MSA aims to engage student groups

The organization hopes to advocate for more students’ needs this year.

Sarah Connor

In the coming months, leaders of the Minnesota Student Association will visit more than 60 student groups.

The meetings are part of a new initiative from MSA leaders who felt they weren’t sufficiently serving students outside their organization. MSA hopes to improve its relationships with student groups and better represent and advocate for the needs of the student body by reaching out.

“We take the stories of the student groups that we hear and bring them to the relevant parties,” MSA Vice President John Reichl said, “and say, ‘Look, we’ve talked to student groups, this is what they want, this is why they want it and this is how were going to advocate for them.’”

In the past, the student government hasn’t actively tried to help groups with their problems or even find out what those problems are, MSA President Joelle Stangler said. A lot of issues on which MSA has taken action have been brought up by its own members, she said.

To change that, MSA plans on increasing outreach to the broader campus community to learn about other existing problems, Stangler said.

The initiative was a goal within the organization to better understand groups’ concerns and needs, Reichl said, rather than a result of negative feedback.

The more than 60 groups MSA members are meeting with responded to an email from the student government asking to speak at group meetings, Stangler said. The concerns they’ve heard so far have been mostly about the campus bus system and the lack of healthy food in dining halls and Coffman Union, she said.

Other problems groups take issue with include the attitude toward healthy eating on campus and the lack of on-campus space for some student groups — an issue MSA passed a resolution to help fix earlier this month.

Luke DeMars and Kyle Greene, who are members of the student group Society of Physics Students, worry about the fate of their group during upcoming construction work on the Tate Laboratory of Physics, where it has had workspace for the past six years.

Reichl came to their group’s meeting last week to hear their concerns, and members are hoping MSA can help them find a solution to their space issue.

“What we hope MSA will do for us is to make our problem known,” DeMars said. “I feel like with MSA on our side, we’ll be able to get more leverage.”

Stangler said other larger issues, like campus safety and college affordability, are key concerns for students that MSA can’t necessarily pass a resolution to help solve. However, the student leaders will still address those issues with University leaders.

In addition to helping MSA become more representative of the student body it serves, the initiative has helped the organization connect with groups face to face, something Reichl said it struggled with in the past.

Ryan Hedblom, MSA’s director of student outreach and engagement, said the initiative will give MSA a platform to tackle campus concerns of which it wasn’t aware.

“We can hold as many town halls as we want to hear student issues,” he said. “But people still have to come to them, so this is a better way to meet with a lot more people and hear more problems.”

Stangler said she wants the initiative to boost campus confidence in MSA and what it does.

“I hope that it helps strengthen the connection,” she said. “I hope that it makes people know that student government is a resource and they can trust that it’s a resource.”