Although voter turnout for the Michigan Student Assembly fell last year – nearly 1,000 fewer students voted in the 2002 fall elections than in the 2001 fall elections – the rate of undergraduate turnout has stayed steady at about 20 percent since 1998.<
Some students said candidates’ inabilities to acquaint themselves with their constituents has led to a sense of apathy toward student government.
“Especially because the campus is so large, it’s hard to encompass all students and all their views,” LSA junior Uzoma Anyanetu said.
While most candidates in today’s student government elections have channeled their energies into campaigning, a core of party members has also spent its time trading barbs over a contentious e-mail.Since campaigns began three weeks ago, an anonymous source has circulated e-mails to students accusing Adam Haba, a University Party candidate for MSA from the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, of racist remarks in a February 2002 e-mail he sent to African American Cultural Show organizer Canethia Henderson. Haba sent the e-mail in response to Henderson’s invitation asking him to attend the cultural show.
Responding to Henderson, Haba said he would not “sit through an hour of ‘I hate whitey’ racial slurs, in your ‘Nazi-esque’ attempt to convince me that I am the cause of your oppression, for the sole reason that I am white.”
Haba also added in the e-mail that he is “all for equality and an end to discrimination,” but that the cultural show disseminated propaganda.
“If you read through the e-mail, nowhere does it state that I am racist – that I hate anybody different from myself,” Haba said. “Any rumors going around about me are completely untrue. I truly believe in a colorblind society.”
While Haba admitted that his remarks were out of line, he said they were misconstrued and disseminated as propaganda against the U Party.
“It was a ploy by (the Students First Party) to discredit me and to discredit the party,” he said. “It doesn’t represent me and it doesn’t represent the party.”
But Students First MSA presidential candidate Angela Galardi said she did not know who sent the e-mail.
“The guy who wrote the e-mail about the University Party – I don’t know who it is and I don’t know how he got that information,” she said. “I think (Haba’s e-mail) might have been taken out of context and I think that needs to be considered.”
Reflecting on a relatively low voter turnout in student government elections at the University, several students said MSA representatives do not serve students’ interests.
“Students think MSA is a waste of time,” Rackham student Eric Miller said. “I don’t think MSA does anything useful.”
“Students feel (student government) is just self-serving, resume-stuffing positions,” Anyanetu said, adding that she approves of MSA resolutions advocating campus improvements. “If (resolutions) are in the University, it’s fine, but with Iraq it’s a waste of time.”
“Bush doesn’t care what we think,” she said, citing an MSA resolution discouraging war with Iraq.
But students said when MSA can fulfill their purpose as campus leaders by passing resolutions that seek to improve University life.
“One thing that sticks out is the transportation service to the airport,” Rackham student Mohammad Khalil said, referring to the MSA airBus that offers rides to Detroit Metro Airport during Spring Break.
Khalil – who is coordinator of the Muslim Graduate Students Association – added that MSA was quick to fund his student group.
“It’s the little things like that – it just makes the process more convenient,” he said. “They’ve always been quicker than they tell me (at providing funds).”
In addition, the assembly’s troubles are not unique among student governments of other Big Ten universities. “In terms of voter turnout, 17.5 percent of undergrads voted last year,” said Allison Young, Undergraduate Student Government chief of staff at Pennsylvania State University. “I would say feelings are mixed about the role of the USG.”
Rasha Aly, a reporter at the Lantern at Ohio State University, said sentiment about the university’s Undergraduate Student Government is generally negative.
“Students don’t think (USG) works for them,” she said. “A lot of people think it’s there to put names on resumes and that they don’t do anything for students.”
But unlike MSA representatives – who receive no stipend for their service – Penn State’s 33 representatives are paid out of a pool whose value is equivalent to two and a half full in-state tuitions, Young said.