CSG reflects on past semester and looks forward to 2018

Monday, December 11, 2017 - 5:22pm

After spending the winter semester of 2017 campaigning for Central Student Government leadership on the three pillars of voice, opportunity and momentum, the eMerge party led by President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior, and Vice President Nadine Jawad, a Public Policy senior, has taken several steps this semester in fulfilling their promises of last spring, including passing a number of resolutions and initiatives.

Voice

CSG has participated in actions this past semester and has continued initiatives that work aiming to give students greater opportunity to convey their concerns on campus.

Following several bias incidents and discussion on how to best respond to student needs, CSG has spent the past several months working on amending the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which, according to an interview with Sarkar and Jawad, would include bias-motivated misconduct as both a violation and an aggravating factor in the disciplining process, and on Friday the first stage in the process was passed. The executive board also released a statement in October condemning the naming the namesake building of C.C. Little, who was a eugenicist.

“There’s other ways to look back at history, but I think when we name a building it becomes to normalized into our everyday systems on campus that we totally forget to check in and see what it was that that president did or what the history entails,” Jawad said during an October meeting.

On Nov. 7, CSG held its weekly meeting on the Diag as another way to elevate student voice, particularly by making the organization more accessible to students — most attended the meeting to primarily talk about #UMDivest.

In addition, CSG looks to continue supporting students on the Ann Arbor City Council Student Advisory Committee so as to have a representative within City Council to speak on issues that may not be involved with the student government, as well as to have a student sit on the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents, a position that has also been pushed for under previous administrations — the legality of which is ambiguous.

Opportunity

CSG spent this past semester working on resolutions aimed at increasing accessibility for students by means of providing resources.

“A lot of resolutions have come through the assembly that have just sort of been focused on making it easier to be a student,” Sarkar said.

Five resolutions in particular have worked to address these needs, and have included the funding of charging stations in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, increasing the Career Center’s Clothes Closet to provide free professional clothing for students, a calculator loan program and, in beginning in January, free menstrual products in bathrooms across campus.

Momentum

The assembly looks to build upon initiatives and projects from last term to continue supporting programs that assist student life. For example, while no longer directly advocating for the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, CSG has continued to work on a partnership with those organizing the scholarship, hoping to have funds available by fall 2018.

Housing affordability is another issue that began prior to eMerge’s time in office, with former CSG President David Schafer and Vice President Micah Griggs’s administration passionate on finding ways to lower Ann Arbor housing costs.

Jawad, who assisted in the research process that took place last year on the issue, explained how CSG is continuing work on providing students with resources to understand where to find less expensive housing.

“Last year we did about a year’s worth of research on campus affordability, how to make things more accessible, what you can do to advocate for housing resources,” Jawad said. “We finally were able to put that into a guide called the Campus Affordability Guide.”

According to Jawad, the new housing guide, which just finished the editing process, has a tentative release date during the month of January.

Controversial Speakers

In addition to taking action on initiatives and platforms eMerge campaigned on, the representatives have also worked to find a balance between elaborating on established ideas and addressing sudden issues that have come up throughout the semester.

The presence of controversial speakers on campus is one that Sarkar and Jawad have taken a stance against and that has reflected the advocacy portion of their original campaign. In its first statement condemning author Charles Murray on campus, CSG made the distinction between the speaker’s right to free speech and students’ right to free speech in opposing speakers like Murray.

“There is a massive and crucial difference between opening our minds in order to consider new and different ideas, and allowing pseudo-academics to portray racism as ‘new ideas,’” the statement reads.

As questions and anxieties continue to arise about the specifics of a potential speech on campus by white supremacist and neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, CSG has taken an active stand against the possibility of Spencer coming to the University.

At a Board of Regents’s meeting in early December, Sarkar presented a petition, which had already received 5,000 signatures in two days from students, to stop Spencer from speaking on campus.

Reflecting on the meeting, Sarkar explained that while she believes the administration seeks to continue prioritizing student safety, tensions increase when constant questions continue to surround the issue.

“I believe that there are people who have our best interests in mind and heart when they are in these decision-making positions,” she said. “This issue arises when there isn’t transparency around how they approach doing that.”

Jawad echoed similar sentiments, highlighting that the work they have done this past semester in condemning speakers such as Spencer and Murray also includes ensuring CSG continues to support students who feel unsafe from or fearful of a potential Spencer visit.

“We really want to be a resource for students, making sure that if people need something, if he (Spencer) was to come or even if he wasn’t, because a lot of people are experiencing just a lot of anxiety with the thought of the event coming,” she said. “We’ve really just tried to make sure that we can be a resource to students in this time.”

Divestment

Reflecting on the #UMDivest movement, Sarkar and Jawad highlighted the eight-hour meeting in which the resolution passed, emphasizing students’ commitment to advocating for what they so passionately believe in.

“People felt so passionate about this issue, no matter where they fell on it ideologically, that they spent eight hours in the (Modern Languages Building) advocating for what they believed in,” Sarkar said. “That’s the sort of organizing and Michigan spirit of activism that I think keeps me motivated in what I do.”

Jawad, who addressed the assembly personally as a student in favor of the resolution, also reflected on this sense of engagement and discussion that surrounded the meeting.

“The thing that I took the most out of it was the ability to create a space where people can have those long discussions and being willing to be there and being so passionate that they want to be there for that long to talk about the things that they care about,” Jawad said.

At the CSG meeting following the passing of #UMDivest, however, Jawad explained she received criticism for taking the floor, as one representative questioned the power imbalance they believed she created.

“Are you all clear that I spoke during community concerns as opposed to during executive communications to try and share my narrative (despite) being an executive?” Jawad responded during the meeting. “And though I know that it wasn’t a way to take away what I am as the vice president, it wasn’t my intent to abuse my power. Are you aware that other (executive) members including the president and former vice president of student body vocally supported a stance on the actual politics and not on the resolution?”

This particular meeting brought debate among CSG members, as the impacts of #UMDivest were discussed. Public Policy senior Andrew Watkins spoke in opposition to the resolution and voiced his concerns with specific context of the passed resolution.

“This assembly emboldened the BDS movement,” Watkins said during the meeting. SAFE previously stated #UMDivest is not associated with the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement. “They did not say a word to denounce the movement, and to me, that silence rings louder than anything else they said,” Watkins said.

In a statement that signified her thoughts on the resolution released the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Sarkar explained the changes before signing, including removing the words Israel and Israeli and the names of specific companies, so as to investigate all investments that violate Palestinian human rights.

Looking Ahead

In looking forward to the work to be done next semester, Sarkar and Jawad hope to continue building upon their resources and community organizing strategies in response to conflicts that arise rather than forgetting about the facilities already available to them during moments of intense issues.

“I’ve often observed from this position that when we have tense moments in our campus climate, we sort of put constructive counter-programming or resources to the side to evaluate the conflict itself rather than evaluating what we have at our disposal to counter it,” Sarkar said.

In particular, Sarkar looks forward to continuing work on the public service pitch competition Innovate, which will be run by CSG and will emphasize the importance of providing positive and helpful programming to students during times of a difficult campus climate.

Jawad anticipates the creation of a CSG biweekly or triweekly video that will be posted on social media to increase student awareness of programs available, specifically those campaigned on last winter.

“Some of our platform points had a lot to do with awareness and kind of just recognizing resources on campus and thinking about how we can streamline them or make them more visible to students,” Jawad explained.

Overall, the assembly looks to continue supporting students during a time when political climate has raised concerns and anxiety among many members of the University. In continuing programming already available and expanding upon ways to provide students with resources advocating for safety, student voice and constructive conversation, Sarkar and Jawad anticipate the work and dedication to be put into the coming semester.

“Because the University is so decentralized it can be very difficult to identify where you go to get something, to get a resource, to talk to somebody about something,” Sarkar said. “It’s the point of student government to be a liaison between students and decision makers and resources, so I would hope that we can continue doing that next semester.”