The 2021 Central Student Government presidential and vice presidential debates, hosted by The Michigan Daily, discussed the candidates’ positions on campus policing; diversity, equity and inclusion; carbon neutrality and amplifying all student voices. Included in the Thursday evening debate were both the presidential and vice presidential candidates from all three CSG executive tickets: ORGANIZE, CHANGE and IMPACT. Each round lasted 45 minutes with the opportunity for candidates to present opening and closing statements.
The debate began with a question regarding each campaign’s anti-policing demands as they relate to anti-racism and DEI initiatives.
CHANGE presidential candidate Abner Santiago, LSA junior, said he and his team want to rework the Division of Public Safety and Security, but does not specifically know how. Both ORGANIZE presidential candidate Sujin Kim, LSA junior, and IMPACT presidential candidate Nithya Arun, Public Health junior, cited specific plans to disarm DPSS.
ORGANIZE is endorsed by the Graduate Employees’ Organization, who advocated for change in the structure of DPSS and for diversion of funds from DPSS during their fall strike when it comes to campus policing. Kim echoed their calls for demilitarization.
“We know (demilitarization) was a specific demand that (GEO) had that wasn’t met and we are extremely regretful about that on their behalf,” Kim said. “We stand with them and we support their demands and we are committed to working with them on getting this specific topic, and their other demands met in the coming year.”
Arun also noted that IMPACT hopes to work with GEO, as well as the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, to achieve their goal of demilitarization.
“As a public health scholar, we are taught that data drives good policy,” Arun said. “I’m a research associate with the Office for Health, Equity and Inclusion, and there’s an ongoing study that discusses adverse police effects on students, and we will be utilizing their help to convince administrators to drive policy to disarm AAPD (Ann Arbor Police Department) and DPSS.”
When discussing how to best support international students, all three candidates agreed they would work to cut the $500 international student fee, as they believe it is a barrier to the University.
Kim said she would work to create an International Student Policy Coordinator position on CSG, while Arun said she would appoint a Chair of International Student Affairs to the executive branch.
Each candidate had different ideas about how to support diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the University and within student organizations.
Arun laid out multiple initiatives that IMPACT would take to ensure all students feel supported and welcome on campus.
“First, we will be pushing for the extension of Wolverine Pathways, alongside other groups on campus,” Arun said. “Secondly, we want to organize an annual research symposium led by people of color and LGBTQ+ scholars.”
Kim said she finds it most important to work to increase the diversity of faculty and staff, in addition to the work her team would do to serve as advocates for students.
“We would create a standing weekly meeting for representatives from racial and ethnic justice organizations with our chief of staff,” Kim said. “The purpose of this meeting would be for students to have a direct pipeline, direct access to advocacy resources and to CSG resources as a whole.”
Santiago said CHANGE’s plan is to partner with already existing organizations, such as La Casa and multicultural fraternities and sororities, that he said promote DEI throughout campus.
“I believe reworking DEI efforts throughout the schools (is important) to ensure that students actually know what DEI efforts are and what they mean,” Santiago said. “We also want to partner with current existing organizations that already know how to best tackle these problems.”
The Daily also asked about the University’s recently released carbon neutrality plan which aims for the University to achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2040.
Santiago said he believes the University needs to be more transparent with their investments moving forward. Kim stated she believes the University’s goals should be accelerated to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Arun cited the work she’s done with the Climate Action Movement, a campus activist group that pushed the University to enact environmentally sustainable policies, to call for the University’s complete divestment of fossil fuels and to call out the University’s reliance on carbon offsets.
“As the Climate Action Movement cited in The Michigan Daily article that was published, we really want to find a way to catalyze the process to ensure that we’re not wholly relying on carbon offsets, because at the end of the day, carbon offsets are known as a cheat to hold institutions less accountable for the carbon emissions they emit,” Arun said.
The candidates were also asked how they would improve mental health services and wellness on campus, to which they all stated that short-term solutions such as the “well-being breaks” implemented this semester are not enough. They all also said Counseling and Psychological Services, which has long been criticized heavily for its long wait times, should be more accessible for students.
The candidates each got a chance to discuss how they would amplify student voices on the Board of Regents. All three candidates stated they will lobby for a student position on the Board of Regents.
Finally, each candidate spoke about sexual misconduct at the University and supporting student survivors. Santiago and Kim placed emphasis on screening all faculty and staff to determine if they have a history of sexual misconduct in response to multiple allegations against staff in recent years. Arun prioritized establishing a sexual misconduct task force. According to IMPACT’s platform, the task force would gather data and evaluate existing policies.
After a ten-minute break, the vice presidential debate began with a question about how CSG would work to rebuild trust between students and the University’s administration after the tumultuous fall semester while still holding leadership accountable.
IMPACT vice presidential candidate Carla Voigt, Engineering junior; CHANGE vice presidential candidate Nicole Lin, LSA junior; and ORGANIZE vice presidential candidate Sam Burnstein, LSA junior, all voiced their support for the GEO strike.
“We hope to support GEO in their efforts, which is shown throughout our policies,” Voigt said. “We want to stand with grad students in supporting them with a fund for childcare, as well as a persons of color symposium.”
As a resident adviser who participated in the R.A. strike that took place during the GEO strike in the fall, Lin said she looks forward to working with GEO if elected.
“I think the student body can really trust Abner and I because we are just like normal students, we have connections with individuals outside of CSG, so I think we’re more relatable,” Lin said.
Burnstein explained his ideas for making sure CSG advocates for students and works with the University to truly improve what needs to be reworked.
“Our vision for CSG is to reimagine it as a source of collective bargaining, on behalf of all students, in which we can use the leverage and institutional power of CSG to lobby … the administration and advanced the demands put forward by by GEO, CAM and a number of other advocacy groups on campus,” Burnstein said.
The vice-presidential candidates also shared whether or not they agree with the University’s plan to bring students back to campus for the Fall 2021 semester.
All three candidates agreed the fall semester’s success would be contingent on how well the University follows public health guidelines and makes sure students remain cautious.
Each candidate also said they would work to make sure University services are accessible to all students, especially those with disabilities. Burnstein spoke on the accessibility of the University’s technological services.
“One of the big privileges afforded to the president and vice president of Student Government is being able to meet regularly with the (University) president and meet regularly with the Board of Regents,” Burnstein said. “And I assure you that, if we’re elected, pushing for more modern, easy to use, technological systems such as Wolverine Access and Canvas will be at the top of our list.”
Voigt spoke about the specific plans IMPACT has to aid students with disabilities.
“First and foremost we want to start within CSG, we are planning to create a chair of disability accommodations on the executive branch, and also a disability task force to look into ways that we can support our disabled students on campus,” Voigt said.
Lin said she and Santiago want to make sure all students are aware of how the University supports students with disabilities.
“Abner and I hope to increase awareness and make (discussing resources for students with disabilities) part of freshman orientation,” Lin said. “We will also invite student organizations that support students with disabilities (to speak with students).”
Finally, The Daily asked how each campaign would work to be more transparent with students, as approximately $10 of every student’s tuition goes into the CSG budget. All three candidates said that they want funding to go to the organizations that need it most.
Daily Staff Reporter Martina Zacker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the name of Voigt and Arun’s campaign twice. It is IMPACT, not CHANGE.
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