CSG lays groundwork to connect with student body

Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 5:47pm

With the fall semester coming to a close, Central Student Government has set the groundwork for campaign initiatives it hopes to carry out next year, including engaging more with the student body through scholarships and an anti-racism campaign called “It Starts with Me.”

In late September, CSG released a diversity report that indicated the Student Assembly was mostly made up of wealthy, white, heterosexual males. White students made up 69.8 percent of the assembly while Asian students made up the second largest portion of members with 9.3 percent. The diversity report noted 58.1 percent of members identified as male, 40.7 percent as female and 1.2 percent preferred not to answer. A 2015 analysis by The Michigan Daily noted the past seven CSG presidents had been men.

CSG President David Schafer, an LSA senior, said after the survey’s release that the student government was committed to diversity both on campus and within the organization.

“Diversity is critical to ensuring that as a governing body, we are representative of every student on campus,” Schafer said at the time. “We look forward to analyzing the results of the report and conceptualizing ways in which we can better represent our various constituencies.”

CSG has since sought to increase socioeconomic diversity within the body and beyond through the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, which provides monetary support to student leaders. The scholarship is meant to ease the financial burden of participating in organizations such as member fees and hours worked at organization events. So far, CSG has raised $100,000 through fundraising and donations.

CSG Vice President Micah Griggs, an LSA senior, said the scholarship helps alleviate the financial strain of being heavily involved in a student group.

“There is socioeconomic status within diversity and that can be a barrier for students to get involved with CSG,” Griggs said. “So that is one way we are trying to engage with the student body. And not only get people involved with CSG but other student organizations.”

Former CSG President Cooper Charlton, a University alum, said his administration tried taking steps to provide similar scholarships for undocumented students, but ran into legal issues. He said he appreciated how Schafer and Griggs have found ways to fund scholarships within legal and community boundaries.

Schafer said he has also been working with other student organizations and encouraging students to participate more in student government.

“The next semester, we are going to encourage students to run in the CSG elections … encouraging students to get more involved,” Schafer said. “It’s an organization that will be here beyond our time on campus and one that has the ability to really better the lives of students.”

The day after President-elect Donald Trump’s win, Schafer also spoke at a vigil in support of marginalized students. During the gathering, he called for students to call out discriminatory actions on campus.

“To all that have been targeted or marginalized: You have a place on this campus,” he said during the the vigil. “The University of Michigan is yours just as much as anybody else’s. Don’t stop challenging each other. So I am challenging everyone here tonight who professes to be an ally — whenever you hear a microaggression, whenever you hear an act of discrimination and bigotry or injustice perpetrated by one of your friends or any one of your acquaintances, step up and challenge them. Because if you don’t, you are part of the problem.”

In an interview, he emphasized working with other communities, such as the Muslim Students’ Association, to become more available for those who feel unsafe on campus. Schafer said CSG hopes to be a part of student gatherings such as the vigil and to become a resource for those who need it on campus.

“(The vigil) was for the need for students of all different backgrounds, of all different identities, of all different political beliefs really to come together to lift this campus up,” he said. “To continue to elevate Michigan so it reflects our very best selves and our high ideals. And anytime we get a chance to ensure the safety and the welfare of students, anytime we get a chance to interact with them, it’s an opportunity we are naturally going to seize. So I am looking forward to continuously watching this campus improve.”

CSG Communications Director Joe Shea, a Public Policy senior, said one of his goals for the next semester is creating partnerships with other student organizations to plan future similar events.

“I try my best to keep myself up to date with events that are happening on campus and I would hope student organizations that are looking to approach CSG would feel comfortable reaching out to us and letting us know what is going on,” Shea said.

Griggs said another way CSG is taking steps to improve campus climate is through the new “It Starts with Me” campaign that hopes to establish CSG members as allies for those who feel marginalized on campus.

The “It Starts with Me” campaign is led by Griggs and hopes to raise awareness of discrimination on campus. The campaign also responded to the anti-Black, anti-Muslim and anti-LGBTQ posters seen around campus this fall.

Griggs explained CSG is handing out wristbands and banners for student organizations who support the campaign and hopes to work with The Program on Intergroup Relations to facilitate ally workshops.

“We really just wanted to call in students to be an ally through their actions, and it can just be something symbolic like signing a poster but also to bring awareness to these issues,” Griggs said in an earlier interview with The Michigan Daily. “Sometimes events on campus occur and students just brush them under the rug or they forget about it, but communities are hurting.”

Charlton praised Griggs for her proactive approach in responding to campus climate issues.

“Something that I recently learned was self-exploration leads to self-love which leads to people love,” Charlton said. “I think that’s one of the things the campus tries to work toward, but a large part of that starts with one’s relationship with themselves.”

Griggs also noted that CSG has been connecting with students through town hall events. For instance, CSG held its first town hall in early October on affordable housing, organized by Nadine Jawad, a Public Policy junior. Jawad said the town hall was a way to gather student interest on the topic and was a starting point for future town halls.

The event was mostly attended by student government members and Ann Arbor employees and residents.

During the CSG debates last year, Charlton said there was a disconnect between the student government and the student body.

“I definitely think CSG has a lack of trust from the student body right now,” Charlton said last year. “It’s something we’ve tried to fight this year, and unfortunately I don’t think we completed our goal.”

In an interview, he said he believes the role of CSG should empower student voices and actions on campus, especially against disenfranchisement and should take steps with the administration to protect students. Chartlon added he feels like the Schafer administration has taken positive steps toward student communication.

“One thing I have noticed is that CSG this past semester has been much more communicative with the student body than I believe we were last semester,” he said. “They’ve done a good job of being more connected to students. So, I would like to see them continue that into the second semester.”