The University of Michigan’s Central Student Government met virtually on Tuesday evening for the last meeting of the semester. The assembly discussed the creation of a CSG COVID-19 People of Color Impact Task Force, a resolution which would urge the University to ban single-use plastics and the creation of a Therapy Healing Program to help students cope with recent events in the nation.
A resolution to create a COVID-19 People of Color Impact Task Force, sponsored by assembly members across four schools, was reclassified so that it could be discussed during the meeting without having to be referred back to the rules committee.
The Assembly voted to accept this reclassification and began discussion on the resolution, which would create a task force to advocate on behalf of people of color to make sure their concerns are heard by the University as well as address the impacts of COVID-19 and a potential vaccine mandate on marginalized communities. Though CSG does not have the power to implement a vaccine mandate, CSG members said the University’s administration asked CSG to provide a recommendation on whether the vaccine should be mandated.
Senate Assembly approved a resolution at yesterday’s meeting to mandate vaccinations for the 2021-2022 academic year. In a recent interview with The Michigan Daily, University President Mark Schlissel said University administration is still discussing whether or not to implement a vaccine mandate.
Engineering sophomore Zaynab Elkolaly, who originally appealed for reclassification, spoke to the assembly about the goals of the resolution. Based on a survey done by CSG in January, nearly 20% of students who self-identified as Black responded at the time that they did not plan on getting the COVID-19 vaccine. This is compared to under 3% of students identifying as white and under 1% of students identifying as Asian responding in the same way.
“This resolution is to create a task force that will address the impact of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in response to the administration asking for CSG’s official opinion,” Elkolaly said. “It will also be to basically create a space to discuss the impact that COVID-19 has had on students of color in particular and people of color in general.”
LSA freshman Alex Nguyen asked Elkolaly and the other sponsors why the resolution seemed to advocate against a vaccine mandate, despite the fact that Black, Indigenous, and people of color were hit the hardest by the pandemic, which the vaccine would mitigate.
“Why shouldn’t we prioritize BIPOC communities by trying to find an effective solution to COVID-19 by helping them out?” Nguyen said. “(First) by reducing numbers via vaccine mandates on campus, as people will be coming in from all over the world, (and second) while doing vaccine education at the same time. Because from my understanding, (the two are) not necessarily mutually exclusive.”
Elkolaly responded by clarifying the resolution does not oppose a vaccine mandate and by saying the task force does in fact seek to prioritize BIPOC by communicating with the community.
“People of color, and especially Black members of our community, have been subjected to racism in the form of illegal medical testing, and are therefore disproportionately unwilling to receive the vaccine,” Elkolaly said. “And so this task force was originally created in response to that to basically communicate with those communities and mitigate the concerns so that we can — as you specify is important — proceed with a mandate once everyone is perfectly comfortable.”
Nursing junior Moriah Lewis, one of the sponsors of the resolution, agreed that education on the efficacy of vaccines is important but said more should be done to make sure all student concerns are considered before considering a vaccine mandate.
“I understand that everyone thinks that (the vaccine is) important, but we still need to educate, and I’m not just pushing the mandate first before we gather the concerns that (are) going to be detrimental as a whole,” Lewis said.
In response to the concerns about a vaccine mandate, Elkolaly clarified that the task force created by the resolution would report to CSG, who would then be able to make a recommendation to the administration at a later time about whether or not to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all U-M students.
After voting to not refer the resolution back to committee, the Assembly was able to vote and officially debate on the resolution, which ultimately passed with unanimous consent.
There was also a motion made by LSA freshman Karthik Pasupula to allow the Assembly to immediately vote on a resolution calling on Schlissel and the Board of Regents to sign the Break Free from Plastic Pledge, instead of waiting until a future meeting. The resolution itself would ask that the University ban single-use plastics and create a zero-waste task force.
LSA freshman Ashvin Pai, one of the sponsors of the resolution, explained why he along with the other sponsors wanted the process of passing the resolution to be sped up while still involving the voices of communities that might be affected by the ban, including BIPOC and people with disabilities.
“We feel that it will be easier to conduct this outreach (to student organizations) after CSG has made a public call for dedicated commission to address the issue of single-use plastics,” Pai said. “We’re also aware that many of the organizations that we want to bring on board for this project do not currently have the bandwidth to take on another project, as they’re in a transitional phase or caught up with existing projects or finals.”
LSA sophomore Vincent Pinti voted against the motion and entered debate against Pasupula and Pai in hopes of getting the resolution to continue being considered by the communications committee before voting. Pinti’s objection stemmed from concerns that the resolution would move too fast and end up banning single-use plastic straws, which many people with disabilities rely on to be able to drink.
“I am very much in favor of the notion of reducing plastics at the University,” Pinti said. “But we need to make sure we’re moving in a manner that is slow enough so that no community is inadvertently targeted in a negative way from this.”
Pasupula emphasized that this should not be a problem due to the specific demands of the resolution.
“Our resolution has codified language that says that we won’t replace single-use plastics unless they have a ready alternative,” Pasupula said. “That includes straws.”
After a considerable amount of debate between members of the assembly, CSG members held a roll call vote in which there was an 11-21-2 against the motion, keeping it at the communications committee.
An appropriation was also proposed to use $10,000 from the Legislative Discretionary Fund to provide reimbursements to students utilizing therapy after experiencing mental distress due to recent traumatic events in the nation. The Healing Therapy Program also provides suggestions and specific resources to students, however, a student would not have to use these specific resources in order to receive compensation.
An amendment was made to make sure that the money for the program would be given to the Dean of Students Office, so students’ financial aid statuses would not be affected. Afterward, the appropriation was debated.
Rackham student Austin Glass spoke up against the amendment, cautioning against doing the program through the Dean of Students Office in case there was not a lot of interest and all the money did not get used.
“I just think that without any knowledge about the anticipation of the rate at which this money would be leaving this account, we should refrain from just handing over $10,000 to the Dean of Students for this purpose,” Glass said.
Ultimately, the appropriation passed along with its proposed amendment.
In addition, the assembly voted unanimously to confirm Rackham student Hayden Jackson as the next director of the Student Organization Committee, and Pasupula was elected to be vice chair of the Finance Committee.
Daily Staff Reporter Martina Zacker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.