Meet ASMSU's U-M counterpart
Athletics aren't the only MSU vs. U of M rivalry – the two schools' student governments talk about what makes them different.
The Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, is headed by President Lorenzo Santavicca and serves as the student body’s governing voice.
At the University of Michigan, Anushka Sarkar serves as president of the Central Student Government, or CSG. The Central Student Government, which has been in place since 2010, took the place of the Michigan Student Assembly, which had existed since the early 20th century.
ASMSU approaches its 52nd anniversary this year, although it wasn’t always known as ASMSU.
“ASMSU just celebrated its 50th anniversary about two years ago, so we’re going on 52 years old," Santavicca said. “We were founded in 1965, and we initially started out as the All University Student Council on campus, and that was founded with just a few members, and it has expanded over the years and has gone through quite a bit of history.”
At ASMSU, the main branch of government is the General Assembly. Members of the General Assembly can serve on the finance, academic and policy committees. In order to serve on the General Assembly, students must run for office in the spring election.
“So, for our elected, our General Assembly, this is obviously the elected group of the organization, and students can run for the spring elections, and that process really starts in February of the current year looking ahead to the next year,” Santavicca said. “So all current freshmen, sophomores and juniors are able to run for these positions, and seniors obviously if they’re sticking around for another year. What they do is they fill out applications to run, they have to get petitions of at least 25 students to run, and then they run for the respective seat at their college on the general assembly.”
CSG, on the other hand, is divided into three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial.
“The executive branch consists of the executive committee, which is the president’s team of people, as well as the executive commission which are picked at the president’s discretion every year, and they are issued specific groups that work on policy and programming work,” Sarkar said. “We also have a judicial branch, which is comprised of the Central Student Judiciary. They have justices as well as a chief justice, that arbitrate on complaints that are brought before them under the university, statements of students’ rights, or interpreting the Constitution, CSG’s governing documents, whatever it might be.”
The judicial branch is picked by the executive branch through an application process. ASMSU does not have a judiciary body for students to file complaints to and have their cases heard. However, since 1983, ASMSU has provided free access to legal services for students.
“We contracted with a legal firm since 1983 to have an independent legal firm that works 40 hours a week in our office, and we have three attorneys,” Santavicca said. “And the way that works is that the student can call the office and they can speak with someone to set up an appointment, and they can handle issues such as landlord-tenant issues, we have civil infraction issues, misdemeanors, and all these kind of things that are taken up by the legal services office.”
The legislative assembly is similar to ASMSU’s general assembly, but with different opportunities for election.
“There are different ways to get involved in each branch. For the assembly, to be a representative, there are three ways you can be involved,” Sarkar said. “You can run in the spring election, which happens in late-March every year. You can run in the mid-term election, which happens in November and is only for vacant or open seats. And you can be appointed to an open seat between the two elections, or outside of them."
According to the CSG website, the group represents diversity through several executive commissions. Seats on the commissions are appointed rather than elected. They also have the CSG Diversity initiative, which encourages more diverse representation in the assembly.
However, student groups, including those focused on minority representation, are not given space in the assembly. Spots in CSG’s assembly are reserved specifically for colleges. At ASMSU, certain student groups that promote diversity have seats in the general assembly.
“Uniquely different to ASMSU from CSG is that we have the CORES and COPS, which are the Council of Racial and Ethics Students and the Council of Progressive Students,” Santavicca said. “These are the student organizations like the Black Student Alliance, the Muslim Student Association which was just added to the General Assembly last year, the Jewish Student Union, Native American Indigenous Student Organization, the Culturas de las Razas Unidas, which is the Latinx student organization on campus, and there’s 14 of those.”
Like ASMSU, CSG taxes students’ tuition bills to get its budget. However, the tax is $9.19 compared to the $20 that ASMSU collects. This means that CSG cannot fund any long programs like ASMSU’s Safe Ride program, or other initiatives.
“I would caution anyone against using the term ‘student services,’” Sarkar said. “We do a lot of programming and policy work, and oftentimes what the organization does is undergo a pilot program of something that demonstrates a need for that program and then end try and institutionalize it in the university’s office, just because we don’t necessarily have the funding to run programs beyond the pilot stage.”
However, CSG does have several initiatives. According to the organization’s website, these include “M-Pals,” a program which matches incoming international students with current U-M students to make their transition to the United States friendlier, textbook and college affordability (which ASMSU also focuses on), food and housing insecurity, and zero-waste commitment. They also have a new project they’re getting off the ground this year.
“One thing that we’re very excited for next semester would be what we’re actually working on right now,” Sarkar said. “It’s called the Innovation and Public Service Competition. So, we’re going to be organizing exactly what it sounds like: a competition to fund projects students propose that are a creative twist on public service to engage students in public service.”
Like CSG, ASMSU also has a variety of initiatives. They’re working on voter registration, sexual assault prevention and textbook affordability, among others. This year, they will specifically focus on surveying students for feedback.
“I think our biggest initiative is this data-driven advocacy that we’re trying to roll out this year,” Santavicca said. “I think for us, we’re trying to move in a direction where we move student government collectively, across the nation I think into this era of data. We have so many student representatives in our assembly this year. We have a full assembly for the first time in a long time, and we need to know what students are saying in order to make a real difference on our campus.