If you’re anything like me, you think Central Student Government election season at the University of Michigan is a nuisance at best. As a freshman, I had serious doubts about the ability of Central Student Government to accomplish anything meaningful or substantial, or if it could, then I had doubts as to whether Arab and Muslim voices would matter at all in that setting.
Just a few years ago, the Arab community on campus seemed fractured and invisible with no clear central authority to which we could address our concerns and aspirations, and no clear institutional support for improving student life in ways that narrowly affected our community. The Muslim community seemed only slightly better in these regards but was still relatively weak in its administrative ability to deal with rising incidences of Islamophobia. At that time, it was difficult to even imagine a place for inserting ourselves into important administrative conversations, as so few Arabs or Muslims were represented in CSG, and the ones that were present were known to have faced discriminatory remarks and subtle racism to get there.
Now, as a graduating senior, I have come to see the Arab and Muslim communities’ place on campus in a totally different light. These past two years, especially, have seen important victories for us and it has become clear that administrations, including CSG, have begun to take our collective concerns seriously. In the past two years, CSG has uplifted the voices of historically marginalized Palestinian students, responded to ugly incidences of Islamophobia in reflection rooms, administered reforms and, crucially, has made the broader Arab community on campus more visible with the support for the implementation of a Middle Eastern/North African identity category on official University documents. This most recent resolution supported by CSG will help the ME/NA community going forward by providing pertinent demographic information on issues like retention and graduation rates, allocation of funding and bias incident reporting.
But these huge victories were not won alone. Our communities, both Arab and Muslim, have relied on our allies on campus to bring attention to our unique needs. And in this respect, Engineering junior A.J. Ashman and LSA junior Charlie Bingham must be thanked for their work and dedication. I didn’t know either of them then, but I saw and recognized their presence at the University Board of Regents meeting when the implementation of the ME/NA box was being debated. I saw them proudly sporting #WeExist shirts, and they were present and supportive for the right reasons. Both Ashman and Bingham stood in solidarity, recognizing how minority experiences can often be detrimental to our collective feeling of belonging on campus. They were there for us even before either of them decided to run for office. Now, they have partnered to create the MomentUM campaign, highlighting issues like ours and similar issues for other minority communities, relying upon Arabs, Muslims and allies to build a comprehensive platform that speaks to our needs.
Representation matters, and this year’s slate of candidates with the MomentUM party are the most representative and diverse yet, including the most Arab and Muslim representatives to run with a party to date. It’s not enough that the candidates are demographically diverse. Indeed, these candidates are all incredibly passionate, competent and, most importantly, eager to continue making positive changes on our campus. What separates them from other candidates? The MomentUM team wants to center voices and concerns that affect communities on campus from both visible and invisible identities. In fact, The Daily’s CSG debate last Thursday highlighted how MomentUM alone addresses these issues. Every party mentioned the struggles of invisible identities, but only MomentUM candidates mentioned ME/NA students in particular. The ME/NA category was recorded for the first time in a CSG report, and it was Ashman who made that change to input that data in that report. In fact, Ashman specifically requested that CSG redo the survey just to make sure that data was available for analysis. Being included in the MomentUM campaign gives affirmation to their experiences while simultaneously uplifting them, especially for Arabs and Muslims who aren’t necessarily clearly identifiable as such but who nevertheless bear the brunt of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.
Now is our opportunity to elevate our communities by bringing them into the fold of University governance. CSG does affect student experiences whether we are aware or not, so it’s important that we understand the consequences of our votes. It’s time for Arabs and Muslims to keep the MomentUM going.
Reema Kaakarli is an LSA Senior