When LSA senior Anushka Sarkar and Public Policy junior Nadine Jawad ran on the same ticket for executive seats on Central Student Government last winter, their platform highlighted the need to increase holistic representation of the student body, collaborative efforts with student organizations and involvement in the Ann Arbor community. The ambition of the eMerge party resonated with students, and Sarkar and Jawad won the president and vice president positions respectively in a landslide, amassing 5,856 of the 7,933 votes.
A year later, Sarkar and Jawad have found they continue to hope for the betterment of CSG and student involvement at the University of Michigan despite a tumultous school year. Throughout difficult situations, both executives found the ability to listen to constituents and take into account students’ personal experiences proved to be their greatest asset.
Jawad, who worked largely with the Campus Affordability Guide, explained how despite subsequent criticism which found the guide insensitive, she found the student involvement after the guide’s initial publishing allowed her to truly learn from the experience.
“Our job is not to get defensive,” she said. “I learned so much in this position, the importance of effective listening and actively listening. When someone talks to you and brings a concern or point, it’s not my job to tell them that they’re wrong. It’s my job to listen and try to understand and sympathize and relate and figure out how we can together come forward past that situation.”
Jawad pointed out the first action after initial criticism was to hold a town hall, at which substantial student input was collected. Currently, these collaborative efforts have led to the development of a task force, increased advocacy around local tenants’ unions reestablishment and plans for releasing a revised guide next September.
Sarkar highlighted the importance of responding to difficult or controversial issues with an open mind, especially in regard to significant events such as the #UMDivest resolution and CSG’s role in handling racist bias incidents.
“When particularly tense issues come to our plates, if we are reactive and we are incendiary toward them, that is exactly what everyone else who is watching us is going to do,” Sarkar said. “If we sit there quietly and listen actively without constructing rebuttals in our minds while someone else is speaking and we just say, ‘Ok, you’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m going to come back to you with a well-thought-out response, and then I’d love to hear your further thoughts on that.’ That sets the tone for how other people will interact.”
Among their most important initiatives, Sarkar and Jawad highlighted the Big Ten Voting Challenge and the Innovate competition. Sarkar explained these competitions not only increase campus involvement, but also bring attention to practicing the right to vote and upholding the student role on campus.
“To see people delegitimize the right to vote is heartbreaking because look at our history, look at how hard people have fought for that right,” Sarkar said. “With the platform that we had at our disposal this year, it was our jobs, not even just because we were president and vice president, but because we wouldn’t be able to vote as American citizens had other people not fought hard for our right to do that. To honor that legacy of our history, we had to elevate the importance of this.”
She said she regards the Innovate competition as a successful initiative and an opportunity for students to present their ideas to better the University. She expressed her hope that the event continues in the future.
“When someone invests in your ideas, that is a show of trust and (a) mutually beneficial partnership between your public representative office and your constituency,” Sarkar said. “It’s one thing for us to say, ‘We’ll make a social media post about your project.’ It’s another thing for us to give you $10,000 to make it work. That’s a demonstration of our belief in our students.”
When asked about the future of CSG and these past elections, both Sarkar and Jawad expressed pride in all of the candidates who ran and emphasized that this is not the end of their role on campus. Despite the fact that neither Sarkar nor Jawad publicly endorsed MVision as their first option, both were optimistic for the future.
“CSG is powerful because it has a massive budget and it has a platform that almost no other organization here has. So yes, its beneficial to have that at your disposal to do work. But it’s just a vehicle for work,” Sarkar said. “There are a hundred thousand other ways to get things done here. Activist groups have been doing it forever; student organizations have been doing it forever; individual students have been doing it forever.”
Jointly, Jawad and Sarkar diversified the leadership in their respective CSG executive seats and found the most meaningful aspect to their work was the ability to elevate otherwise silenced voices. This year’s assembly demographic report showed marked improvements in representation of race and SES.
“I’ve had a lot of young women, especially young women of color, come up to Nadine and myself and say, ‘We never would’ve thought that someone who looked like us could be president and vice president,’ and that gets me the most emotional,” Sarkar said. “I hope more people that would never have foreseen themselves in leadership roles here see themselves as the natural choice.”
Jawad similarly emphasized the importance of small steps for overarching impact in the University community.
“If even a certain percentage of students felt something that we did this year that helped them, I feel like that’s what I’m proud of,” Jawad said. “Recognizing the importance of even the smallest changes.”