The University of Michigan’s Central Student Government will send five representatives to the Association of Big Ten Students winter conference at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., on Friday.
The Association of Big Ten Students brings together representatives from each of the Big Ten schools’ student governments to share information about student governance and represent students to administrations and governments.
LSA junior Aidan Sova is the executive director of ABTS and said he is excited to bring 20 pieces of legislation to the conference, up from CSG’s typical 10 items. The legislation includes tackling student affordability and developing ABTS partnerships with student advocacy groups. The flagship piece of legislation urges all Big Ten universities to invest with a climate conscious lens.
“Ben Gerstein wrote on behalf of Michigan a piece of legislation that would increase our commitment to sustainability in asking our respective administrations across the Big Ten to no longer invest in fossil fuels,” Sova said. “We realize that it is deeply complicated to ask to divest completely from fossil fuels cold turkey, so we’re just asking for no more from here.”
Student groups and CSG have lobbied the University to divest from fossil fuel companies. While the University Board of Regents voted in December against investing $50 million in a company with ties to oil and gas production, members of the Climate Action Movement released a statement on Jan. 13 urging Michigan to divest its existing $1 billion invested in fossil fuel companies.
Engineering sophomore Carla Voigt, liaison to the ABTS, said the legislation will send a loud and clear message to administrators that students are concerned about climate change and want to see schools take action to reduce their environmental footprint.
“There was a divestment passage in the University of Michigan’s CSG a few years ago, and that went worldwide, these can also have the possibility of doing that,” Voigt said. “If we take a stance on something and the entire Big Ten is agreeing on this, there’s a potential to have an impact. Especially if the legislation that they take back is able to be built upon in each of the schools.”
The delegation is bringing two newly created positions, government relations chair and deputy government relations chair, to learn the best practices for lobbying local, state and federal representatives on behalf of the University of Michigan’s student body.
LSA senior Tyler Ziel became government relations chair in November 2019 and said he wants to learn how other students have successfully lobbied their state and federal governments.
“Since we started this year, I’ll get a better understanding of how specifically student advocacy works, and the roadblocks that come with it,” Ziel said.
Since becoming the liaison to ABTS in June 2019, Voigt has helped the Association make an impact on U-M students. The Association launched a week of action in November across the Big Ten to advocate for the reauthorization of the Aim Higher Act, a federal program working to make higher education more affordable.
Voigt, along with CSG, organized a Diag Day last semester to raise awareness for the AHA and handed out postcards students could send to their federal representatives encouraging them to reauthorize AHA.
The conference’s impact reaches beyond the Big Ten. Every spring, ABTS sends students to Washington, D.C., to advocate for issues affecting higher education, from funding for low-income students to Title IX sexual assault prevention measures. Sova said these conferences and national outreach help create lasting change.
“I’ve been in student government since I was in seventh grade, and I truly believe that it is the best and sometimes the only way to effect real change as a student,” Sova said.
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