It’s an exciting time to be on campus. The sun is shining, the LSA Course Guide has been uploaded and the Central Student Government elections are next week.
Every year about this time, I am bombarded with quarter sheets in the Diag, flyers in stairwells and invites to Facebook events to vote for so-and-so party. In the past, it was a campaign between just two parties.
But this year, there are six candidates vying for president and vice president. Six. This in and of itself is a reason to pay attention more than in past years. It’s not just the increase in political parties. The historical moment we live in demands action, and we, the student body, must answer the call.
As someone who knows nearly each of them personally, all of the candidates are qualified for the position, and I give them my respect. And yet, next week, students will be faced with a choice.
We can choose to pick a slate that prioritizes fighting for social justice and progressive change or one that believes that student government should remain a static institution and pursue small goals that are promised to students nearly every election.
There is only one truly progressive slate that has proven that they know how to and are committed to creating change: Kevin Mersol-Barg and Amy Navvab with OurMichigan. As student leaders within CSG and LSA Student Government, as well as other organizations, they have a broad range of experiences and connections with student activism.
Trust me, student government is the last thing I thought I would care about when I got to college. My experience with student government before coming to Ann Arbor was lackluster. Every year, the popular kids won, usually by promising French fries and ice cream in the cafeteria and more time for lunch. And every year, come lunchtime, I was disappointed with their failure.
The issue boils down to the fact that often times, what the administration wants and what the student body wants are in direct conflict. In reality, high-school students have limited power and can be easily controlled by the administration because they don’t know better.
But, news flash: we are not in high school anymore.
The power of students has been repeatedly demonstrated on university campuses. Students have a long track record of fighting for social justice here at home and elsewhere. In just the past two years, we’ve played major roles in the Occupy movement and the fight against massive government cuts.
The fight is not over; in fact, it’s just beginning.
Over the past 10 years, Lansing has cut 29 percent of higher education funding. As a result of these shortsighted cuts as well as the administration’s allocation of billions for construction projects, the average tuition for public state universities has increased by 87 percent in the past decade. As I wrote last month, the diversity of this institution has drastically dropped. For example, while 14 percent of Michigan’s residents are black, they make up only 4.4 percent of campus, down from 7.3 percent in 2006. But these are just two of many other issues that our administration needs to address.
We need a student government that will make these social justice issues central to its agenda. We need a student government that’s not afraid to stand up to the administration when we, the students, know it’s in the wrong.
Mersol-Barg helped found the Coalition for Tuition Equality, the most exciting social justice initiative on campus since I’ve been here. With more than a dozen of the most influential student organizations involved, it’s undergone a campaign to achieve in-state tuition for qualified undocumented immigrants. Mersol-Barg has been at the forefront, planning actions and organizing long-term strategy.
Navvab has her own coalition. As chair of the Open Housing Initiative, she’s working to allow students to choose roommates regardless of gender identity and gender expression. This initiative, the first broad-based campaign for social justice I experienced on campus, has already been successful in expanding the housing options for all students and continues to work with administration.
But look no further than the University Board of Regents meeting today to see how they, in participating in the action planned by Coalition for Tuiton Equality and eRACism, are demonstrating for fair tuition policies and a diverse campus.
For social change to be most successful on this campus, we need executives willing to stand and act with us.
Next Wednesday and Thursday, I urge you to vote for those who want meaningful social change on this campus. I urge you to vote for Kevin Mersol-Barg, Amy Navaab and OurMichigan.
Yonah Lieberman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter at @YonahLieberman.