LSA freshman Briana Hatcher and LSA sophomore Lena Cintron hope to become the first members of the Defend Affirmative Action Party to hold executive positions on the Michigan Student Assembly.

To achieve this goal, Hatcher and Cintron, who are running as MSA president and vice president candidates, respectively, are running on a platform of increasing diversity on campus and making the University a more inclusive environment. Their campaign, which will culminate tomorrow with the start of MSA elections, has been centered on reaching out to minority students and individuals who have felt voiceless at the University.

“Our platform is basically centered around diversity because we think that the University needs to become more diverse, and it needs to pay more attention to the minority students and the problems that are going on and we just feel that we can help,” Hatcher said. “We can be more approachable to students of minority descent, and we can take on the issues for minority students, as well as the non-minority students.”

Hatcher and Cintron will be running against MForward’s presidential candidate DeAndree Watson and vice presidential candidate Brendan Campbell. The LSA juniors’ main campaign platforms include making MSA more transparent and to better encompass the interests of the majority of the student body.

Cintron said one of her main goals if elected MSA vice president will be to facilitate a sense of unity on campus by bridging gaps between student groups.

“You come to the University to learn about other cultures and learn about the world and see things from other peoples’ perspectives,” Cintron said. “And it seems as though the University is pretty segregated, and people seem to stay in their own groups.”

To improve the campus climate at the University, Cintron also said she hopes to address the issue of minority retention.

“(It’s) a very serious issue at the University of Michigan because even if you are lucky enough to be accepted here, you don’t necessarily feel as though you’re welcome here,” she said. “I know a lot of minority students who … feel very isolated when first getting to campus and throughout the whole college experience.”

This academic year, underrepresented minority students comprise 10.6 of freshmen students — an increase from 9.1 percent for the 2009-2010 academic year. Though this rise may be attributed partly to a change in the reporting of students’ ethnicities, this percentage increase is the first since 2003.

To increase the number of minority students at the University, Hatcher said, if elected, she would work to expand outreach efforts to high school students so they can see the University as an accepting place.

“I just want to be able to change (the University climate) so that when I talk to a high school student, they can say, ‘Oh yeah, University of Michigan, they care about me. They want me to come here. They want me to succeed,’” Hatcher said.

She added in a separate e-mail interview that as a freshman, she feels her relative youth will make her more approachable for underclassmen.

“Many people think that because I am a freshman, I am not capable of leading an entire student assembly, but I look at it as an opportunity, not a downfall,” Hatcher wrote. “… I can only hope that other students look at my age difference in comparison to my opponent as being a way to start off fresh, and help make MSA into the student government organization it should be.”

She said that she hopes to combat the University’s increasing tuition rate to amplify minority retention at the University.

“I know multiple students of different races who are actually planning to leave next year because they can’t afford the continuous increase in tuition, and they plan to go to maybe a community college or just different schools (that) don’t have such an increase in the price,” Hatcher said.

While Hatcher and Cintron are relatively new to student government at the University, the running mates have experience in leadership positions through their ongoing involvement in the Detroit chapter of By Any Means Necessary — a national organization that works to protect affirmative action policies. Their involvement in the coalition sparked their interest to get involved with political activities on campus, especially with DAAP.

In compliance with a 2006 state ballot initiative outlawing affirmative action at public institutions in Michigan, the University does not have any official policies promoting affirmative action. The University’s Center for Educational Outreach, however, is one program that organizes outreach efforts to disadvantaged communities.

While DAAP is dedicated to the empowerment of minority students on campus, many University students are unaware of the entire scope of the party’s platform, Cintron said.

“We don’t want people to be afraid because our party says ‘affirmative action,’” Cintron said. “We don’t just care about minority students … We’re trying to stand for everyone who feels unrepresented, which includes gay students, immigrant students — not just black students or minority students in general — but anyone who feels like their voice isn’t really being heard.”

Cintron said she and Hatcher will work to defend the rights of immigrant students at the University, especially in respect to the national Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The DREAM Act, which the U.S. Senate voted against in December, would help undocumented college students to get on a path to citizenship.

Another initiative of DAAP is to be a voice for students who are victims of sexual assault, Cintron said.

“We also want to change the Student Code of Conduct, which currently says that students that are victims of sexual assault cannot speak publicly about that assault, and we think that that’s wrong,” Cintron said. “(It) shows not enough support of students that have been sexually assaulted.”

To support students who have been victims of sexual assault, Hatcher and Cintron said they plan to highlight resources available to students from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center on campus. The running mates also said they believe there is room to improve the current system of reporting cases of sexual assault.

“We just don’t want (the University) to be hostile for anyone who goes here because they’re paying for quality education, and they’re getting that, but they’re also paying for a comfortable, safe environment,” Cintron said. “And that’s really what we care about, everyone being in a comfortable, safe environment.”

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