Taking the helm
New president hopes to move ASMSU forward despite recent controversies
As Kiran Samra prepares to take over chief governing duties for MSU’s undergraduate student government, the main thing she’s hoping for is a chance to live out her vision.
After working with the organization since her freshman year, most recently as chief of staff, she thinks she is ready to take the helm and make some serious waves. She was elected as the new ASMSU president last week and will run her first meeting Thursday.
“It is crucial to have a president who really believes in the organization and really believes in the good that it does and has every intention and every ability to make sure that it moves forward positively,” Samra said.
Samra and other ASMSU representatives are aware they have a tough road ahead of them. Several controversies drew negative attention to the organization this past year, including the $60,000 bike share program, the rocky start to the WTF MSU campaign and most recently, an alleged code violation of Samra’s own campaign during the ASMSU presidential election.
Despite all that, Samra said she is confident she can take ASMSU in a new direction, and many other representatives are hoping for the same.
Samra said she is excited to be in her new role and is quickly moving forward to better the organization and relationships with students and administrators.
But she recognizes one of the roadblocks she’ll have to cross is the overall view of ASMSU among students.
“My biggest challenge is definitely the perceptions that students have of ASMSU,” Samra said.
Samra said transparency with students is something that ASMSU needs and something she wants to improve.
She wants to lead the general assembly to create better awareness of ASMSU’s work and to encourage students to come to their representatives with any concerns, which she plans on doing through an ASMSU mobile app.
She said the app would allow for students to know everything going on at ASMSU and to know who their representatives are.
Last fall, the student government launched the WTF MSU campaign, which stands for “What To Fix MSU.” The campaign was designed to help students voice their concerns by tweeting or posting their concerns on the campaign’s Facebook page to create change on campus.
Despite the attempt to help students, ASMSU found itself in hot water because vandals used real spray paint to market the campaign on campus sidewalks, which students and police initially thought was the organization’s doing, Samra said.
She said the spray painting was not something connected to ASMSU, and said the student government had used previously-approved chalk paint to spread the word.
Still, Samra said the campaign has helped create change on campus, including changing some of the channels available on cable in the dorms, which will be discussed in the next cable contract.
She said ASMSU now has quarterly meetings with Live On, Eat at State, MSU Police, facilities and more because of the concerns addressed by the campaign.
Many of ASMSU’s current representatives believe Samra is on the right track.
ASMSU Vice President for Internal Administration Teresa Bitner said she is excited to work with Samra as the new president.
“I’m looking forward to having a president who has a vision,” she said.
Bitner said she thinks Samra’s passion and dedication are two of the driving forces behind her exceptional leadership skills.
“I really like her goals to try to fix the image of ASMSU within the student body and administration. I think she’s headed in the right direction,” she said.
College of Social Science representative Evan Schrage said he and Samra have had meetings about improving the general assembly’s participation and constituent outreach, as well as giving representatives adequate time to speak about actions they’d like to see the student government pursue.
Schrage, a public policy junior, said he believes Samra will be able to accomplish reform in how much each representative participates and give their constituents better visibility of their representatives.
“I believe Kiran is capable of instituting much-needed reform at ASMSU,” he said.
Schrage said ASMSU leadership made decisions in the past that some students hold negative perceptions of.
He said he believes Samra will sway student opinions by spreading awareness and opening an honest dialogue between ASMSU and the students they represent.
“I think Kiran is just concerned as anybody about ASMSU moving forward,” Schrage said. “I’m sure that the (general assembly) will work with the office of the president to make sure the best policies are enacted.”
Room for improvement
On the other hand, some students look at ASMSU as an organization that carries little weight.
Duncan Tarr, organizer of MSU Students United, a student group advocating for students’ rights, said ASMSU seems trapped under the administration’s control and appears to have little power to evoke meaningful change.
The student government was forced to move all its funds to an on-campus account in the summer of 2013 to align with the university’s policies.
ASMSU worked with MSU Students United in the past and co-authored a resolution in favor of a tuition freeze, Tarr said, adding MSU Students United has been tackling the issue of tuition costs more vocally than ASMSU.
Tarr said ASMSU could better serve students by addressing issues of high tuition rather than putting on concerts.
Although there is friendliness and communication between the two groups, Tarr said he believes MSU Students United is in a better position to stand up to the administration because they have no affiliation to it.
“They aren’t even pushing for a vote at the Board of Trustees,” he said. “It would be great if they had more of a say.”
Samra said she is working to build better and more meaningful relationships with the administration and said she had a meeting with President Simon Wednesday morning.
Tarr said he hopes to have continued communication between ASMSU and MSU Students United as Samra continues her presidency.