4 -Tuesday, February 6, 2007
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Ely Mid'gan al
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I've decided to make the maximum allowable
primary donation to Hillary Clinton,
John Edwards and Barack Obama."
-Actress BARBARA STREISAND on her excitement about the Democratic primary,
as reported yesterday by The Associated Press.
going ngtDm begb~e
thehr day.p +hn h t "ar ae.
Competition MIA in MSA
More competent parties would improve student government
t's the dawn of a new student government election season.
As with any other year, our hopes are high for competi-
tive elections and multiple, ideologically diverse parties to
ensure that competent and creative individuals run our student
government next year. But last week, when the catch-all Michi-
gan Action Party announced its major candidates and campaign
issues, it became clear that those hopes might be dashed yet
again. This year's race is poised to be no more innovative or trail-
blazing than any other.
There is, of course, no way to know how
committed the newly nominated are to the
platforms of their parties or, more impor-
tantly, to the productive role of the Michi-
gan Student Assembly. But in past years,
the domination of the electoral process
by one major, broad-based party has done
little to encourage responsible governance
or inspire creative change.
Before the Michigan Action Party there
was Students 4 Michigan. Before Students
4 Michigan there was the Students First
Party. But really, the three parties are dif-
ferent only in name. Like its predecessors,
MAP's platform is as broad and inclusive
as its candidates. It succeeds in sweep-
ing away a host of single-issue parties by
co-opting their issues into MAP's plat-
form. Last year, for example, MAP ran on
a pro-affirmative action platform, draw-
ing potential votes away from the Defend
Affirmative Action Party.
But these mega parties have proven to
be little more than vehicles for electing
candidates. The broad-based coalitions
that were -so effective in getting party
candidates elected prove ineffective, and
little progress can be made on important
student issues. In other words, when the
election is over, it's the students who lose.
This year seems no different. MAP's
nominees for LSA Student Government,
LSA sophomore Keith Reisinger and LSA
sophomore Hannah Madoff, have very
familiar-sounding goals, like altering
LSA's race and ethnicity requirement and
lowering textbook prices. No details are
offered for these recycled proposals.
What is supposed to be a competitive
and discriminating process to get elected
people who are passionate about issues
and serious about responsible governance
in MSA has so far failed once again. Stu-
dents need more choices and more defined
information about the parties. This is
especially true of MAP, which, along with
its predecessors, prefers to stick to vaga-
ries and trumpet the same old accomplish-
ments of years past.
While last year's infamous Student Con-
servative Party may not have been the
right way to go, at least it stood for some-
thing. Having several parties from differ-
ent ideological backgrounds fighting for
the student vote would make MSA more
responsive and focused on the issues stu-
dents care about.
Student government should not exist for
the sake of ego-boosting or resume-build-
ing. Candidates will always have topics
they are passionate about, but making good
on a commitment to strengthen student
government, and by extension, the Univer-
sity, should be number one on the list.
bout once a week, Zack Yost
forwards an e-mail about some
upcoming event to the student
body of the College of Engineering.
Last Friday, for the first time, admin-
istrators blocked his message.
Yost, an Engineering junior who is
running for president of the Michi-
gan Student Assembly, was trying to
Date Auction, a
charity event to
raise money to
build a women's
shelter and clinic
on the outskirts
of Puno, Peru.
Most of the S
women there DONN M.
don't live near
a hospital and FMSARD
face high mor-
tality rates dur-
ing childbirth. Project Suyana, a new
group on campus, hoped to help those
women by auctioning off dates with
prominent students. They lined up an
a capella group, an improv comedy
troupe and a pseudo-celebrity host,
Johnny Lechner, also known as the guy
who has been in college for 13 years.
Sounds like a good time, right?
Administrators at the College of Engi-
neering didn't think so. A moderator of
the e-mail group in question told Yost
that the event was too dangerous and
insensitive to advertise to students.
of all the members of the group and
the 20 students who went up for bid-
ding, it never occurred to anyone that
a date auction could be considered con-
troversial. It's hard to blame them. In
the weeks leading up to the auction, I
explained the event to at least two dozen
friends and acquaintances to gauge
their reactions. Most thought it sound-
ed fun. A few found the idea anachro-
nistic or said they wouldn't want to be
boughtfor a date. I couldn't find anyone
who was remotely offended.
Apparently, University administra-
tors think they knowbetter. According
to an advisory University policy, date
auctions devalue human beings, look
like slave auctions and invite sexual
assault. "It's hard for me," Susan Wil-
son, an assistant dean of students, told
a Daily reporter last week. "It's like
seeing a Nazi symbol."
differently. But I looked hard for any-
thing comparable to a Nazi symbol at the
date auctionon Friday,and Ijustcouldn't
see it. I saw students playfully strutting
up and down a catwalk, whipping off
their jackets and striking G-rated sug-
gestive poses. I saw an appreciative and
unusually diverse audience mingling by
the punch bowl and running up the bids
on their friends.
The men and women up for auc-
tion didn't look like they felt devalued.
These were successful students, many
of them leaders of campus groups
and captains of athletic teams. They
seemed fully able to take care of them-
selves, and if they've read the Univer-
sity's policy on date auctions, I suspect
they found it hilarious.
Most of them were bought by friends
in the audience. For those who weren't,
Project Suyana is sending escorts to
supervise their dates at Salsarita's. At
worst, a few of them might be in for an
awkward burrito dinner and an extra-
neous Facebook friend.
Is it possible that some students
found the auction insensitive? Sure.
There are always a few students here
who will jump at any chance to be
offended. These days, though, there
don't seem to be many of them. Staffers
in the dean of students' office couldn't
recall fielding any complaints about
the widely advertised auction.
This date auction, by the way, might
be the biggest student-group success
story of the year. Reda Jaber, Project
Suyana's membership director and the
auction's architect, correctly predicted
that booking good entertainment and
auctioning off some of the best-known
students on campus would bring in a
large number of students from a wide
array of backgrounds.
"People looked at me like I was
crazy when I suggested auctioning off
someone like (All-American defensive
end) LaMarr Woodley," Jaber told me.
It turned out to be a huge success.
Organizers sold 250 tickets at $5 to
$10, and the 20 students up for auction
took in $100 to $325 each. Along with
donations from sponsors, the event
likely raised several thousand dollars.
To put that in perspective, Mock
Rock, one of the biggest student-run
about this date
charity events on campus, raised
$15,000 in its first two years. And that
was with the full backing of the Ath-
letic Department. It's not unreason-
able to suggest that the Suyana date
auction could raise more than $10,000
a few years down the road., That-kind
of money could make a real difference.
Universityofficials thinkthis eventis
offensive and dangerous. What's really
dangerous is that most women in the
Peruvian city of Puno are giving birth
in unsanitary conditions because they
can't make it to the city's only working
hospital. And what's really offensive is
that University officials would rather
scrub the campus clean of imagined
insensitivity than support the students
who are trying to help them.
Donn M. Fresard can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SEND LETTERS TO: TOTHEDAILY@UMICH.EDU
Daily should leave Order
ofAngell to its secrecy
TO THE DAILY:
I am extremely tired of reading articles
about Michigamua/Order of Angell. Why
does the Daily have such an ax to grind
regarding this society that it feels the need
to report on it week-after-week-after-week?
It's supposed to be a secret society - I say, let
it remain secret!
It was only interesting to read about the
group's controversial history for a week,
maybe two, when I was a freshman. Now I'm
a junior and I can't think of any other topic,
except for maybe Proposal 2, that's been so
thoroughly reported on in this paper. At least
Proposal 2 mattered.
I don't care to know when some campus
group tries to get publicity by taking on the
Order of the Angell and disallows its mem-
bers from participation in some kind of stu-
dent caucus. I don't care what the status of its
historical office space in the Michigan Union
is. I especially don't care to read the opinion
of any more students or faculty members who
claim that it remains a racist organization,
when it is so achingly clear that it is not.
Let the members of this group be. Let
them get around to doing whatever it is they
actually do. I do not care about the details,
so please do not report on Michigamua any
Ex-terrorist event was
unproductive on all sides
TO THE DAILY:
I went to last Tuesday's event featuring
three ex-terrorists expecting an objective,
intellectual discussion about the causes of
faith-based hatred and extremism. Instead,
I found myself surrounded by individuals
from both extremes of the political spec-
trum, with each side wearing its own brand
On the one side, we had the propagandistic
language in Young Americans for Freedom
Vice President Ryan Fantuzzi's introduction.
I once taught high school students a unit
about the persuasive mechanisms that pro-
pagandists often use, and within the course
of Fantuzzi's short talk I counted almost all
of them (no small accomplishment). These
mechanisms included labeling protesters as
"local apathetics" and "liberals," general-
izing that "people who support peace and
freedom" desire seats being occupied by pro-
testers (as though these terms hold univer-
sally agreed-upon meanings) and emotional
appeals like inciting anger and attempting
to keep alive the fear of Muslim extrem-
ism. They also included associating protest-
ers to the militant group Hezbollah because
of their yellow shirts, the use of symbols to
convey identity, and best of all, the use of the
bandwagon mechanism in the opening reci-
tation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Similarly,
the speakers' broad generalizations of the
Muslim faith, heavy reliance on anecdotes
and adoption of a neoconservative-inspired
Christian fundamentalism placed them
squarely on the far right, along with the
On the other side, protesters, while gener-
ally quiet and peaceful, displayed an unwill-
ingness to let the presenters communicate
freely, asking attendees to leave before hear-
ing the speakers' messages. The heckling,
although rare, was particularly obnoxious
and discredited the group's mostly mature
handling of the event. Particularly disturb-
ing were shouts and signs decrying Zionism
- the irony being that discussing the Israeli-
Palestinian conflictin black-and-white terms
is as ridiculous and shortsighted as labeling
all Muslims as terrorists.
What I went to this event for is something
I still desire: a well-reasoned and unbiased
conversation about the growing problem of
The letter writer is a former editor of the Eastern
Michigan University Echo
Our flawed activism
ast week, the right-wing student
group Young Americans for
Freedom put on an event that
inspired hundreds to protest in the
deep freeze. The same nut jobs who
brought us November's "Catch an Ille-
gal Immigrant Day" proved yet again
that they could mobilize impassioned
students in numbers the College Dem-
ocrats can only dream of This just
shows that activ- -_ -
ism at Michigan
has a serious
problem, and it's
YAF brought :
rorists" to cam-
pus to stress the
link between the
religion of Islam
and terrorism. MARA
The speakers GAY
and unimpres- -- ----
sive - likely low-level terrorists
shucking and jiving to the tune of the
American right wing for promised
benefits in return.
The real stars of the event, howev-
er, were the YAFers themselves, who
managed to provide us with another
familiar scene of infuriated protesters
and hungry news cameras. The event
was a major YAF success, doing exactly
what it was designed to do: exploit our
deepest divisions and our most embed-
ded prejudices to end productive dia-
logue between student groups.
YAF in itself, of course, is a weak
entity, little more than a disaffected
group of individuals devoid of criti-
cal thought and compassion. But the
group is empowered by this campus's
inability to confront an atmosphere
of anger and suspicion between iden-
tity-based student groups (and stu-
dents) that makes the open exchange
of ideas impossible.
It's not that consensus is impos-
sible. There is, in fact, a wealth of
common ground to be had. Both the
Jewish and black American com-
munities, for example, have a vested
and historical interest in ending the
genocide in Sudan. The cause would
benefit greatly from a working collab-
oration between, let's say, Hillel and
the Black Student Union. But until
there is an environment of respect
and understanding among the stu-
dents and groups that make up our
so-called diverse campus, any effort
to create these kinds of coalitions will
be in vain.
When it is broad-based and inclu-
sive, community organizing is a force
to be reckoned with. In a nation where
politicians can't even be trusted with
their 16-year-old pages, thinking
about grassroots change may not be
such a bad idea. Before we end the war
in Iraq, save Darfur and solve global
warming, we might want to think
about cleaning house. Judging by the
way we treat each other on this cam-
pus, YAFers have no need to get their
bowties in a tizzy just yet - there'll
be no broad-based movement across
lines of race and class anytime soon.
It isn't apathy that prevents our
campus from organizing and tackling
the big issues. Hundreds waited on the
steps of Rackham Auditorium in frigid
temperatures to see last week's event,
and the fury it provoked was palpable.
The problem is that when it comes
to the issues that matter most to this
student body - among them the Pales-
tinian-Israeli conflict and affirmative
action - our conversations become
emotionally charged and intolerant (if
not anti-Semitic and racist). We feel
silly and small as we attempt to create
an open dialogue in an environment of
ignorance and mistrust.
Two years ago, the Michigan Stu-
dent Assembly voted against the cre-
ation of a committee that would have
contemplated divestment from com-
panies doing business with Israel.
Hundreds of students packed into the
Michigan Union like sardines. They
were all passionate, hoping to share
their stories. Instead chaos reigned.
Israelsupporters wore blue "Wherever
we stand, we stand with Israel" shirts,
and Palestinian supporters sported
black "Free Palestine" shirts. Cries
of anti-Semitism and anti-Arab rac-
ism drowned out reason and another
chance for real dialogue was lost.
Then there was the pro-affirma-
tive action rally in November 2005,
sponsored by the controversial group
BAMN. Detroit high school students,
most of them black, were recruited to
run around on the Diag and scream
unintelligibly from the stairs of the
graduate library as minority Univer-
sity students cringed with embarrass-
ment. Rest assured, YAF was on hand
to enjoy the spectacle.
When we are brave enough to
look, what we will find is as ugly and
destructive as any YAF rally has ever
been: We are a campus of strangers,
alien to one another. We may share the
misfortune of walking to class in 7-
degree weather or the joy of watching
our football team, but we don't really
know each other. We live separately,
study separately and date separately.
We don't even get drunk together.
Then we assemble on the Diag every
so often to scream at each other from
across the battle lines.
The stage is set. The major play-
ers are all present. When that curtain
goes up, all YAF has to do is sit back
and enjoy the show.
Mara Gay can be reached
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