Thursday, October 22, 2020

ASMSU Recap: Highlights from Michigan State's 2019-20 undergraduate student government

April 24, 2020
<p>ASMSU holds a General Assembly meeting Feb. 27, 2020.</p>

ASMSU holds a General Assembly meeting Feb. 27, 2020.

Photo by Jack Falinski | The State News

Another school year has ended for The Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, and this one has been nothing short of interesting. Here is a look back on the 2019-20 school year from the lens of MSU’s undergraduate student government.

Notable bills

ASMSU’s bike share program was established by the 50th assembly session and has since declined in numbers. In September, a bill was passed to discontinue the bike share program. $30,000 of the bike share funds were allocated to ASMSU’s general fund while the $2,709.91 remaining was used to remove the remaining bike racks.

At the same meeting, ASMSU passed a bill to livestream future GA meetings beginning in the fall 2020 semester, as well as a bill opposing the university’s shortened add/drop class policy.

A bill to implement trayless dining in all dining halls by 2020 was passed. This trayless dining initiative was intended to reduce water and energy usage and reduce student’s food waste.

Currently, 19 college representative seats remain open for the 57th general assembly. In order to fill in these spots, rather than appointing them all, they passed a bill to have a pilot fall election

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First Generation, Mental Health and It’s on Us week

This year, ASMSU hosted the first annual First Generation Appreciation Week at MSU to help and celebrate first generation college students at MSU.

“We had come up with this idea to celebrate first gen students. Myself being a first gen student, I had always had issues as a freshman,” Vice President for Academic Affairs Brianna Aiello said. “So, the idea behind it was to try to appreciate first gens and then provide them with more resources.”

The second annual Mental Health Awareness Week was held in November with efforts to bring the community together in such a “dull” time of year that typically results in mental health struggles for students.

The Prevention, Outreach and Education Department, or POE, along with ASMSU worked to bring another It’s on Us Week to MSU. ASMSU allocated funding to the event that helped bring Laverne Cox to campus.

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President Stanley and interim provost speak at meetings

MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. came to speak ASMSU’s first GA meeting of the spring semester, and interim provost Teresa A. Sullivan attended the following meeting. Both answered questions from the GA about MSU.

Both spoke on the search for MSU’s next provost after June Youatt resigned on Sept. 5.

ASMSU President Mario Kakos served as the only undergraduate student on the provost search committee. Kakos said the majority of his time in the spring semester was dedicated to the search.

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Hosting city council debate

ASMSU’s governmental affairs department was able to host a debate among city council candidates on campus prior to last fall’s election. Vice President for Governmental Affairs Maysa Sitar noted the importance of candidates connecting with MSU students.

“I think it’s really important that the city council candidates are willing to come on to campus and talk to students. That really shows that they’re willing to work with us,” Sitar said. “In terms of the marijuana dispensaries off campus, local police scene, anything along those lines, it’s really important to hear how they plan to operate or how they plan to communicate with students so that students can make an informed vote.” 

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Racist incidents

After a string of racist incidents on MSU’s campus in October, the Black Student Alliance, or BSA, and ASMSU hosted a community forum for students to share their stories and come up with ways to avoid these incidents from happening in the future.

“That event was ultimately one of the most beneficial events that we had as students interacting with faculty and staff,” Vice President for Student Allocations Dylan Catalano said. “As a student government, we need to be also building the opportunities for the students who are being affected by these things to be able to have the ear of administrators that have the ability to change it.” 

Students attended what was meant to be one of ASMSU’s biggest events of the year, ‘Ask Stanley,’ before anonymous crowd members post racist comments during a question and answer session.

The event’s platform, Slido, allowed attendees to post and like questions they wanted asked.

“It still horrifies me to this day that someone could have gone to an event (by) ASMSU and feel attacked in that way,” President Mario Kakos said. “We did the best we could with the information we knew at the time. ... I wish I would have thought that there are not good faith actors in the world, I mean you kind of know it, but you don’t think it’s going to happen at your event.”

Fossil fuel divestment resolution

At the Association of BIg Ten Students conference, the Big Ten student body presidents all signed a resolution demanding their respective institutions to freeze their investments in the fossil fuel industry.

ASMSU in particular has not had direct involvement in this initiative, but in being part of this resolution supported the other schools in the Big Ten and MSU’s Divestment campaign.

Outstanding Student Government award

Members of ASMSU attended many conferences throughout the year, including the Council on Student Government Associations conference, where ASMSU was awarded the Outstanding Student Government award. 

“I personally was able to go to that conference, and it was really insightful to see how other student governments, especially across the southeastern conference and a lot of smaller schools in the south, how their operations are,” said Nora Teagan, vice president for internal administration.

ASMSU tax renewal

This year the student body has to vote to renew ASMSU’s student tax. On top of the renewal, this year ASMSU was seeking the general tax's first increase in 14 years, from $16.75 to $17.25.

They hoped to increase the tax in order to continue providing the same services to students as their prices have gone up, as well.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the MSU administration to remove the tax increase proposal off the student ballot.

“Obviously, the decision for it to be taken off was frustrating, not what I wanted to see. I understand the circumstances certainly,” said Vice President for Finance and Operations Tayte Rider. “But I thought (putting the information together) was really fun and, to be honest, I think that even though the tax increase was denied, I think it being a tax-rule year led to some outreach efforts that were some of the biggest (ASMSU has) ever had.”

The general tax ended up passing, however, by only 64.7% of students voted yes on the renewal. Catalano said he believes ASMSU needs to continue keeping students aware of the importance of the tax and how it benefits students. 

“We were well aware of the advocacy being done against the ASMSU tax passing,” Catalano said. “That told us more than just people don’t want to pay the tax, it had let us know that either students were not aware of the tax they were paying or they didn’t trust ASMSU to do its job.”

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Impact of COVID-19

With the outbreak of COVID-19, just like classes, ASMSU had to turn to online GA meetings held on Zoom. Those running for the 57th session had to run their campaigns remotely

Some of ASMSU’s services had to be changed or put on halt due to the pandemic such as their iClicker rentals, Safe Ride and Red Cedar Log yearbook distributions that are primarily at commencements, which have been canceled. 

“A big impact for me was our Red Cedar Log distribution,” Rider said. “Each year, we print and produce 7,000 books that we distribute throughout the year. … Moving forward, now ... we’re really just trying to prepare for if the fall semester is moved online for a period of time or for the entirety of its time, how are we going to adapt our service offerings and other things to service students even if they’re not here on campus.”

In response to the pandemic, ASMSU passed a number of bills allocating funds to many causes such as the MSU food bank, Safe Place, student health services and more.

Fall break

A pilot fall break was announced for the 2020-21 school year, giving undergraduate students classes off on Oct. 26-27.

As early as October, Kakos and Aiello had meetings with interim provost Sullivan to discuss the possibility of a fall break for MSU students. 

“University council passed the pilot program and then the president consulted in ASMSU and faculty and other administrators on what dates we wanted it to be,” Aiello said. 

There were rumors of these dates being on Election Day, but ASMSU released a statement that they wanted Election Day off on top of an additional fall break. 

Aiello said she worked committees to finalize a fall break proposal, which was then supported by the general assembly.

The effects of the pilot program on the academic calender and planning for a permanent fall break have been pushed back.

18-hour Office of the President election

This year, ASMSU’s presidential election began with a lot of buzz, as there were two candidates running for the position for the first time since 2016. And to add to the layers, one of the candidates was running from a GA representative position. 

This led to some controversy on display during the election that ultimately lasted from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. on Zoom. 

After the nine-hour presidential election, former James Madison College representative Abii-Tah Bih was elected student body president. 

With consent vote, the GA re-elected Aiello as VP for academic affairs, and the remaining positions were elected the following day in another nine-hour election.

The year ahead

ASMSU has been looking at how they will continue their efforts for the student body remotely for the time being, and potentially the fall semester.

Students will get another opportunity to run for the 57th session of the GA in the fall.

The newly elected Office of the President consists of Abii-Tah Bih as president, VP for Finance and Operations Jordan Polk, VP for Academic Affairs Brianna Aiello, VP for Governmental Affairs Maysa Sitar, VP for Internal Administration Nora Teagan and VP for Student Allocations Dylan Catalano.

This unique group contains a president who came from the GA, four returning to the Office of the President and five women. 

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