As students gear up for the University of Michigan's Central Student Government elections on March 21 and 22, The Daily sat down with executive candidates to talk platforms, vision, and plans. In this installment, we profile the MomentUM party, headlined by presidential candidate AJ Ashman and vice presidential candidate Charlie Bingham.
Engineering junior AJ Ashman said his inspiration to run for CSG President comes from three places: His mother, those on CSG who have come before him and an innate sense of obligation to give back to others. Furthermore, Ashman emphasized the importance of ensuring all students feel welcome at the University as he did not always feel that way.
“I have tried to spend every day on this campus trying to find ways to give back, and I hope to continue to do so next year as student body president,” he said. “To serve and help move the ball forward, make life at Michigan a little bit easier for those who come after me than it was for me. I say this because while I love the University of Michigan, it has not always been easy, I did not always feel welcome and I know a lot of students have had and are having similar experiences. That is a terrible feeling that no one should have to experience and so my service is dedicated to making sure that the students here now and those that come after me do not feel that way, and that if they do their student government takes that experience seriously and works to improve it.”
Ashman chose to describe his leadership style using the words “forthright, purpose-driven and steadfast.”
In a similar vein, LSA junior Charlie Bingham explained how the philosophical framework of “self-transcendence” fueled his decision to run as vice president on Ashman’s campaign. Rather than focusing solely on winning, Bingham said he hopes to foster a sense of community, raise awareness for important issues and create positive change on campus to last long after his time.
He described his leadership style as, “principled, but open-minded.”
“From my time as youth governor of Michigan to my current term as a CSG representative, there has always been a sense of urgency for me to involve myself in fighting for the greater good,” he said. “Running with AJ aligns with this sense of urgency. I believe in this campaign because it is more than just a campaign; it is a philosophical framework, one that says we refuse to regress, retreat or even stand still, and that we want everyone to keep moving forward. Running is about more than the competition and the quest for winning the most votes; it’s about bolstering community, creating awareness, enacting positive changes, and making it easier for those who come after you. Running is an investment in the University, one that, if successful, will allow us to leave behind a legacy of service and progress.”
Ashman broke his party’s platform down into four major components revolving around health, academic affairs, student life and government relations as these issues affect every student on campus, and provide a tangible sphere in which the party can make effective changes regarding the way students engage with the University community.
“The first that comes to mind is housing affordability. This is an issue that affects all students, but especially minority students on our campus because Ann Arbor is the 8th most segregated mid-sized city in the country,” he said. “That affects the most basic ways in which students engage with this University and the community here. In CSG, we have a chance to really stand up for students on housing and tackle issues like zoning and changing the height limit for downtown, increasing the waiting period for asking tenants to resign, and bringing back the Ann Arbor Tenants’ Union to provide resources for students involved in disputes with their landlord.”
He further discussed the importance of making education accessible for all students through initiatives such as expanding electronic textbook use, lowering the prices of course packs and pushing professors to aid students in securing the most affordable resources to succeed.
“The second major initiative of ours is on educational affordability, and this obviously spans a vast range of issues, but CSG can be a real player in discussions about textbook affordability, open-educational resources, an expansion of course reserves, more use of electronic textbooks and holding faculty accountable when it comes to federal and University rules regarding listing textbooks,” he said. “Additionally, we can do a lot to help make it easier for students to take professional or graduate exams, making course packs more affordable, generally giving students access to the tools they need to excel at this University regardless of income.”
Ashman also called for CSG to increase its advocacy of strengthening student recruitment programs in order to develop a more diverse foundation for future students and faculty. He emphasized these initiatives are realistic, as long as students stand strong in their desire to foster lasting change.
“Issues like recruiting faculty and students of color require some level of structural change in how we seek out and hire/accept candidates,” he said. “It requires involving students more in the process for both students and faculty. CSG has the chance to advocate for expansions of cohort-programs that help build and foster a sense of community and the creation of student-led recruitment boards that go out into the community and across the country recruiting students to Michigan. If our administration can make headway on those issues, we will leave behind a solid foundation upon which future efforts can be built. And we can achieve those things. Those things are not beyond us. We just have to be bold enough to stand for them and, in the face of opposition, not be too quick to fold for fear of “wasting” political capital, or being “iced out” by the University administration.”
Furthermore, Ashman explained the oftentimes immense barriers which prevent students from joining campus organizations such as CSG.
“There are structural reasons why CSG feels inaccessible. An example being that CSG meets at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday,” he said. “Those are working hours for many students who hold an on-campus job. And personally, my involvement in CSG has always required a sizable investment of time to do the job well, routinely upwards of 20 hours a week. That is a heavy burden to bare if you’re a student working to make ends meet. I’ve worked a job every day I have been on this campus; it’s hard to balance classes, student government, and working. We need to think a lot about how to tear down those barriers to involvement because it’s not just student government that has this problem. This leads to the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, which we call for the expansion of as a matter of equity, inclusivity and justice.”
Ultimately, Ashman emphasized although the University is large, change is tangible by working with students and amplifying their voices through solidarity and action.
“Connecting with communities that feel underrepresented is about finding ways to bring those people into the fold, through informal or more structural means, so that is where you go to recruit leaders from,” he said. “Having those leaders helps establish a culture of representation from the top-down. You have to make people feel as though their work is valued and the time they are spending on that work is justified; they must realize they are part of something larger than themselves. It is then about listening to those underrepresented communities and, rather than just hearing them, showing that we are with them. Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like Michigan is too large to change. Even having worked in CSG it is possible to feel that way, but students are counting on us to take up their causes, to see them, to hear them and to stand beside them. We know that without being a part of the conversation, we cannot reasonably expect things to change.”