Student governments broaden perspective through diversity

MSA, COGS and PSG focus on member diversity to consider issues that affect the whole student body.

by Rilyn Eischens

Student government bodies at the University of Minnesota are placing an emphasis on recruiting members from diverse backgrounds this school year.

The Minnesota Student Association, Council of Graduate Students and Professional Student Government have reached out to underrepresented groups and will focus on issues that impact minorities and students from other disciplines. While some University students are satisfied with these efforts, others think more could be done.

MSA President Abeer Syedah said that this year they are off to a good start.

About 40 percent of leaders are people of color and about 50 percent are women, she said.

“I would feel very confident saying that particularly representation of students of color and representation of LGBT populations has never been this high,” she said. “I want student government to think about everyone and consider everyone equally.”

Working with people of different backgrounds allows the group to tackle a wider variety of projects, but it’s not always easy, Syedah said.

“Lots of challenges come with diversity, including the fact that you have to take things slower,” she said.

When there are more perspectives to consider, projects don’t move forward as quickly, she said.

MSA Director of Membership Charlie Parker said they increased membership diversity by reaching out to student groups, like cultural and international organizations.

Neuroscience sophomore Amera Hassan is a member of the Al-Madinah Cultural CenterI, which will apply to be represented in MSA this year.

She said she’s glad to see minorities, like Syedah, in high-profile student government leadership positions.

“If you don’t have representation, it’s not like people don’t want to help, they just don’t think about it,” Hassan said.

Erick Domingo, a physiology senior and member of La Raza Student Cultural Center, said he thinks student government could work more with cultural groups on campus.

“There should be more cooperation,” he said. “We don’t see [members of student government] around a lot.”

COGS President Nicholas Goldsmith said issues impacting minority groups like student parents and transgender individuals are part of their annual platform.

“You often have to give extra weight to underrepresented voices,” Goldsmith said. “We try to be conscious of [that] when concerns come forward.”

Goldsmith said personal experiences have made inclusion more important to him.

“As a gay man myself, I benefited a lot from people really taking the time to think about issues that face gay men and to make sure our voices are present,” he said.

PSG President Max Hall said he and Vice President Dane Thompson plan to include more disciplinary diversity within the organization’s leadership this year.

Hall said they have a small applicant pool, which makes it difficult to include students from many fields of study.

There are typically higher numbers of students from the University’s Law School and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, he said.

Parker, MSA’s membership director, said they also want to include a wider range of majors.

While there are many political science and business majors — most likely because those students are more interested in government — including underrepresented disciplines broadens their perspective, he said.

“We’re able to see problems in various aspects of the University that we might not otherwise know about,” Parker said. “[For example], I’m a political science major. I can’t speak to the issues facing students that are studying agriculture.”

The benefits of working with individuals from different backgrounds outweigh any disadvantages, said PSG Vice President Thompson.

“It’s not a burden to have [more] viewpoints. It just helps you see the flaws in your ideas more,” he said. “People looking at it from a different angle helps you make a better decision