Ever since she was a child, Kate Stenvig has noticed the race and gender discrimination of society. Now, as a Rackam Graduate student, Stenvig sees many of the same problems at the University.
After the Michigan Student Assembly’s elections, taking place today and tomorrow, Stenvig hopes to be in a better position to address those issues.
Stenvig. running for president of MSA on the Defend Affirmative Action Party ticket, said she feels compelled to stand up for groups that have been oppressed throughout history.
“I’ve always felt very much that it is part of who I am to fight for equal treatment and I’ve always been very aware of injustice in part because of facing discrimination as a woman,” she said.
Stenvig’s party platform focuses on increasing minority enrollment at the University and working to reverse Proposal 2, which banned the use of race- and gender-based affirmative action at public institutions in the state of Michigan in Nov. 2006.
Stenvig grew up in Royal Oak, a predominately white Detroit suburb, with a mother and father who defied traditional gender roles.
Her mother supported the family as a lawyer, while her father was a stay-at-home parent.
Stenvig said she first began to encounter gender stereotypes when she was in kindergarten.
“I remember at a very young age going on a field trip and my teacher reminding us to have our moms make our lunch,” Stenvig said. “I remember saying, ‘My mom doesn’t pack my lunch – my dad packs my lunch. I knew there was something about this that was a problem.”
Stenvig’s views on affirmative action stem from her childhood in a relatively homogeneous community.
“My best friend was probably one of three black students in the school,” said Stenvig, who is white. “It was really segregated. The area is very white, but I think being Jewish and raised in a Jewish neighborhood meant that I was more politically aware of racism.”
Stenvig said the decision to become involved with DAAP helped her overcome her timidity.
Stenvig tried to get over her shyness by talking to people one-on-one about issues like affirmative action. She said the experience allowed her to meet people without having to face her ultimate fear of public speaking.
“One thing that people say about me is that I will try anything even though most things feel outside my comfort zone,” Stenvig said. “Public speaking is more and more in my comfort zone now, because I have things I want to say and I believe these things.”
Monica Smith, a University alum and law student at Wayne State University, said she was struck by Stenvig’s ability to attract supporters.
“When organizing and petitioning to get people involved with issues, things that wouldn’t be the most fun things in the world, she makes fun and exciting,” Smith said.
But last year’s MSA presidential elections brought anything but fun for DAAP.
The Michigan Action Party, DAAP’s opposition, won about 75 percent of the vote in the March election, while DAAP won about 25 percent.
Stenvig said her party is taking a different approach for this contest. That approach, Stenvig said, includes actively supporting a lawsuit to overturn Proposal 2.
A judge ruled yesterday that the case, Cantrell v. Granholm – a lawsuit in which the pro-affirmative action group BAMN was a plaintiff – would not go to a full trial and that Proposal 2 would be upheld.
Stenvig said she looked forward to appealing the decision.
During an interview with The Michigan Daily’s editorial board last week, Stenvig rejected the idea that DAAP is a single-issue party, saying the party stands for other issues of national and international importance.
She mentioned issues ranging from the war in Iraq to reforming – or scrapping – standardized testing for applicants to the University.
Stenvig, said she also hopes to improve mental health services for students at the University and to make it easier for them to get help.
“In trying to help people get through the process of getting counseling, you have to jump through so many hoops that if you are depressed, there’s no way you’re going to do this on your own,” she said.
Neal Lyons, a University alum and friend of Stenvig’s, said the MSA presidential candidate would make good on her word if elected.
“It’s taken for granted that our opponents are people who put forward fake promises as election gimmicks and never follow through on them,” he said. “Kate is the other way around. She is fighting for real changes and real improvement, whether on or off the assembly. For her it’s not a case of personal ambition. She has a vision of something to accomplish and that’s why she’s running.”