Students 4 Michigan lists “representation in Ann Arbor City Council” in their platform, but with no elaboration of what that representation would involve. Of their candidates, only LSA Junior Rese Fox specifically mentions it in her bio. She discusses somewhat on her campaign blog(!). Since this is topic of some interest on ArborUpdate, I asked her for more details on how she envisions students, on MSA or otherwise, getting involved in the City government.
Her response is below, and seems like a good plan for MSA to pick up regardless of whether she herself is elected,
MSA should facilitate a connection between students and the general Ann Arbor community. Right now we would like to pursue and build upon active dialog with members of the City Council by sending members from MSA’s External Relations Committee to meetings. City Council makes important decisions that directly impact students like the couch ban and expansion of the historical district, etc. It is important that students’ concerns are heard and that they are informed about legislation that will disproportionately impact students. While MSA would surely look into supporting a student running for the City Council, I hesitate to assert that an MSA representative should work to gain membership on the Council because balancing class, student government and City Council meetings would be quite difficult. However, MSA should also work to inform students on how to participate in City Council meetings and lobby.
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Quality of life in the City of Ann Arbor is also important to students so MSA participation in the City Council should not be limited to strictly student issues. Students showed their desire to increase greenspace in Ann Arbor last year by entering the polls in record numbers to approve Proposal B and the greenbelt. Turnout was 3 times as high as normal in some of the student precincts from what I understand! Also, young people were for B by 6-1. The margin of victory for B in the rest of the city was much closer. Students for PIRGIM (Public Interest Research Group in Michigan) also ran a campaign last year to promote the idea of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to combat the problem of high-priced housing in the city that will only be exacerbated with the greenbelt. This shows that students are willing to address multiple facets of interrelated issues within Ann Arbor. Further, many students volunteer in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, crisis agencies like Ozone House, etc. To say that students’ involvement with city government should be limited to issues that only strictly concern students would seriously neglect MSA’s constituency who regularly participates in economic and quality of life issues in the community.
It’s very frustrating to hear cases of animosity towards students. Judy McGovern chose to take a adversarial stance towards students when writing “New dorms invite look at city housing” and suggesting that year-round residents “reclaim” neighborhoods. This seems to suggest that students are not a legitimate part of the Ann Arbor community. Yet, while students as individuals are not permanent residents of the city, as a collective group they are a enduring community with stakes invested in the area. Further, University of Michigan students are not apathetic: the University has a rich history of political and social action. Imagine what could be accomplished if concerned individuals in the community like McGovern invited the possibility of collaborating with students to help middle- and working-class families gain housing while concurrently working to make housing more affordable for students and full-time residents alike! Although building such a relationship between full-time residents and students will inevitably take time and nurturing, having students attend City Council meetings will help to facilitate this process.