The biggest challenge facing Arvind Sohoni, the Michigan Action Party’s vice presidential candidate in this week’s Michigan Student Assembly elections, is separating himself from the controversy that marred MSA last semester and stained its reputation on campus.
At first glance, there are clear connections between Sohoni and former MSA President Zack Yost – who resigned in December after it was revealed that he created a Facebook group mocking an MSA representative and referencing his mild form of autism.
Sohoni belongs to the same party that put Yost into office during last year’s MSA winter elections. And, it was Yost who appointed Sohoni in April to the position of student general counsel on MSA’s executive board.
With a hint of unease in his voice, Sohoni said he understands how students could make the connection between him and the events that took place in MSA last semester when filling out their ballots this week.
But Sohoni said students should between him and the events that took place in MSA last semester when filling out their ballots this week.
But Sohoni said students should ultimately judge him – and presidential candidate LSA junior Sabrina Shingwani – on the quality of their ideas and goals as student leaders.
“It’s really big for people to understand that our personalities are not reflective of what happens in the past,” said Sohoni. “We’re different, we’ve learned from these things and we know how to do these things better in the future.”
Sohoni, a Ross School of Business junior, first won a seat in the assembly representing the Business School in fall 2006, where he served on the Health Issues Commission during his one-year term as a representative.
MSA President Mohammad Dar, an LSA senior, said Sohoni played an integral role in writing a recent proposal authored by Dar and co-sponsored by Sohoni that urges University administrators to lower the cost of the current Domestic Student Health Insurance Plan.
“He joined the Health Issues Commission his first semester (in MSA), and you knew he had done his research,” Dar said.
Although Sohoni’s current position as student general counsel primarily focuses on overseeing MSA’s internal procedures and protocols, Sohoni’s colleagues said they believe he has the ability to succeed in the more outreach-oriented position of vice president.
“He’s well-suited for the move to a more external vice presidential role, which I know he’ll be great at,” said LSA senior Nate Fink, who currently serves as MSA vice president. “To be a good executive, no matter what the position, you have to be approachable. And I really think he is.”
Sohoni said he wants to promote networking and interaction between students and alumni across all schools and colleges at the University.
He said the fruitful relationship that the Business School maintains with its alumni should be the model for alumni relations throughout the University, whether it’s students and alumni from the same academic program interacting or student organizations working to stay in touch with former members.
An Ann Arbor native, Sohoni also stressed the importance of maintaining dialogue between MSA and the city on issues that affect students.
“It’s not an issue that a lot of kids feel is that pertinent to them,” he said. “But when they realize that all of a sudden they can’t park their car in front of their house, it becomes important.”
Dar said Sohoni’s experience with the city and University administrators would help him get down to business as vice president, if elected.
“Those relationships give him the ability to hit the ground running from day one on not only new issues, but also on issues he’s been working on as student general counsel,” Dar said.
MSA Rep. Tim Hull said that he’s often felt frustrated with the lack of communication between representatives and members of the executive board, but that Sohoni has always been one of the more open, frank members on the board.
“When I talk to him and he doesn’t like what I have to say, he’s still been willing to hear what I have to say and discuss the issue at hand,” Hull said.
Sohoni said he thinks the organization will show students it can get things done if MSA can implement some small ideas, like providing busing for students for Michigan football away games or developing transportation plans for North Campus residents stranded on Central Campus after 2:30 a.m.
“Kids see MSA as this kind of theoretical organization that talks about a lot things but never actually gets anything done,” he said. “It’s important to make sure, every so often, kids are seeing something tangible.”
While Dar said negative perceptions of MSA from the Yost scandal will likely carry over into the next term, he said Sohoni was the best person to deal with them.
“When you talk to him, you know he’s a different person,” Dar said. “I think that he will hold himself to a level that is expected of an MSA vice president and he will do that with beautifully flying colors.”