Ben Gerstein, Central Student Government president and Public Policy junior, addressed the Assembly Tuesday in his Fall 2019 State of Students Address. Gerstein highlighted his administration’s focus on increasing Counseling and Psychological Services support throughout campus, as well as expanding wellness resources for students on North Campus.
In the address, Gerstein described how he and CSG Vice President Isabelle Blanchard, LSA senior, have created two new executive positions thus far. The new roles include Director of Outreach, which will serve as a facilitator between CSG and student groups, as well as the Government Relations Coordinator. The role of the Government Relations Coordinator is intended to ensure student voices are heard on the local, state and federal level.
The Assembly approved LSA junior Evelyn Winter as the Director of Outreach in today’s meeting but has yet to fill the position for Government Relations Coordinator. According to Gerstein, this position is crucial, as it bridges the policy gap between students at the University and state and national government.
In their administration, Gerstein and Blanchard have chosen to focus on nine issue areas: accessibility and affordability, academic affairs, sustainability, diversity, equity, inclusion, sexual misconduct prevention and awareness, survivor empowerment, student health and wellness, student support/resources and internal CSG improvements.
“Those are main issue areas that we thought we could effectively categorize certain issues on campus into, and they’re pretty straight forward but also holistic in the issues that they cover,” Gerstein said. “But also, the work that we’re going to be doing is not just limited to those areas. So, as matters arise and students voice specific concerns, just because they might not fall in one of our categories, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to address them.”
One of the projects the administration has worked to implement with regard to affordability is the installation of microwaves across campus in non-residential areas such as the Michigan League, the new Michigan Union and the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. According to Gerstein, in collaboration with University Unions and University Library, CSG has been working to implement these microwaves as soon as possible and develop a map of where the microwaves will be installed.
“The microwaves are not yet up and running, but we know that it’s a small, minute change and by no means does that address food insecurity, which is a much larger, epidemic-like issue on campus,” Gerstein said. “But we receive email inquiries from students asking about microwaves a bunch … so the addition of those in commonly used spaces like the League and the new Union will help accommodate a lot of students.”
In his address, Gerstein also discussed the lack of CAPS resources on campus. According to Gerstein, in just the first month of this school year, CAPS has already seen 20 percent of the total number of students it saw in the entirety of last year. As a result, CSG is looking at different ways it can increase funding so the University can hire more CAPS counselors across campus.
“There is a continuous increase in demand for students seeking counseling and mental health resources,” Gerstein said. “With the new union, with increased space for CAPS and with more of a demand for the services, I think we can at least do our part to add more counselors and take away less of the burden.”
The lack of wellness resources are especially prevalent on North Campus, where students have to commute in order to visit the University Health Center or the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center.
His administration therefore hopes to create locations on North for these wellness resources. They also would like to ensure students on North are directly playing a role in terms of how these decisions are made.
“North Campus is very resource-deficient in terms of the University in that students on North Campus who can’t find access into the embedded counselor model, or need other wellness resources like SAPAC or UHS, are forced to go to central campus,” Gerstein said. “When buses are crowded, when buses are running limited routes on weekends and when it’s bad weather, there are large barriers created for those students to have access to those resources.”
During the community concerns portion of the meeting, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) addressed the Assembly. Michigan alum and BAMN organizer Kate Stenvig asked CSG to consider making the University of Michigan a sanctuary campus for immigrants, especially those who may be at risk of deportation.
“Something that CSG has taken a position on before is to make U-M a sanctuary campus for immigrants,” Stenvig said. “We think that right now, that is really the number one thing that the University can do to make clear that the University defends its immigrants and can take a stand against racism on this campus and improve campus climate.”
Considering the policies the University already has in place for immigrants, Selena Bazzi, LSA junior and CSG vice speaker, questioned Stenvig on the purpose of taking the next step in making the University a sanctuary.
“You said the University has some regulations that are set so that undocumented students are protected,” Bazzi said. “So, what would be the point of making the entire campus itself a sanctuary campus if the students are already protected?”
Stenvig responded by describing how the University plays an integral role in Ann Arbor, and if it becomes a sanctuary, then ideally the community will follow its footsteps with immigrant-friendly policies.
“In terms of ICE, they have come to businesses around the area,” Stenvig said. “I think if the University itself, since it’s so much a part of what this whole community is, if they’re saying ‘we’re a sanctuary campus,’ it really protects the community, and this community is so much more than just the students, so it would make a big example for so many other places.”
The Assembly also voted to approve the CSG budget for fall 2019. Gerstein has one week to sign the budget, which would officially put it into effect.