Keysha Wall and Lauren Kay, if elected in the upcoming Central Student Government elections, hope to use their positions to amplify the voices of minority students on campus to the University of Michigan administration. Wall, an Art & Design senior, and Kay, an LSA senior, are running for president and vice president, respectively, with the Defend Affirmative Action Party, the University’s longest-standing student political party.
Though the party has not won the executive ticket in recent years, DAAP’s preliminary platform consists of a long list of policies focusing on issues such as minority enrollment, expanding rights for undocumented students and other marginalized groups on campus, and mental health, among others.
DAAP is the political arm of the larger local group BAMN, which fights for affirmative action, integration and immigration rights. Wall joined BAMN after transferring from UM-Dearborn, and supported its internationalist perspective.
“I found that I was really attracted to the fact that they are really specific, and it’s reflected in DAAP’s platform that Ann Arbor is not a bubble,” they said. “Everything that happens here influences things nationally and internationally. There is that urge to be able to do something and the determination to do it.”
Wall also believes CSG should operate in a way that reflects the notion that student government’s actions have an international impact. They also intend to operate CSG more as a student union.
“What differentiates things is how we see CSG as acting almost as a union to be able to bring up grievances and be heard,” Wall said. “We want the student body to use its bargaining power with the administration. CSG has acted in a way that makes students interested and makes them feel unrepresented. We are changing into a majority-minority nation, and these interests and voices need to be elevated and need to be organized.”
One key issue DAAP wishes to address is the rights of immigrant and undocumented students. Kay believes immigrant defense is one of their biggest priorities.
“We can’t let this struggle totally eclipse the more basic day-to-day things for members of these groups,” Kay said. “We want more scholarships for undocumented students, we want the University to have free legal assistance for undocumented students or people with questionable status.”
Other immigrant-centered issues include stopping ICE raids, or crackdowns the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security that has been conducting more raids following President Trump’s executive order targeting undocumented immigrants, even without criminal status.
BAMN has been consistent in its work for immigrant rights, proposing a resolution to CSG last April to make the University a sanctuary campus. The party promises to continue that fight if elected, a fact Kay believes distinguishes DAAP from other parties.
“We are the only party that connects specific University policies to statewide and international struggles in a concrete way,” Kay said. “We don’t see ourselves merely as students.”
DAAP also wants to work on advocating for rights of all marginalized groups who face racism, bigotry, sexism and Islamophobia. As a genderqueer student, Kay personally relates to ways in which they feel the University systematically excludes non-majority students, and wants to incorporate that fight into their administration.
“If I go to the graduate library, I have to go to the fourth floor in a single occupancy gender-inclusive building,” Kay said. “If you don’t want to use the women or men’s rooms, you have to go to the bathroom in some obscure place that reminds you you’re different.”
DAAP also concentrates much of its efforts on mental health. Kay and Wall both said they deal with mental-health issues, and leverage their experiences in shaping the changes they want to make to the University. Specifically, DAAP aims to train faculty in mental health so it can better understand their students and how to accommodate them. For Kay, it’s an issue of trust in their professors to properly administer accommodations or understand students’ situations.
“They need to understand people who are suffering from mental illness and help them,” Kay said. “I’ve had some very ignorant professors that weren’t able to help me very much as a consequence.”
Other changes they want to make to mental-health institutions on campus include addressing unexcused absences allotted to students. Wall frequently has issues with the very limited days they are allowed to miss in the School of Art & Design, and wants to use the position as president to allow for missed days to allow students to address their health needs or unexpected emergencies.
Wall and Kay are aware of the many smaller day-to-day infrastructure issues that face the student body, from water fountains to Wi-Fi. But they believe CSG has to first talk about and deal with racism and sexism in order to create a campus that reflects the needs and voices of its students as well as fighting against institutional barriers that encourage the enrollment of privileged, majority students.
“(Kay) and I are prepared to engage with this and fight with the students,” Wall said. “It’s a matter of making sure that we, the people on this campus, can all struggle together towards a greater goal that is absolutely possible and absolutely attainable.”