On a campus famous for its activism, the
past year will surely stand out as a memorable one. This year,
students have consistently shown that, contrary to popular belief,
our generation is not apathetic and hopelessly sheltered —
students have exhibited their power to create change on local,
state and national levels. The famed University activism has made
its much-anticipated return. Across campus, students took a
determined interest in the policies that shaped their education.
Not willing to stand aside as impersonal administrators decided
issues without student support, many student groups organized
meetings, discussions, rallies, protests and picket lines to gain a
voice.

Mira Levitan

 

As the semester winds down, as number of
student groups have had success in advocating for a number of key
issues. Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality is
about to successfully conclude a campaign to force the University
to get full wage disclosure from apparel manufacturers that sell
items with its logo. While the final form this wage transparency
will take is up in the air, the vigilance of SOLE has improved
conditions in overseas sweatshops.

With the Lecturers’ Employee Organization walk-out, many
students joined lecturers on the picket line. Realizing that the
fair compensation of lecturers was directly related to the quality
of the education students received, this collaboration was
successful with the final approval of a contract for LEO expected
soon. Only after the walkout and only with the support of hundreds
of students were the lecturers victorious.

Advocating on behalf of a wide spectrum of students, a coalition
of student groups joined together to demand a voice in cuts to
student services. This group, Student Voices in Action, is
justifiably concerned with the cuts to the yearly Pow Wow and the
office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, the
neglect of the William Monroe Trotter House and the top-down
changes to the Greek system. Though not without its problems, SVA
has demonstrated the power of student activism by leveraging
meetings with University President Mary Sue Coleman and starting to
work toward tangible results.

New organizing also occurred around a once-prominent
organization. The Ann Arbor Tenants Union, defunded last year by
the Michigan Student Assembly, might yet make a comeback. Without a
doubt, tenants’ rights and the questionable practices of
landlords are some of students’ prime local concerns.
Hopefully, with increased awareness of tenant issues and a
revitalization of the AATU, the coercive rental atmosphere on
campus will change to one that favors students.

 

Activism was by no means limited to
campus-specific issues. Ann Arbor’s recently passed Greenbelt
saw a large body of support from students. The level of student
organizing surprised many City officials. While it may be a
surprise to some that students care about the city they live in, it
only confirms what we have always known: Students can play a vital
role in city politics.

 

At the state and national levels, the
issue involving the University that has been given the most
publicity in the past year is affirmative action. Student groups of
all types have fought for the belief that a diverse education is
important to all — and they won. With a great deal of student
support, the University was able to prove the importance of
diversity in higher education. Despite the pressure coming on many
sides to defeat affirmative action policies including from
President Bush, the students on this campus have shown time and
again that they will not allow their concerns to be pushed to the
margins of public opinion.

In response to the University’s victory before the U.S.
Supreme Court, the misleadingly named Michigan Civil Rights
Initiative sought to overturn the ruling in the affirmative action
cases. Student opposition to the MCRI helped reduce its campaign to
shambles. With even MCRI proponents claiming that their
organization is in disarray, it is likely that the supporters of
affirmative action have scored a temporary victory.

This year, University students have also exhibited their
capacity to be heavily involved in a variety of other important
national issues. The University, with Michigan Student Assembly
support, will send several buses to Washington for Sunday’s
March for Women’s Lives. The march is a public demonstration
that supports reproductive freedom and justice for all women.
University students will comprise a large group of supporters at
the march, showing the spirit for social change that the student
body here so proudly carries.

This year’s upcoming presidential election is another
medium through which fervent student activism can be displayed.
Students created incredibly well-organized groups to support most
of the Democratic presidential candidates. The University has an
impressively politically savvy student body, and this was easily
seen in the sheer passion that many students showed by campaigning
for their politicians of choice. Many of these students have
already begun to mobilize support for the November elections.

 

Finally, University students have been
heavily involved in the defining national and international issue
of our time — the so-called war on terrorism. Student
involvement in this issue is not only seen through protest and
action, but by simple participation in discussion. At any given
moment on this campus, students can be heard discussing U.S.
involvement in global anti-terrorism activities, tackling with
enthusiasm issues with international implications. On almost no
other campus in the country can an observer witness such a diverse,
intelligent group of young people arduously discussing the most
important issues of the day. Students at the University truly have
the ability to make change, and they have used this ability widely
in the past year.

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