Michigan State's Spartans for Sanders student organization originally surrounded its support around Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders through lobbying and community outreach, but after the Michigan primary, the group rebranded and transitioned to the Spartan Solidarity Network, or SSN.
The organization's new focus is to improve conditions for students and university employees, all while targeting the Spartan community.
"After the Michigan primary, Bernie Sanders didn't do as well as we had hoped,” social relations and policy graduating senior Acacia Costales said. “So we thought pretty hard about how could we best embody the ideals that we admire from Bernie Sanders’ campaign and how could we make a difference."
Costales said the COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened the group's motivation to continue working towards their goals and networking with other advocacy groups.
“Nothing has really changed, as far as I can tell, in the group since Bernie Sanders dropped out," Costales said. "We've really just been deciding to focus completely our energy on a pressure campaign with our demands and petition.”
The petition titled: "Take care of your Students and Faculty in the midst of the Coronavirus Crisis,” urges MSU to fulfill the following list of three demands.
1. Free coronavirus testing on campus for students, faculty, and community members.
2. Minimum two weeks paid sick leave per year for all campus workers.
3. Back pay for campus employees' regularly scheduled hours that they could not fulfill because of the coronavirus.
The petition asks the university to provide minimum wage of $15 an hour to all MSU campus employees and a tuition refund for spring 2020 students by the beginning of the 2020 fall semester.
“With the whole crisis that's going on, it's really demonstrated the weaknesses of our systems that we have to deal with issues like this,” political theory junior and SSN organizer Brendan Radtke said. “One of these weaknesses is paid sick leave and something that's been demonstrated is people can't control when they get sick or infected with something.”
Radtke said while the university is working with the students on credits, the education quality is not there.
“Zoom classes are not as effective as what we were doing before and it's not what we paid for,” Radtke said. “It's not what we deserve from our university that's supposed to be giving us one of the best educations available in the world
According to Costales, state Rep. Yousef Rabhi and state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo have both endorsed the petition.
When asked to comment, Gay-Dagnogo replied via email.
“While they have made some efforts to help students during this crisis via their emergency covid fund and refunding on campus students $1200 for their housing expenses," Gay-Dagnogo said. "However, the emergency fund had a maximum of $500 per student and they closed the applications after only 5 days, which inconvenienced many students experiencing one of the most difficult times in their lifetime."
SSN is generally about working-class solidarity and making sure that low income students and other marginalized groups are getting what they need, according to Costales.
"We decided that this is where we needed to put our energy because so many students were losing their jobs or had to go home and didn't have the best home environment for school and then so many workers who aren't students also are facing fewer hours or some less money, or they are being laid off entirely,” Costales said.
Radtke said they're not focusing on the election anymore but instead trying to reach out to the MSU Board of Trustees to encourage them to agree with the list of demands to help students and workers at the university.
“Our group has always been, even while we were campaigning for Bernie, it was always about more than Bernie,” Radtke said. “It was more about what he represented and the vision that he had and the vision that we shared and making that a reality."