The Naked Mile was a debacle. The thousands of University students who eagerly lined South University in anticipation for something were extremely disappointed. A few members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality set an example by stripping down to their briefs and hoped the crowd would follow suit. At most 50 students and random hangers-on participated. It was an unimpressive display.

Paul Wong
Zac Peskowitz

Unlike previous years the Mile came and went with little advance preparation from the Michigan Student Assembly. Last year, Women’s Issues Committee Chair Elizabeth Anderson printed “Naked Mile Security” T-shirts and MSA organized a phalanx of student volunteers to prevent groping and sexual assault. While their efforts proved to be relatively ineffective when confronted with the crackdown of local police agencies, MSA’s willingness to strongly oppose the University continued in the vibrant tradition of activism that was once inculcated in MSA.

This year, lack of interest and apathy dominated MSA’s decision-making process. MSA simply let the Mile end with a whimper. There was no concerted effort to challenge the University’s stance. This malaise is not a recent development. With the notable exception of last year’s approach to the Naked Mile, MSA has rapidly moved away from the political daring and activism that once defined and motivated MSA.

In November of 1990, the University erupted in protest and civil disobedience when the Board of Regents gave DPS officers the authority to carry firearms. While students occupied the Fleming Administration Building, then-MSA President Jennifer Van Valey stood in support and voiced her opposition from Fleming. “As of 9:30 tonight, there is a state of activism declared on campus,” she shouted in support of a simultaneous sit-in on the lawn of the President’s House. Her presence and support gave the demonstrators an authority and importance that only a popularly elected campus leader can provide.

This tradition of activism continued into the ’90s with MSA’s refusal to passively accept former University President James Duderstadt’s challenges to students free speech. A 1993 ban that prevented students from rallying on the Diag during Martin Luther King Day and prohibited chalking led to a rally where former MSA President Ede Fox denounced the restrictions, “It’s a tradition that a lot of people really care about, being able to come here and stand on the steps of the Grad library and hold a rally.” In 1995 MSA President Flint Wainness secured a position for a student on the committee that authored the Student Code of Conduct. These MSA presidents acted boldly although they risked alienating student support for their parties and drew acrid criticism from both students and University administrators. Now MSA is content to put on a symposium and pass half-hearted, meaningless resolutions. Political concerns and the possibility of re-election have prevented the expression of MSA’s conscience.

Executives now serve as mediators. While this role is important, MSA can better serve the University community through representatives proactively discussing issues. Representatives who serve as flashpoints for issues, criticism and controversy will reinvigorate a campus struggling with the throes of indifference.

MSA is vested with the authority to represent the University’s students. It is the best means for student concerns to be addressed and taken to the administration. MSA needs to reevaluate its direction and this process must begin with individual representatives who are dissatisfied with MSA’s entrenched status quo.

While the future of the Naked Mile is not the most signficant matter at the University, there are pressing concerns that will benefit from an infusion of MSA debate and active involvement. If MSA representatives and executives assert themselves, the discussion concerning the termination of New Era Cap Company’s contract with the University will be more robust and fruitful. These issues shouldn’t be constrained to the domain of narrowly focused student groups, but should concern every member of the University.

Zac Peskowitz can be reached at zpeskowi@umich.edu.

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