It is fair to say that moments during this school year at The University of Minnesota brought forth quite a lot of division. Between the political differences of the right and left, protests against the Gopher’s football team, and the current war raging on Frat Row with their neighbors at the Student Co-Op, there is no shortage of conflict on the Twin Cities campus.
With that said, this year our student government, the Minnesota Student Association (MSA), has remained focused on initiatives that are relatively conflict-free and directed at the needs of the students that they represent.
One concern the student government is currently tackling (which promises to be continued under 2017-2018 MSA President-elect Trish Palermo) centers on the fight against weaknesses regarding food access and the food provided on campus. MSA developed existing programs, such as the Grocery Shuttle (which drives students— most of whom do not have vehicles or access to full-sized grocery stores—to The Quarry in Minneapolis, providing access to locations such as Target, Cub Foods, and PetCo).
Beyond wrestling with off-campus food access concerns, MSA raged battle against the poor service and quality of the food provided by Aramark in the dining halls on campus. This University Dining Services (UDS) reformation movement is supported by the majority of students at the University of Minnesota, and it was one of the main focuses during the MSA presidential campaigns.
Additionally, MSA developed awareness campaigns titled “FoodDeserving,” targeting food insecurity and reducing the stigma surrounding food stamps and other assistance programs. This movement has also led to a discussion, which concerns surrounding the lack of availability of stores that accept such services on campus– a discussion that promises to continue into this fall.
As far as academic concerns go, MSA pushed to create a course evaluation form on MyU (University of Minnesota students’ online university services access portal), which will allow students access to course evaluations and potential access to a presumptive course’s syllabus before registration. The course evaluation form will help students prevent themselves from accidently registering for courses that have additional fees or service learning requirements that students may not be able to fit into their schedules.
Beyond these initiatives, MSA expanded braille labeling in Coffman, pushed to reduce waste produced by our campus, lobbied at “Support the U Day” at the Minnesota State Capitol, proposed a Fall break resolution, registered voters, and pushed to reduce or freeze current tuition prices.
All in all, this past year was a great success for MSA, with a heavy focus on issues important for all students and raised awareness on real issues that students face. Ultimately, the student government successfully made clear the unique challenges of life as a Big 10 university student in the middle of a metropolitan area.
This year’s successes provide a stark contrast to the dysfunctional year MSA faced in the 2015-2016 school year. Instead of focusing on unifying issues concerning the student body last year, MSA focused on the most divisive of issues and let a social justice agenda overshadow the true needs of the Minnesota student body.
Under the two years of Joelle Stangler’s leadership, MSA pushed forward many divisive resolutions, including some resolutions with questionable legalities, such as the “Affirmative Consent” resolution.
Last year alone, MSA pushed for the passing of the highly anti-Semitic boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel, where the group wanted the University of Minnesota to cut all financial ties to Caterpillar and similar companies that work with Israel. BDS received abundant criticism, calling it not only anti-Semitic but financially irresponsible: It would have cost the UMN millions of dollars and raised students’ tuition costs.
MSA also started its “Not Just Words” campaign, which targeted microaggressions and implicit biases. MSA’s members stated of the campaign, “[We will] work to ensure that every voice and perspective is not only heard but welcomed.” It was a noble task, but it was not a task of including every voice, but rather encouraging self-censorship for any potentially offensive statement.
The biggest pitfall of last year’s MSA was its horrible mishandling of the September 11th Memorial Resolution, where the student government refused to pass a resolution to join other Big 10 campuses in holding a memorial for the lives lost—including the lives of Minnesota alumni—in the terrorist attacks of September 11: They cited illegitimate concerns of Islamophobia.
Both the BDS movement and the September 11th Memorial were rightfully overturned by President Kaler, showing the true power of the student government.
By avoiding mistakes made by previous administrations, MSA President Abeer Syedah and the current voting body primarily focused on important issues that actually matter to students, instead of virtue signaling their moral superiority and grandstanding with issues that only further divide the campus. In this divisive year, doing so was no small feat.
Updated May 03, 2017 to delete a repeated paragraph.