LSA Student Government candidates focus on mental health, transparency

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 2:00am

LSA juniors Julia Gips and Aditi Rao, candidates for LSA Student Government president and vice president, present their platforms at the LSA-SG candidate forum in the Union Monday.

LSA juniors Julia Gips and Aditi Rao, candidates for LSA Student Government president and vice president, present their platforms at the LSA-SG candidate forum in the Union Monday. Buy this photo
Haley McLaughlin/ Daily

 

About 40 students gathered in the Michigan Union Monday night to hear from presidential, vice presidential and representative candidates for LSA Student Government.

This year’s presidential and vice presidential candidates, LSA juniors Julia Gips and Aditi Rao, are running unopposed. Their platform focuses on increasing transparency between students and University of Michigan faculty and administration, as well as promoting greater collaboration with student life programs on campus.

During Monday’s event, Rao stressed the importance of increasing transparency between students and administration, saying opportunities for students to interact with the administration should be better publicized, such as being a part of student government.

“You don’t have to be a chair, you don’t have to be a vice-chair, you don’t have to be running — just come to our meetings,” Rao said. “Our meetings are open to anyone, and once you come you’re able to see what we can accomplish.”

Gips noted that to encourage more participation from the campus community as a whole, LSA-SG needs to begin by collaborating and supporting other student organizations. Attending and sponsoring such outside events would create a greater sense of cohesion among a diverse range of students, she said.

“I think that would create a more inclusive student government, but also a more inclusive environment on campus,” Gips said.

She also discussed the need for expanding several University programs, including the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and Counseling and Psychological Services. In her remarks Monday, she suggested adding a bylaw in which LSA-SG would allocate money from their budget for SAPAC each year.

Following the event, current LSA-SG President Jason Colella, an LSA senior, praised the two candidates on their hard work and dedication within the body.

“I think what will make them successful is their clear willingness to take what’s worked this year and improve upon that, and take what hasn’t worked from this year and change it up to create a better environment,” Colella said.

Seventeen LSA candidates are running for the 10 available elected representative positions — a larger pool than usual. Colella acknowledged the increased number of candidates in comparison to previous years, attributing the growth to an encouraging atmosphere set forth this year within the body.

“I think overall this is one of the strongest groups of people running for elected representatives we’ve had in a long time,” Colella said. “We’ve been really successful this year at getting a lot of freshmen involved, and a lot of them are running. We also did a good job of advertising and publicity to get people from outside of the government involved.”

The candidates represented a mix of both returning and new LSA-SG representatives, but, regardless of status, many shared similar goals. Several issues — including mental health, academics, diversity and inclusion — were common themes throughout platforms presented Monday evening.

Mental Health

Many of the candidates said they supported the expansion of mental health resources across campus, and advocated for extending CAPS to North Campus.

LSA freshman Nicholas Meier called for the creation of a more inviting atmosphere within CAPS and extending its hours of operations.

“Making sure that the CAPS program is inviting and friendly to everyone so when you walk into the lobby, you’re not handed a survey saying, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” Meier said. “You’re invited to have a conversation with one of the counselors so you can get the help that you need.”

Echoing Meier’s sentiment, Health Committee Chair Anna Giacomini, an LSA sophomore, also discussed mental health. She said she is currently working on a speak out set to take place in the beginning of April, and hopes to continue this event every semester.

“It is important to let students know that they are not alone in what they are feeling and to provide a space for them to express their feelings,” Giacomini said.

Academics

Several other candidates discussed issues surrounding academics in their platforms. LSA freshmen Jay Cutler and Hanna Simmons both talked about their role on the Academic Affairs Committee within the body, citing in particular a push to establish a public health minor through the sociology department.

Cutler also expressed concern about the structure of introductory classes many students take as incoming freshmen. He said from his experience, several were disorganized and discouraging for himself and many of his peers.

“Sometimes entry-level classes are used as weeders, and that discourages certain freshmen, and sophomores from pursuing certain programs,” Cutler said.

Many candidates who called for academic reform said they aim to create a more positive, supportive academic atmosphere and hope to expand the major/minor programs to remain aligned with student interests.

Diversity and Inclusion

Among current diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives taking place on campus, other candidates focused on cultivating a campus environment that is accepting and welcoming to all identities.

LSA sophomore Mohamad Bazzi, an executive board member of the Arab Student Association, said he hopes to get involved in the body’s Diversity Affairs Committee if elected. He encouraged LSA-SG to attend events specific to the diverse range of organizations on campus.

LSA sophomore Jalal Taleb also discussed initiatives to increase diversity, suggesting that they be modeled after mentorship peers program implemented in the Residential College and stressing the need for representation.

“I want to be a voice for people who are underrepresented on our campus,” Taleb said.