG, you do not represent me.

Rabab Jafri can be reached at rfjafri@umich.edu