Tuesday, June 25, 2024

MSU student organizations say new President Kevin Guskiewicz must listen to, engage with students for change

March 4, 2024
MSU President-elect Kevin Guskiewicz speaking with the media at the Hannah Administration Building on Dec. 11, 2023.  This was a chance for the media to meet Guskiewicz as he prepares to take the role of Michigan State University’s president on March 4, 2024.
MSU President-elect Kevin Guskiewicz speaking with the media at the Hannah Administration Building on Dec. 11, 2023. This was a chance for the media to meet Guskiewicz as he prepares to take the role of Michigan State University’s president on March 4, 2024.

With new MSU President Kevin Guskiewicz starting today, student leaders are looking forward to what they hope will be a fruitful future. To accomplish this, they say, Guskiewicz must listen to student demands. 

Associated Students of Michigan State University, or ASMSU, President Emily Hoyumpa said the student government is excited to welcome Guskiewicz to East Lansing and the Spartan community.

“We remain hopeful that under Dr. Guskiewicz leadership that we become the MSU of tomorrow, and grow the Spartan experience to new heights,” Hoyumpa said in a statement via email. “The Spartan community around the world has gone through a lot, and we also hope Dr. Guskiewicz provides a listening ear as we continue to move forward on our own timelines.”

On Dec. 8, 2023, the Board of Trustees announced that Guskiewicz, who was then the chancellor of University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, would be the university’s next president

The announcement put an end to a year-long presidential search which was prompted by the resignation of former President Samuel L. Stanley in Oct. 2022. Stanley resigned due to what he said was a loss of confidence in the board

Guskiewicz will be the university’s sixth president in six years, following a tumultuous time for the university

“I plan to begin my tenure with a listening and learning tour to hear from the community about how to ensure a bright tomorrow,” Guskiewicz said in an address to the community shortly after his appointment.

Not only is Guskiewicz assuming the position at a tumultuous time for the board, but also as students are calling on the university to better support marginalized students. These demands have been spurred by incidents of racism on campus and the university's investments in Israeli aid. 

Vice President of MSU Arab Cultural Society Saba Saed said the student organization is giving Guskiewicz the benefit of the doubt and is hopeful about the work he will do.

“I think some of us were skeptical at first just because of the way the university is run,” Saed said. “We’ve had so many presidents in the past couple of years that it seems like not much can be done. But because he is new, we’re not expecting the same things because at the end of the day, his role is to represent the university, regardless if you’re new or not.”

Saed said she hopes Guskiewicz takes the initiative to propose more policies centered around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the university and more university-sponsored programs and events centered around Ramadan and Arab Heritage Month. Saed also hopes Guskiewicz pushes for the university to divest from Israel and its weapon manufacturers, she said.

“I think (Guskiewicz’s) actions will speak louder than words, and that is what we’re looking for,” Saed said.

Saed said she hopes Guskiewicz will be collaborative with student leaders, especially those within ACS and its affiliate student organizations

“If you actually got the chance to know us and our culture, you are going to be in for a very light, wholesome time," Saed said. "Our culture is so beautiful that it’s not only an ethnicity, it’s a way of life on how to lead morally and correctly. If you spend time with us and learn from us, it will lead this university to flourish in so many ways."

Senior Alissa Hakim, former vice president of academic affairs for ASMSU, said she hopes Guskiewicz is aware of student support for divestment and would continue those efforts.

“I am hoping for better things once he’s in office,” Hakim said. “These efforts are not going to just stop after we graduate; it’s going to continue for years to come until there is divestment and until we have the infrastructure of support.”

Hakim said with ASMSU’s general assembly passing several bills addressing divestment, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and supporting Palestinian students of all backgrounds, there is still more work to be done.

“There’s always pushback that we receive because there are so many instances where racist and Islamophobic rhetoric is used calling us 'terrorists’ or ‘empathizers’ and it’s really disappointing," Hakim said

During his tenure as UNC Chapel Hill chancellor, Guskiewicz has faced controversy and criticism from Palestinian and Arab students for his response to the alleged assault of a Muslim student a few blocks from the campus following a protest by UNC's Students for Justice in Palestine at the Library, according to the Daily Tar Heel.

Hakim said there’s “no excuse” behind the racism and xenophobia most students have faced on campus and hopes more is done about it when Guskiewicz takes office.

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“I expect the university to really address these things and redirect our campus climate so we can be in a place where we can be in a place where everyone feels included, where everyone feels safe and everyone feels valued," Hakim said

Black Students’ Alliance President Ty’Rianna Leslie said prior to Guskiewicz's arrival, the student organization would like to have more transparency from the university as well as accountability practices so issues like the number of racial incidents toward Black students on campus will not continue.

"Engaging more with BSA will absolutely be fundamental," Leslie said. "That way, we can have a direct relationship to address any concerns we have. We need to take a new approach to racism on campus."

According to the office of the president's website, while the university firmly condemns hate speech, speech that is considered offensive, including biased messages and hateful comments, is protected under the First Amendment. Speech is not constitutionally protected only when it constitutes a “true threat,” “discriminatory harassment,” or falls into another category of unprotected speech, the website states.

"I know this can be very hard because of the First Amendment, but there has to be something that can be done," Leslie said

Leslie said she would like to have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program that is based in a better understanding of discrimination implemented and required for all MSU students.

"By implementing a solid DEI program and making it mandatory, as well as ensuring accountability is given to those who cause the harm," Leslie said. "Maybe some of those things can issued for DEI programs, specifically for minority groups so people can know more information about these things and actually have them hands on and more engaging." 

Leslie said with the appointment of Guskiewicz, he can help answer better needs for Black students by having communications with student organizations like BSA or MSU NAACP.

"Communication is the number one thing," Leslie said. "When speaking with Interim President Woodruff, she said that she didn't know what was going on because she did not hear word of it, which is why we need direct communication with one another. Direct communication with BSA and MSU NAACP would be very important so that we can translate the information to them so they can handle what is going on."

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