MSA sets up new service initiative: Improve U

The undergraduate student government is also looking into emergency telephones on campus.

Jenna Wilcox

The Minnesota Student Association announced plans for a new service initiative called âÄúImprove UâÄù during TuesdayâÄôs forum.

The project is an MSA-funded grant of $10,000 for any student or group of students to use for improving campus in some way. MSA will supervise and assist in the project, but the grant is available to anyone with or without an affiliation with MSA.

The main goal is to raise student interest in MSA and for the University of Minnesota but also to lighten the workload and stress on MSA as much as possible compared with previous service initiatives, speaker Drew Horwood said.

âÄúWe want to be able to empower students to change their campus in a very real and lasting way, in a way that they can be proud of,âÄù Horwood said during his presentation.

Students applying for the grant only have to meet two criteria: The idea has to be feasible and have an impact on the University in some way.

âÄúI think most students want to do something important that will have an impact on future generations,âÄù Horwood said. âÄúHow often in your life can you say someoneâÄôs given you $10,000 to do anything you want with?âÄù

Horwood, who describes the project as his âÄúbrainchildâÄù of the past two years, said heâÄôs always dreamt of having a giant statue of Goldy in front of Coffman Union.

MSA is open to ideas for the new initiative, but they must be open to all students and have a reasonable impact on the student body, like a fundraiser to raise money for scholarships.

The funding for the project comes from MSAâÄôs annual presidential grant that has always been used to fund an engagement initiative.

In the past, MSA used the money for âÄúLend-a-Hand, Hear-the-Band,âÄù in which students were challenged to complete as many volunteer hours as possible. The top hundreds of students would be invited to a free concert in Coffman UnionâÄôs Great Hall for a relatively well-known musical artist.

But three years ago, MSA halted the project due to various complications.

âÄúIt just ended up being a disaster,âÄù Horwood said. âÄúThe costs were skyrocketing, and it was eating into additional funds in our budget that could have been put toward something much more worthwhile.âÄù

He said he hopes âÄúImprove UâÄù will continue after this year so students can see each yearâÄôs contribution around campus.

Students have until March 9 to apply for the grant, and the winner will be notified by the April 10 forum.

MSA also voted unanimously to join six other universities, including Harvard University, in signing a letter from Northwestern University supporting nonviolence in response to campus Occupy movement protests.

The letter was spurred by a viral internet video of two police officers who pepper-sprayed seated protesters at the University of California-Davis in November.

The letter urges universities to provide public space for protests as well as to âÄúwork to uphold the freedoms of free speech and peaceful assemblyâÄù and âÄúavoid the use of force in dealing with peaceful student protests.âÄù

Before voting, MSA president Lizzy Shay informed the forum that during the last meeting of the University Senate, President Eric Kaler addressed the issue and affirmed his belief that students on campus have the right to free speech.

MSA representatives are also working to develop new ideas for student safety on campus.

Over winter break, MSA sent four representatives to the Association of Big Ten Students conference at the University of Illinois and came back with several ideas.

According to a test done by the University of Illinois on its emergency phone polls âÄî similar to the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Code Blue Emergency Phones âÄî over the past 10 years, several phones had never been used, and the majority didnâÄôt work.

âÄúThatâÄôs $600,000 going to waste,âÄù said Jilian Koski, a ranking at-large representative to MSA.

Students at Illinois suggested creating either call button key chains or student IDs that would turn into a GPS tracker when pressed.

MSA plans to look into the UniversityâÄôs emergency phone system. Then, they will see if one of the options Illinois students brought up will be feasible here.