Looking forward: CSG reflects on semester and plans for 2017

Monday, December 12, 2016 - 5:27pm

Though many of the campaign promises made by the newMich platform were attacked as idealistic by their opposition, the University of Michigan Central Student Government’s administration led by President David Schafer, LSA senior, and Vice President Micah Griggs, LSA senior, has laid considerable groundwork to fulfill some of their directives for the next semester.

While many of the body's directives, like mental health or divestment, are not being introduced for the first time this semester, the assembly has also contended with issues surrounding racial tension — in particular, tension surrounding undocumented students and minorities on campus mounted after President-elect Donald Trump's November victory. During the campaign, Trump called for an increase in immigration restrictions and perpetuated anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In response to this — in particular, Trump's stated intention to reverse a executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, allowing many undocumented students to stay in the country — CSG passed a resolution in support of undocumented students on campus earlier this year. DACA, as explained by the resolution, allows immigrants to “apply for temporary deferrals of deportations and (for) work permits.”

“I just wanted to highlight the importance of this resolution,” Schafer said during the November meeting. “I think it’s our job to stand in support of our undocumented students on this campus and reaffirm their place in the University of Michigan and to show that CSG is here for them.”

The administration has also focused on several goals from their campaign. Though they haven't fulfulled their full campaign promise to create a student regent position, the assembly did strive to increase transparency between the student body and the University's Board of Regents by passing a resolution at its first meeting to reinstate student input into the board’s bylaws in hopes of adding more student perspective to board decisions. In early September, the board voted and passed a bylaw to do so.

“That bylaw highlights the importance of student input in University decision making,” Schafer said during the meeting. “To reiterate, let’s not view this bylaw as the final product but rather as a foundation upon which more specific efforts can be built that match the spirit of this bylaw.”

Other campaign initiatives that targeted drinking and wellness have also been at least in part fulfilled. At the beginning of the year, CSG started off with plans to reduce alcohol-related incidents on game days by partnering with the Interfraternity Council to create hydration stations. In early September, CSG also hosted its third sober tailgate in five years. LSA sophomore Grant Rivas, CSG’s chief programming officer, said at the time they served 350 pizzas and 1,600 water bottles during the event.

CSG also undertook mental health initiatives. In October, the student government sent out a survey to University faculty and students to gauge their perspective of student mental health. In addition, Schafer launched the first-ever mental health taskforce to analyze data from the survey and create initiatives resulting from their research. According to an interview with Schafer, the taskforce is currently still in its research stage.

Another prominent but not unusual concern for the body was their debate this semester over a resolution that would have called on the University to divest its investments in several companies that allegedly commit human rights violations against Palestinians. The resolution, brought by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, failed with 34 to 13. It has been brought to the body unsuccesfully by SAFE multiple times in the past decade. 

CSG’s failure to pass the resolution prompted frustration from some students, most notably at a walkout on campus that drew more than 1000 students. At the event, some Palestinian students described their frustrations with the student government over the resolution, calling for more solidarity from the body.

The question of advocacy versus lobbying was also a major debate in one CSG meeting, in which members discussed passing the resolution to show support for activist Justin Cheong from By All Means Necessary, a national coalition that aims to defend affirmative action, immigrant rights and equality.

LSA senior Joey Hansel, CSG student general counsel, expressed concerns about the resolution leading to legal issues.

“I wanted to run it by (the University’s Office of the General Counsel and the Office of the Vice President of Governmental Affairs) to see if it exactly had any legal concerns, specifically because it would be the University taking a stance on an ongoing federal investigation,” he said. “Mainly my concerns were … fast-tracking the resolution. I’d rather see it go through the full process so that way I could go through those meetings later this week.”

In a interview earlier this semester, Schafer stressed in the importance of student engagement on campus for the next semester, emphasizing in particular CSG’s hope to connect with the student body more in the future and become a resource for those who feel marginalized.

“So if there is anything we are going to do, we’re going to dial up our passion with our work for the student body, our commitment to their organization and work as hard as we possibly can to improve this University,” he said. “This is an unwavering, invasive belief that everyone belongs here and deserves to be here ... there will always be work to be done. It’s our shared commitment to get involved and work to embrace the imperfections of this University and remake it so it works closely aligned to our very best selves and ideals we set for ourselves.”

Internally, the body also undertook initiatives to further student representation. In late September, CSG released a diversity report that indicated the Student Assembly was mostly made up of wealthy, white, heterosexual males. A 2015 analysis by The Michigan Daily also noted the past seven CSG presidents have been men.

Schafer said after the survey’s release that the student government was committed to diversity both on campus and within the organization. Looking toward next semester, he said CSG is aiming to create a more diverse group of representatives.

“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.”

Both internally and externally, CSG has also made strides to connect more with its student body, something past administrations had trouble with, through its Leadership Engagement Scholarship, the “It Starts With Me” campaign and its town hall.

During the CSG debates last year, former CSG President Cooper Charlton, a University alum, 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, Charlton said he now feels like the Schafer and Griggs’ 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.”