At a cozy affair yesterday, University President Mary Sue Coleman and E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, answered questions from a few dozen students during a fireside chat in the Michigan Union.

The fireside chat, a monthly tradition for Coleman and Harper, aims to connect the upper administrators with a cross-section of students from across the University’s schools, colleges, and disciplines. During yesterday’s meeting, students discussed implementing a medical amnesty policy at the University, utilization of space and buildings for student organizations, affirmative action policy and an upcoming conference on outer space.

Pharmacy student Eric Zhao, a Central Student Government representative, asked Coleman and Harper about their position on medical amnesty in light of a recent resolution passed by CSG. Specifically, the resolution would call for the implementation of a medical amnesty policy that would exempt students from receiving Minor in Possession of Alcohol citations when helping another student in medical danger from alcohol or other substances.

“What we hear from students is a reluctance (to help their friends) if it’s going to get them in trouble,” Harper said to the students. “My own feeling is that it’s a good thing and I think you should do it even if you get in trouble.”

Harper added that she hopes law enforcement officials would use discretion when citing MIPs, especially in situations when students took the risk to help another.

Coleman said one of the components of the current MIP program is to track repeat offenders to determine who is at serious risk for addiction or abuse of drugs or alcohol.

“If you take away that ability to identify somebody, are you really in the long run doing a disservice?” Coleman asked. “I think there are unintended consequences.”

One recurring topic addressed by several questioners was diversity at the University. Business graduate student Kendra Jackson asked how the University could attract minority students specifically to the Business School after the passage of Proposal 2 in 2006, which outlawed the use of affirmative action in the admissions process.

Coleman said despite the initial drop in applications from minorities after the proposal’s passage, the University has made progress in increasing applications and acceptances for minority students, but it hasn’t been able to translate those acceptances into actual matriculation.

“Our acceptances keep going up,” Coleman said. “The problem is in the conversion, getting students to accept us … If you don’t have the applications, you’re kind of stuck. We’ve got the applications, we’ve got the admittances, now we have to do the conversions and we need to do better than we’re doing.”

Coleman also called for student input on how to improve the enrollment of minority students in the University as a whole.

Another student mentioned potentially relocating the Trotter Multicultural Center to a location closer to Central Campus to foster greater participation, noting its proximity to fraternities on Washtenaw Avenue at times leads to discomfort, particularly among female students.

“I think that this issue of space and a multicultural center closer in itself isn’t a bad idea,” Harper said. “But it’s a continual struggle around space and priorities and what gets put in the space.”

Coleman added that a new space for student organizations at the University could potentially be fostered through extensive renovation of the Michigan Union and the Michigan League. The last renovation to the buildings, Coleman said, was more than 60 years ago.

Coleman and Harper also heard from Engineering junior Galen Kreutzberg about an upcoming symposium on outer space that will be the “Woodstock of space conferences,” according to Kreutzberg.

Kreutzberg spoke about the student-driven conference, slated to be held in August 2013, to celebrate the history of space exploration and the University’s long-standing relationship to NASA.

After the session, Kreutzberg said Coleman had extended the University’s support in the development of the conference and its promotion.

“They said they would help us get sponsors and connect us with people and really get the University behind this,” Kreutzberg said. “This is the true spirit of Michigan coming through. We really want to lead the country into the (next phase) of space exploration.”

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