Central Student Government candidates debate DEI, sexual misconduct and funding

Monday, March 20, 2017 - 10:42pm

2017 Central Student Government presidential and vice-presidential candidates debate campus issues in the Student Publications Building on Monday.

2017 Central Student Government presidential and vice-presidential candidates debate campus issues in the Student Publications Building on Monday. Buy this photo
Joshua Han/Daily

The Michigan Daily hosted its second annual University of Michigan Central Student Government debate on Monday night, with the president and vice president candidates from eMerge, Movement and the Defend Affirmative Action Party fielding questions from moderators and online submissions. The fourth party running, Better Than the Rest, did not attend the debate due to a scheduling conflict. 

The parties began the debate with overviews of their platforms, highlighting the initiatives they felt most strongly about.

DAAP’s presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate are Art & Design senior Keysha Wall and LSA senior Lauren Kay, respectively. Both Wall and Kay stressed that their main focus was empowering undocumented students, with an emphasis on ending the 28-month residency within high school cutoff of in-state tuition for these students. 

Presidential candidate Anushka Sarkar, LSA junior, and vice-presidential candidate Nadine Jawad, Public Policy junior — who are running with eMerge — maintained that the three pillars of their campaign were voice, opportunity and momentum. They highlighted the importance of building upon the momentum the current CSG administration has built with its recent initiatives, and making CSG proceedings more transparent.

LSA juniors Evan Rosen and Dan Sweeney, who are running for president and vice-president the Movement party respectively, responded to the recent video controversy they were facing, before Rosen departed for a hearing.

Issues of sexual misconduct, CSG experience and diversity were frequently brought up during the debate, with all six candidates proposing various initiatives to address these.

Diversity

The candidates all stressed the importance of on-campus diversity to their platforms, and talked about the different ways they planned on approaching the issue.

Sarkar and Jawad mentioned they have a wide range of perspectives in their party, and their initiatives are based on real experiences members of their party have had. While both of them believe they can not represent people of other identities, they emphasized the importance of transcending boundaries.

“eMerge believes diversity is of utmost importance when attempting to represent a wide range of ideas, backgrounds and identities on campus,” Sarkar said. “We are the only party running that has students from the most schools represented, as well as diversity of identities, diversity of experiences on campus and diversities of socioeconomic status.”

Jawad also touched upon her own experiences as a woman of color and the rarity of seeing her representation in student government. 

Sweeney said he doesn’t know what it feels like to be a minority student, but he advocates giving students the tools to deal with lack of diversity. Movement is also in favor of making the Race and Ethnicity requirement a first-year requirement to encourage freshmen to have important discussions about diversity as soon as they step onto campus. Sweeney also said he believed every student belonged on campus, regardless of their political views, and that simply being on campus and exposed to ideas can help students learn and grow.

“Yes, we should look for the best candidates at this school, period,” Sweeney said. “But I believe there will be an overall increase in diversity of minds and perspectives joining CSG if we are elected, because that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to get people on this campus excited about CSG.”

Wall and Kay described themselves as having diverse identities and backgrounds, and highlighted the integration of their own party. They expressed frustration with the fact that administrators don’t push for data collection of other identities, such as queer populations. They also want to push administrators to adopt the Texas House Bill 588, better known as the Top 10 Percent plan, guarantees students in the top 10 percent of their high school class admissions to state universities. This however, would conflict with the state of Michigan’s ban on race- and gender-based affirmative action prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, gender and socioeconomic status.

“(We need) to further integrate this campus, and if you’re going to have a (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) plan, have a DEI plan that is actively working to integrate this campus,” Wall said. “That means going to Detroit schools and doing on-site admissions. Aggressively, aggressively courting students from low-income areas, from majority Black cities … These are the steps that can easily, easily be taken. This is something that’s not on the student body to fix, but is on us to set the example and the tone for the administration, for the people who would be able to do something about this.”

Mental Health

The three parties had different approaches to mental health initiatives.

Sweeney and Rosen said instead of expanding Counseling and Psychological Services resources, they want to focus more on attacking the source of these problems. They want to establish a “4 Years Campaign,” which will help students explore the opportunities available on campus and show them there’s more to being at the University than their grades. Both of them cite the competitive environment of the University as one of the main reasons for the high rates of mental health issues.

Wall and Kay said there is no mention of mental health in the DEI plan, and that training for faculty members doesn’t include the testimonies of the disabled.

Sarkar and Jawad stated they believe CAPS should be expanded, and the work CSG has done already has allowed for shorter waiting times at CAPS. Lobbying has also resulted in them being able to hire more counselors, which will be even more beneficial for students. They also believe in implementing longer-term, more nuanced changes, such as decreasing the maximum number of final exams a student must take in one day.

Sexual Misconduct

While some of the candidates said preventing sexual misconduct was important to them, eMerge and Movement did not specifically address the issue with targeted solutions. DAAP is the only party which addresses sexual misconduct in their platform and provided a strong stance against those who have committed assault.

The eMerge candidates briefly mentioned they didn’t want to tokenize survivors, and they have met with members of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center to collaborate with them. They want to implement monthly meetings with SAPAC coordinators.

Movement heads said they wanted to increase the number of streetlights on campus, and create a late night task force to walk people home.

DAAP said their goal is to expose and expel rapists, and the University should have a zero-tolerance policy for rape and sexual misconduct. They believe SAPAC should become a separate body that is not governed by the University, so its primary commitment remains to the students.

Closing Statements

Wall and Kay stressed they don’t want to tokenize Detroit, and they want to bring people together to solve important issues and make this campus safe for people.

Sweeney and Rosen concluded by saying their main focus was uniting the campus, and focusing on being proactive rather than reactive. They want to accomplish this by attacking the sources of the problems that are prevalent on campus, and focus on the student body.

Sarkar and Jawad emphasized the titles were never what they were aiming for, or their end goal; they’d worked hard outside CSG to push various initiatives, and they want to be able to do the same on a larger platform.

Sarkar emphasized she was not criticizing the lack of CSG experience from Movement, but their lack of leadership in issues regarding diversity on campus.

“When you come into this position, it’s hard to realize how much work there is, how much pressure there is to represent tens of thousands of students,” Sarkar said.

CSG elections will be held March 22 and 23.