The University of Michigan’s LSA Student Government hosted their 2021 presidential ticket debate Friday evening to discuss candidates’ plans to help improve student life and amplify student voices on campus.
Riya Gupta, LSA junior and Student Government election director, along with Danielle DiFranco, LSA junior and Student Government assistant election director, hosted the event. Each ticket consists of a presidential candidate alongside their vice presidential candidate.
Presidential candidate and LSA junior Tyler Watt, alongside his vice presidential candidate LSA junior Zackariah Farah, presented the basis for their platform surrounding accountability, sustainability, diversity, solidarity and accessibility. Presidential candidate and LSA junior Alli Goodsell, alongside her vice presidential candidate LSA sophomore Claudia McLean, described their platform based around academic student life, accessibility, government membership retention and COVID-19.
Farah criticized the University administration’s decision to raise tuition for the 2020-2021 school year, which he said was the result of not having any student representatives at the Board of Regents meetings.
“We will fight to bring to institute a permanent student regent position in the Board of Regents so they can never (make decisions) without student voices present,” Farah said.
Farah also described plans to reinstitute the student budget advisory committee, which he said would help give students a better look at how the University budget is crafted and how it works. Students would also be able to give feedback on the budget and help direct its funds, Farah said.
“We want to bring (the student budget advisory committee) back and make sure that students once again have a strong voice over how our tuition dollars are spent,” Farah said.
Farah is also a current chair member of the TREES Committee, a subcommittee within the LSA SG that addresses sustainability. Farah discussed plans to ensure that the University implements initiatives to achieve carbon neutrality and ways to reinvest in sustainability initiatives to help uplift minority communities.
“Our generation right now is facing the climate crisis, perhaps the most dangerous threat to humanity, and many many thousands of years,” Farah said. “We are going to push as hard as we can to get (the University) to divest (from fossil fuels), all of those over $1 billion of our endowment. It is our endowment after all (and) we don’t want (them) to be profiting from the destruction of our own futures.”
The Board of Regents froze their current investments in fossil fuels in Feb. 2020 after multiple protests but they have not discussed the issue since then. The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, a commission appointed by University President Mark Schlissel to help the University establish recommendations to achieve carbon neutrality, released their final report last week with 50 recommendations on how the University can work to achieve carbon neutrality on all three campuses by the year 2040. The commission and report came after significant student activism on campus asking for the University to divest from fossil fuels and work to mitigate the effects of climate change, but the report itself was not allowed to consider divestment, and activists still find the recommendations insufficient.
Watt also addressed his ticket’s goals of helping bring awareness to anti-Asian hate crimes, bringing equitable distribution of the University’s resources across its three campuses in support of the One University campaign and supporting affordable housing for students on campus.
Watt said he plans on standing in solidarity with Graduate Student Instructors, who went on strike this past September, by increasing funding and services for them every semester. Watt also explained his ideas to help make testing accommodations more accessible to students and ensuring no class on election days.
Ultimately, Watt said he believes his platform is centered on diversity.
“Diversity is truly at the heart of all of our platform points in some form (and) it’s also in the heart of the platform itself,” Watt said. “We want to work to promote organizations of color (into) being a part of our student government (and improving) the diversity of our student government by recruiting specifically from those organizations, and also promoting and boosting the events that they plan throughout the year.”
In discussing her campaign, Goodsell also described their goal in making sure no classes occur on Election Day.
“Under our academic initiatives, our first point is to work towards no classes on Election Day,” Goodsell said. “As a University that prides itself on civic engagement, we find it unbelievable that this long-standing project has not been implemented yet.”
Goodsell said she hopes to expand sustainability practices by creating a required sustainability course for first-year students and a more cohesive sustainability tag on the LSA course guide. Goodsell said she wants to expand education on inequality faced by racial and ethnic minority groups by making the race and ethnicity requirement for LSA students have stricter guidelines for counting classes towards the requirement, stating that many classes currently counted towards any distribution do not actually speak on racial and ethnic issues.
For her accessibility goals, Goodsell said she would push to establish additional gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and work to create a more equitable orientation experience for transfer students, nontraditional students and international students. According to Goodsell, a shift to a more hybrid educational setting will demand different technologies, so she also wants to increase funding for LSA technology services to provide greater equipment rental and reservation opportunities.
McLean said she and Goodsell’s aims to make menstrual products more accessible across campus as part of their platform as well.
“Providing all students with access to menstrual products is essential not only in overcoming the financial barrier associated with menstrual products but also in recognizing that menstruation is not singular to one gender,” McLean said.
Goodsell said she wants to introduce verbal committee reports and the LSA SG Canvas page to help keep everyone part of the organization informed of all the projects and encourage more collaboration between committees. She said she also wants to work changing the current attendance rules to no longer require one meeting per week members in general and committee mediums to make LSA SG more accessible to the student body.
“We find that this alienates those who have to work or take care of loved ones and have other prior responsibilities,” Goodsell said.
After both tickets presented their platforms, the hosts began the question and answer session, with each ticket having a maximum of five minutes to answer.
In response to both tickets’ ideas on working towards a more equitable student experience during a time of increased awareness of injustice, Gupta and DiFranco asked each side what directives can they lead or create to support students to facilitate an inclusive and welcoming environment. All candidates brought up the recent shooting in Atlanta, Ga. targeting Asian-owned massage parlors, which left eight individuals — six of them Asian women — dead.
“We want to work, perhaps through the budget allocations committee and LSA student government, to provide DEI grants to organizations to educate their members about the root causes of these evils that we see in America,” Watt said. “And that they are real things that can affect our campus and have in the past.”
McLean also shared current ways that LSA Student Government has helped to create an inclusive environment on campus and how their campaign will continue to do so.
“We stand in solidarity with the (Asian and Pacific Islander) students at the University of Michigan and we’re super happy to see the resolution that was passed unanimously this past Wednesday at our general meeting condemning anti-Asian hate crimes,” McLean said.
Daily News Contributor Nirali Patel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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