This is the first part of The Michigan Daily’s coverage of the executive ticket debate for the University of Michigan Central Student Government. You can find our coverage of the vice presidential debate here.
Candidates for the Executive Branch of Central Student Government participated in a debate hosted by the CSG Election Team and The Michigan Daily on Thursday in advance of the upcoming election, which will take place March 30 through 31. The Daily moderated the debate, starting with the two presidential candidates and then the vice presidential candidates. The questions, asked by The Daily, challenged candidates to discuss sustainability, sexual assault, the search for a new president, mental health and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on campus.
The event was introduced and also moderated by Aaron Kall, director of the U-M debate team.
LSA junior Noah Zimmerman and LSA junior Jackie Hillman ran for president and vice president, respectively, as part of EnvisionBlue. LSA junior Erica Nelson and LSA sophomore Ron Burgaj ran as president and vice president, respectively, for the Diverse&Dedicated campaign.
Zimmerman, who currently serves as an LSA representative and rules committee chair, said in his opening statement he hopes to create a more comprehensive agenda and implement practical policies that improve students’ everyday lives.
“I hope that we will impact students’ everyday lives as well as represent the broad range of students we have on campus,” Zimmerman said. “Jackie and I are here to put students’ needs above our own and create a campus environment that is conducive to student success.”
Nelson has served as a representative for LSA. In her opening statement, Nelson said her platform was dedicated to making positive change on campus and making sure students and their voices were a part of that change.
“We call ourselves ‘Diverse&Dedicated’ because we are diverse in experiences and dedicated to you all, the students,” Nelson said. “We really want to see change happen — not just change in that the University says it’s for the students but doesn’t really get any input. We are going to give students a seat at the table.”
One of the first topics touched on was the candidates’ commitment to carbon neutrality efforts. Nelson said she would work to make the University more sustainable by increasing recycling projects and working with students involved in sustainability to learn more about how the University can be more sustainable.
“We also want to work with students who are more involved in the environment and find out even more about what the University needs to do,” Nelson said.
Zimmerman said he wants to encourage the student body to be more focused on sustainability. Some of the initiatives he wants to implement include educating students about sustainability, increasing recycling programs and a system to deliver compost bins directly to students. He also wants to lobby the University and the Ann Arbor City Council to adopt the Ann Arbor for Public Power plan, which would have the city take control of the power system from DTE. Zimmerman wanted to focus on cooperation between the University, students and the city to work toward a more sustainable lifestyle for students.
“Another thing that we plan on doing to promote the sustainable mindset is publishing CSG guides on how to live a more sustainable life,” Zimmerman said. “We’d like to start our compost and delivery system working with the Ann Arbor local government and really promoting Ann Arbor for Public Power to the University as well as the Ann Arbor city government.”
A Feb. 22 letter sent to the Board of Regents titled “White Students Colonizing Trotter” urged the administration to preserve designated safe spaces for people of Color for these communities. The William Trotter Multicultural Center was originally built in 1972 to be a safe space for Black students on campus, and remains the only campus building named after a person of Color.
Candidates were asked how they would work to protect Trotter as a space for multicultural groups and build more safe spaces for communities of Color on campus.
Zimmerman said he believes this issue has arisen because students are not always educated about the importance of these safe spaces and would like to work towards a solution by increasing education about spaces designated for people of Color.
“We want to make sure that students who are coming to these spaces recognize where they are, recognize why it’s important and recognize how to build a better future and relationship with the safe spaces on campus,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman discussed ways he would work to increase education and cooperation with marginalized student populations.
“We would like to do broad-based outreach with different groups on campus,” Zimmerman said. “We plan to create an (entirely) separate branch of the executive team to work with different community groups on campus, especially underrepresented populations.”
Nelson talked about her own experience as a person of Color and how she is personally connected to this issue. She said she wants to get other input from other people of Color when dealing with safe spaces on campus.
“As somebody who is a person of Color and who often occupies myself at Trotter, I feel very deeply for this issue,” Nelson said. “One of the things that Ron and I have talked about many times is giving organizations like the BSU (Black Student Union) that table of discussing issues just like this.”
Nelson also discussed how she would work to educate non-students of Color on the importance of Trotter and the history it represents.
“We do want to work harder to educate non-persons of Color about why Trotter is important.” Nelson said. “And the history is all around the wall (of the Center). So even if that means giving a little tour saying like, ‘Hey, this is why this place is so important to us.’ That’s what we’ll do. We’ll talk them through to educate them because some people just don’t know, and that’s okay.”
Following the $490 million settlement between the University and survivors of the late former athletic doctor Robert Anderson, candidates were asked how they would work to support sexual assault survivors. Former U-M football player Jonathan Vaughn, a survivor of Anderson’s sexual assault, spent 150 days camped outside the President’s House protesting what he described as the University shirking its responsibilites to students.
Nelson discussed how she would condemn the actions of the University and bring sexual assault survivors into the decision-making process of how they can improve.
“One thing that we intend to do to better help the University handle this issue … is to bring people like Jon Vaughn and other survivors to the table and talk to them about what they think we should do,” Nelson said. “Another thing that we’re going to do is talk to the higher-ups and condemn this poor behavior. Because we believe that this was just unacceptable. So we’re going to condemn them and we’re going to say, we need to do better at this.”
Zimmerman discussed a pilot program he hopes to launch if elected that would connect students with different resources and programs to better deal with sexual assault and misconduct.
“When we talk about our wellness pilot program, we also want to put on different platforms how to report different instances of sexual assault and misconduct, and where to go, who’s a confidential resource, which we think is a really important point, as well as how to go about the future,” Zimmerman said. “We want to support our students in mental health initiatives. But we also want to hold the administration accountable as best as possible.”
In reference to students’ criticism of the Presidential Search Committee for being unrepresentative of Flint and Dearborn students as well as graduate students, candidates were asked how they planned on gathering more students’ opinions in the presidential search.
Zimmerman talked about his work in creating a student search committee for the next president. Zimmerman said if elected he would expand this committee during the next session in order to help find a President by providing student input.
“One of the things that I worked on this year which I’m really proud of … was a student search committee for the next president,” Zimmerman said. “Although there’s been no funding yet, if there’s not at the end of this legislative session, we’d like to continue it to the next, as well as bolster our efforts, because we know there’s a timeline coming. This committee also worked with Flint, Dearborn and other members of the Central Student Government, as well as members of the University community because we want to include as many stakeholders as possible.”
Nelson discussed how she would offer students and University members the chance to voice their input through the process and become more involved. She said she would invite them to meetings and talk with them about their concerns.
“We plan to invite a little bit of everybody: the minority students, the graduate students, undocumented students, transfer students, students from Flint, students from Dearborn,” Nelson said. “We plan to bring them together the best way we can, and will, and get them involved in who will be our next president.”
Both candidates were then given 90 seconds for a closing statement.
Zimmerman concluded by reinforcing his goals and agenda he would work on if elected.
“Our platform is very simply split into two parts: 30 action items that we’ll help to get done in our year of office and 15 advocacy projects that we hope to build off the foundation of previous CSG administrations, and also work with civic organizations to add expertise on campus to create our own,” Zimmerman said. “With this we hope to impact students’ day-to-day lives by making sure that we’re creating a positive change on this campus.”
Nelson said students had an opportunity to make change and history by voting for her.
“We (The U-M community) are change-makers right? We’re trying to be experts in our own field and we’re trying to make a difference,” Nelson said. “We are trying to make history. Well, one thing that we can do now is make history with me. You will have the opportunity to work with me (as) your first Black female president.”
Daily Staff Reporter Emma Moore can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said Noah Zimmerman is a sophomore, when he is an LSA junior. Ron Burgaj is also a sophomore, not a junior.