The unremitting activist

Brian Merlos
(JEREMY CHO/Daily)
Brian Merlos
(SHAY SPANIOLA/Daily)
Brian Merlos
(SAM WOLSON/Daily)
Brian Merlos
(FILE PHOTO)
Brian Merlos
(ZACHARY MEISNER/Daily)
Brian Merlos
(BENJI DELL/Daily)
Brian Merlos
(SAID ALSALAH/Daily)
Brian Merlos
(MAX COLLINS/Daily)
Brian Merlos
(CHANEL HABSBURG-LOTHRINGEN/Daily)
Brian Merlos
(JENNIFER KRON/Daily)

Aria Everts

Earlier this month, LSA senior Aria Everts faced a dilemma when she was tapped to join the senior honor society Order of Angell.

Everts questioned whether she should join the group and help implement reforms from the inside out or turn down the invitation because of the group’s secrecy.

She said her decision to decline the invitation shows how her outlook on reform has changed since she came to the University.

Before transferring to the University from the International Academy of Design and Technology in Chicago, Everts thought she could change the way the clothing industry does business from the inside out.

Over the past three years, Everts has been one of the most consistently active and visible members of the labor rights group Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality.

SOLE has earned a reputation on campus for it’s often extreme demonstrations against the use of sweatshops in the manufacturing of University-licensed apparel. These include the group’s “I’d rather be naked” protest and last year’s sit-in at University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office.

Looking back, Everts said she was na’ve to think she could change how business was done from within a company.

“I really don’t think it’s possible to work within the systems we find ourselves in,” she said.

But for someone who is still banned from the Fleming Administration Building after being led away from Coleman’s office in plastic handcuffs last April, Everts has also spent considerable time working with the University administration and other student groups.

She has served as a student representative on Coleman’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights and the Michigan Student Assembly’s Peace and Justice Commission.

“Aria maintained a consistently positive and open approach, even when she did not agree with the outcomes of committee’s processes,” said School of Social Work Prof. Larry Root, who chaired the advisory committee.

LSA junior Blase Kearney, a fellow SOLE member, said Everts has greatly improved SOLE’s relationship with other campus groups.

“They learn to associate SOLE with Aria because she’s always out there,” he said.

-Kelly Fraser

The subtle dignitary

Mohammad Dar

LSA senior Mohammad Dar’s term as Michigan Student Assembly president came to a close yesterday. With it ends four dedicated years of MSA service, culminating in a presidency.

Yet, it wasn’t supposed to have happened this way. Dar was supposed to be the quiet, hardworking vice president while Zack Yost steered the reins of the assembly as president. But Yost stepped down in December after an offensive Facebook group he had created was made public. Dar was then handed the reins.

LSA senior Nate Fink, who filled the vacant MSA vice presidency after Dar’s ascension, said Dar’s hardworking presence kept the assembly going in the wake of Yost’s departure. A lot of people, he said, might have quit trying and just waited for the next elections. Not Dar.

“He’s very dedicated and hardworking – like – the hardest working person that I know on the assembly,” Fink said. “He will be seen as someone who helped to really move the assembly forward.”

The tears shed at Yost’s resignation could certainly mark the nadir of this year’s assembly, but the tears Dar shed at a rally for more state funding for higher education in Lansing were definitely the pinnacle. Dar was one of primary organizers for the rally that sought to keep the Michigan state government from reneging on nearly $150 million owed to universities across the state – including roughly $30 million to the University of Michigan.

Before the crowd, Dar stood and delivered a speech about his father’s sacrifices to help Dar get through school. Dar’s father died in 2006 from cancer that Dar said would have likely been treated sooner if his father hadn’t given up his health insurance to pay for Dar’s education.

Dar said the first 10 times he practiced the speech he could barely finish.

“I couldn’t get through it without crying every time,” he said.

After the rally, the state ended up delivering the promised funds to the universities.

Around the same time, he helped found – and was then elected president of – the Statewide Student Association, a collection of Michigan’s student governments.

After last week’s election, Dar e-mailed all the independent candidates who weren’t elected, encouraging them to stay involved. He cared. He actually did what he set out to do. In a world of politics and stagnation, Dar quietly made his mark.

-David Mekelburg

The student veteran

Derek Blumke

With all the talk about making campus a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds, LSA junior Derek Blumke noticed a lack of support for one faction of students.

Before Blumke founded the Student Veterans Association, University students who traded in military drill manuals for intro-level textbooks had to deal with the jarring transition alone.

Blumke, a 27-year-old who served in the Airforce until 2005, said that while attending a community college and then the University his age and military experience made it difficult to feel comfortable on campus.

“I told this one girl, just talking in class, that I was in the military,” Blumke said. “She looks at me, wide-eyed, and says, ‘You were in the military? Why did you do that?’ It was beyond her scope of understanding of why someone would actually go in the military. A lot of people tend to be like that. It’s nothing offensive but it sets you apart.”

It was that feeling of isolation that caused Blumke to start SVA at the University as well as spearhead the foundings of SVA chapters on 125 campuses nationwide.

Swamped with interviews and state senate appearances, it’s a wonder Blumke has time for his student role at all.

“As the Student Veterans Association of America’s president, he is taking the minimum amount of credits to make sure the national coalition is running,” said Sam Kim, SVA public affairs officer. “He sets his priorities in a different perspective than a typical undergraduate. He’s very persistent and if he believes in something and wants to get it done, he will go after it.”

While Blumke said joining the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon helped him feel more accepted on campus, SVA provides support and friendship to student veterans that other student groups can’t.

“When I was in the Airforce I was a sergeant and I had a lot of guys looking up to me, not as a boss, but for advice about life,” he said. “I got a little bit of that from being involved in the fraternity. The fraternity system is like a wannabe military.”

-Mike Dolsen

The ‘Hot Dog Man’

Jay Trzciinski

At a home football game last season, LSA senior Jay Trzcinski found himself on the lamb. After switching shirts with a friend, Trzcinski slipped into a seat a few rows away from where four ushers were staking out his normal seats.

If they spotted him, he’d be kicked out of Michigan Stadium and fined. But Trzcinski, or Hot Dog Man, just couldn’t resist throwing that one last hot dog.

Trzcinski’s brush with the stadium law followed several game half times during which he made a name for himself as Hot Dog Man by throwing hot dogs into the student section. Trzcinski’s antics pumped up the crowd, inspired a popular T-shirt and proved once and for all that when it comes to the regents’ ordinance against throwing objects in the stands, stadium security means business.

“Most of (the ushers) were really cool about it,” Trzcinski said. “But there’s one guy, who is the head usher for the student section, he hates me with a passion.”

Trzcinski was removed after throwing 10 hot dogs during the Iowa game amid chants of “let him stay” and “Hot Dog Man,” but he said the reaction he has received from students during games and on the town kept him returning to his role.

Hot Dog Man, who tutors younger physics students and plans to work for Teach for America after graduation, is also something of a role model.

“My students found out I was Hot Dog Man and brought in pictures of me doing it to sign,” he said. “They say their claim to fame in the hall is that their study group leader is Hot Dog Man.”

Trzcinski graduates this spring, but that doesn’t mean Hot Dog Man won’t live on.

“I’m hoping to come to at least two or three games,” he said. “Hopefully, they won’t be looking for me next year.”

-Jessica Vosgerchian

The humble captain

Kevin Porter

With each successive home hockey game this season, the pregame “Hobey Baker” chants got louder and longer.

And by now, it’s pretty obvious that LSA senior and Michigan hockey captain Kevin Porter is the frontrunner for the award given annually to the best player in college hockey.

But in typical fashion, Porter talked first about a teammate when asked about the attention surrounding the Hobey Baker Award.

“(LSA senior) Chad (Kolarik) says he gets a little upset because it cuts into his introduction, so I guess they shouldn’t do it anymore,” Porter laughed.

Kolarik was quick to retort.

“He gets all the praise all the time,” Kolarik joked. “That’s fine – that’s great. I want it that way. But you know, give me a little glory once in awhile, when my hometown’s being announced and my alternate captain’s being announced. No, it’s all in fun.”

The two linemates and close friends have fed off each other all season, lighting up the scoreboard and leading a young team that is now the favorite to win the national championship. Porter’s 28 goals and 28 assists, the second-highest point total in the nation, have capped a four-year career that has sealed his place as one of the best players in Michigan history.

Though most of Porter’s play this season has been stellar, the game that sticks out most to Michigan coach Red Berenson wasn’t from this year.

The date of the game and the Wolverines’ opponent were unimportant. All Berenson remembers is that Porter scored three goals in three minutes of ice time during the first period.

But if you haven’t seen him play, you wouldn’t be able to tell that Porter is a showstopper. He’s a quiet leader who decided to come back for his final college season even after being courted by the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes to join the team after his junior year. LSA junior and Michigan forward Brandon Naurato said Porter was “on the borderline,” but didn’t talk about leaving the Wolverines early.

“That’s the thing – a lot of guys might send hints that they’re going to leave,” Naurato said. “But he never talked about leaving.”

-Courtney Ratkowiak

The NFL-bound big mouth

Mike Hart

Mike Hart’s final year at Michigan was more than meets the eye.

Peoples’ ears captured more memorable moments of the star running back’s last season than any set of eyes could.

Returning for his senior season in Ann Arbor to try for a National Championship win, Hart made his mark before even stepping foot onto a football field.

While in Chicago for Big Ten Media Day, Hart took a shot at former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh for criticizing the University of Michigan’s academics upon taking the Stanford head-coaching job.

“That’s a guy I have no respect for,” Hart said. “You graduate from the University of Michigan, and you’re going to talk about your school like that, a great university like we have? He’s not a Michigan man. I wish he’d never played here.”

That wasn’t the only time Hart’s mouth made headlines. Four months later, Hart drew the ire of Spartan nation after dubbing Michigan State “little brother” after another Michigan victory in the in-state rivalry.

The Harbaugh and Michigan State comments bookended what could have been Hart’s most important words in terms of the Wolverines’ on-field success.

After hopes of a National Championship were dashed by a 0-2 start, Hart did what he could to help turn the season around heading into the Notre Dame game.

“We’re going to win next week,” Hart said following Michigan’s loss to Oregon. “There’s no question in my mind. I guarantee we will win next week. I’m going to get this team ready. Guaranteed.”

The talk was great for headlines, but it wasn’t an empty promise. Michigan won eight straight games and came within a game of another Rose Bowl berth.

Even though his mouth ran at record speeds during his final season, the running done by 5-foot-9 running back’s legs was not to be overshadowed.

Hart became the school’s all-time leading rusher midway through the season. He finished his career with 5,000 yards rushing – a total that would have been higher had Hart not battled a slew of injuries during the second half of the year.

-Scott Bell

The inner-city educator

Andrea Bachman

About a month ago, Residential College senior Andrea Bachman set up two circles of yarn as a Venn diagram on a classroom floor at Cesar Chavez Academy High School in Detroit. She then asked a group of high school students a series of questions, beginning with whether they speak Spanish or English. Almost all of them placed their feet in the overlapping part of the circles, meaning they speak both.

During the exercise, Bachman touched on several subjects.

“Have you dated exclusively within or outside your race?”

“Are you for or against amnesty for illegal immigrants?”

But the issue the activity most concerned was the poor math skills of American high school students.

Turning the Venn diagram exercise into a mathematical activity, Bachman demonstrated to a group of students the social relevance of math as part of her work teaching low-income high schoolers and training them to tutor younger peers.

Bachman, who is earning an RC social science degree with an independent focus in youth empowerment, has taken on the task of bringing better math education and peer leadership programs to local schools.

Last summer, Bachman trained with the Young People’s Project in Chicago to learn how to teach using the program’s techniques of combining math and conversations about social issues that matter to students’ lives.

“We try to connect the kids to being aware of their own social demographic,” she said.

The idea of teaching math initially intimidated Bachman, who hasn’t taken any traditional math in college. But working with youth to improve their ability where statistics have them slated to fail was too great an opportunity, she said.

“I’m more drawn to the way it demanded youth to demand more of themselves,” she said.

Bachman said she is working with LSA junior Simon Foster to establish an Ann Arbor Young People’s Project chapter and extend the teaching method to more schools.

-Emily Barton

The philanthropist

Jeremy Davidson

Call it killing two birds with one stone. LSA senior Jeremy Davidson’s brainchild, Will Work For Food, get the most bang from donated bucks by having members seek pledged donations in return for performing at least one hour of community service. The funds go to help the victims of conflict in Darfur, while at the same time ensuring that soup kitchens are staffed, children are tutored and trash is picked up here in Ann Arbor.

It’s the pledge-based philanthropy of Dance Marthon with the added benefit of actual work that helps the community.

Since its inception in early 2007, the group has raised over $3,000 for Darfur and sent hundreds of letters to politicians expressing people’s desire for the United States to intercede in the conflict.

Davidson, a former editor at The Michigan Daily, said he left the Daily last year in order to fully commit himself to the project.

He now does everything from drafting pre-written postcards that students can send to their congressmen to carrying a duffel bag full of T-shirts to sell during classes.

But Davidson has his sights set beyond the University, and even beyond Darfur. He’s busy talking with area high schools and fine-tuning the organization’s website so the project can go national and help more than one cause.

“The model of Will Work For Food is not just for Darfur,” he said.

Davidson said he wants University students 30 years from now to brag about how Will Work For Food was started at the University of Michigan.

Graduating in April, Davidson isn’t sure of his post-graduation plans, but knows they’ll at least include some work on the project.

“I’d love for it to be a legacy for the University,” he said. “I’m not just going to drop it next year.”

-Lisa Haidostian

The civil debater

Andrew Dalack

When Fadi Kiblawi created Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a pro-Palestinian student group, in 2001, the group’s initial attempts to discuss the contentious Israeli-Palestinian conflict with other campus groups often ended in bickering.

“Back then, around the beginning of the Second Intifada, it was a very emotional issue that often became very personal and ugly – and that affected the discourse,” Kiblawi said. “There wasn’t that level of civility.”

Seven years later, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains as contentious as ever. But campus discourse on the conflict, Kiblawi said, is far more constructive and civil than it was during his days as a leader of SAFE.

Kiblawi attributes much of that change in the dialogue on Middle East issues to LSA sophomore Andrew Dalack, one of SAFE’s current co-chairs.

“Andrew has done a great job this year opening up the debate, creating civil discussion on campus,” Kiblawi said.

Increased civility in Israeli-Palestinian discourse was unexpected this year, considering the controversy in September over the University Press’s distribution of a book called “Overcoming Zionism” that advocates a single-state solution. But under Dalack’s leadership, the group organized events that garnered greater attention than SAFE has typically received on campus, like speeches by Joel Kovel, the author of “Overcoming Zionism,” and Profs. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, whose lecture drew a capacity crowd at the Natural Science Building earlier this month.

SAFE also hosted Palestinian Awareness Week in February, featuring a week of events focusing on Middle Eastern issues that included a lecture by an Israeli professor who spoke on the occupation of Palestinian territories from Israel’s perspective.

By bringing academics, journalists and scholars of varying viewpoints to campus, Dalack said he was trying to “raise the bar” of the debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a more academic level.

“We wanted to make sure that anybody who wanted the tit-for-tat, back and forth arguing would be marginalized, and that people who really wanted to engage in a more intellectual discussion could do so,” Dalack said.

-Andy Kroll

The anti-anti-drug warrior

Chris Chiles

LSA sophomore Chris Chiles seems unlikely to be the face for the marijuana legalization movement on campus. Chiles speaks in a concise, matter-of-fact manner, keeps a well-groomed appearance and smells of nothing in particular, least of all patchouli.

But the clean-cut chemistry major is responsible for the resurrection this year of the University’s chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.

Under Chiles’ leadership, SSDP has transformed from a long-dormant sponsor of smoking pot in public to one of campus’s most active advocacy groups.

“There are more people who believe the War on Drugs has failed than people who smoke pot,” Chiles said.

SSDP had a hand in bringing to campus two former presidential candidates in favor of drug policy reform, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. The Kucinich speech, drawing more than 500 people, was the candidate’s biggest campaign stop in Michigan.

The group also became the only first-year chapter to win the SSDP national organization’s outstanding chapter award.

“It’s not simply a selfish act that I’m doing here,” Chiles said. “It is truly an altruistic act – for the greater good of society.”

Chiles said his interest in drug policy reform was first sparked after a good friend’s brother overdosed and died from cocaine that had been laced with heroine.

“Obviously, him using cocaine wasn’t good for his body, but that’s not what killed him,” he said. “It was the policies surrounding the black market of drug use.”

Always diligent in defending sensible drug policy, Chiles and other SSDP members made a surprise visit in September at a forum on random student drug testing held in Detroit by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“Drug testing is often counter-productive, because if a student tests positive and is kicked out of extracurriculars they have nothing left to do but more drugs,” he said.

-Jessica Vosgerchian

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