CSG Candidate Profile: aMplify
By Hannah Harshe
When Sujay Shetty talks about his presidential candidacy for Central Student Government, he often uses the phrase “I was lucky enough to...”
I was lucky enough to be involved in rate negotiations. I was lucky enough to be appointed as the co-chair for the committee. I was lucky enough to be appointed as chief of staff for Anushka.
Perhaps it’s pure modesty that drives Shetty’s diction, or perhaps it’s just a meaningless phrase he developed a habit of staying. No matter the reason, it is overwhelmingly clear that there is very little luck involved with Shetty’s success at making change on campus, or with the campaign of his party, Amplify. In fact, despite his recurrent use of this phrase, Shetty is the exemplar of hard work.
Shetty met his running mate, Matthew Williams, not in student government, but in the dorms.
“I was his RA, actually,” Williams says with a laugh. “I had him as a freshman and got to tell him all sorts of good things that he should and shouldn’t do. Who knows if he listened? But he must have! I got him here.”
The same year that Williams was his RA, Shetty got involved with student government for the first time.
“I did a little bit of student government in high school, but not too much,” he explains. “I never really got too involved. You know, the programming is great, planning prom is great, but it didn’t really have the high impact. I was always into advocacy...I was active during my high school years, but didn’t really have a chance to have an activity where I could take a leadership position and be immersed in civic engagement.”
This changed as soon as Shetty stepped on U of M’s campus. He joined the Residence Halls Association, in which he chaired the Rates Special Committee and eventually served as their president. This past was his first year in Central Student Government, and he served as Chief of Staff to Anushka Sarkar, the student body president. (“I’ve been lucky enough to experience firsthand what unique challenges are within CSG itself and how I can change that if I were to become president,” he says.)
Shetty believes that his various leadership roles have adequately prepared him to run for student body president.
“Student leadership experience is very important to run for Central Student Government,” he says. “But not necessarily within Central Student Government. One of the big mistakes that CSG consistently does is that there’s a culture of ‘we know what’s best for the university better than everybody else does,’ when, actually, the people that are experiencing the daily life at the university, or in those various groups that we’re trying to do good for, they know what’s best for them. So student leadership from a variety of backgrounds is necessary in student government.”
Williams brings a vastly different set of skills to the table. He graduated from the university last year with dual degrees from Ross and LSA, and he is currently in his first year at the law school. He believes that his perspective as a graduate student will make CSG more representative of all students on campus, not just undergraduates.
“Graduate students have a different set of challenges, they have a different set of needs, they require different resources,” he explains. “I want a Central Student Government that reflects the experiences of its students. Whether that’s CSG candidates from a diverse background, or from all schools, whatever that may be, I want to be part of something that tries to capture a little bit of our Michigan diversity...I think in the past CSG has been somewhat racked with division, and I’m hoping that if we’re elected we can try to break down those barriers a little bit.”
During his time as an undergraduate, Williams was particularly involved, although not necessarily with CSG. He was an academic coach at Ross, an RA for the Michigan Research Community, a research assistant, and a LEAD scholar. In the law school, he is a member of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association and the Black Law Students Association.
“At the risk of sounding self-centered,” he says of his status as a graduate student, “I do think that with the age and experience comes a certain degree of perspective and insight that may not be as readily accessible for some of the undergrads. I hope I can provide a little bit of that to the other members of the party, the rest of the ticket, and the campaign.”
Williams’ experience on campus as an undergraduate pushes Amplify to ensure that its policies promote making campus accessible for those of all identities.
“I had a slightly different experience than a lot of people,” he explains. “I was a working student all the way through. I did benefit from some financial aid, but in the end, if I wanted to make the college thing work, I had to work during the year. So I spent most of my undergrad experience working one or two jobs. I think that experience alone taught me the differences in the Michigan experience.”
Shetty notes, “The biggest things that I’ve been passionate about during my time with CSG are college access and affordability.” He recalls that when he lived in the Michigan Research Community, there was an opportunity to return to the community as a sophomore and serve as a mentor for the incoming freshmen. Unfortunately, many of his peers chose not to apply for this position— not because they didn’t want to, but because the residence halls were too expensive for them to live in a second year.
“That really hurt me, to see my peers be like, ‘Okay, it’s too expensive for me, I’m not going to take part in this leadership opportunity,’” he explains. “That gave me the drive to work even harder with making sure that our second year of rates negotiations was very fruitful in what we were able to come up with for our students who live on campus or off campus.”
When it comes to their CSG campaign, Shetty and Williams have big dreams about making campus more accessible and affordable to students of all identities.
“One of the interesting things that I’ve learned about student government is that the president wants to do a lot of things, but the president is not equipped with a magic wand,” Shetty says. “But if I was equipped with a magic wand to be able to accomplish one thing, I think it would be great for us to have financial aid keep up with and compete with the tuition and cost of living increases. (...) I think one of the big ways we can do that is ensuring that the Go Blue Guarantee not only is for tuition fees, but also is for the entire cost of attendance.”
Shetty notes that this type of all-inclusive financial aid may be critical in ensuring that the top students in the country are able to consider Michigan as an option.
“Our university likes comparing itself to Ivy League schools,” he says. “Well, a lot of our Ivy League peers, for a certain kind of income level, completely cover cost of living and cost of attendance.”
However, like Shetty noted, the CSG president is not equipped with a magic wand. When it comes to more realistic ways to make campus affordable, he turns to student organization funding.
“We have a student org funding crisis,” he says, noting that this was mentioned by LSASG president Nicholas Fadanelli in a CSG Assembly meeting. “There are millions of dollars in funding requests that the Student Organization Funding Commission (SOFC) receives. However, SOFC is only able to disperse a little less than half a million. That is an issue.”
How does Amplify plan to solve this?
“First of all, we want to restructure tuition fees,” Shetty explains. “So that the burden does not fall on the students. Also, create guidelines that empower and specifically prioritize any activities which involve things like coalition building or some of those kinds of strong values that we would want our CSG administration to have. There are barriers to student engagement on this campus. Student orgs are one of the big ways that students can engage on this campus and really make Michigan their home, and it’s really unfortunate that we have so many barriers for students getting involved.”
“It is imperative that we focus those funding resources towards those kind of social justice components, towards those dialogues, towards supporting the arts, because those are the cornerstones, the bastion of the Michigan experience,” Williams adds. “We understand that it may not be that we can fund everything, but it means that we can prioritize our funding toward the areas that have the most impact on our student lives, both here and beyond.”
Hand-in-hand with accessibility comes representation. I ask Shetty and Williams if they can cite a specific incident in which they’ve seen the need for more diversity on campus.
“If your readers were here, they would see that I don’t look like a lot of people on campus,” Williams says. “I’m multiracial, I’m primarily African American and Chinese American, and if you’re asking for a specific incident, I can’t give you a specific incident, because there are incidents every day. Practically any member of these groups, whether it’s women, minorities, LGBTQ, can tell you that every day, every month, every year, you face a thousand subtle indignities.”
Shetty notes his experience in an EECS class in the College of Engineering: “I saw that there were not just subtle hints of misogyny, but it was everywhere. It came not only from students, but also from professors. This is going to keep our non-male students out of engineering! I remember in my EECS 203 class, this one girl had what I thought was a legitimate question. She asked it in class and the professor just dismissed her in front of the whole class. It’s not fair for them! It’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy that we’re going to have underrepresentation of non-male students in fields like engineering because this is what we do.”
In terms of the sexism in his engineering class, Shetty is willing to admit, “I’m a male so I’m not seeing everything. I can only imagine how it is to be a [female in engineering].”
Amplify addresses these issues of diversity and representation in the “Unite and Empower” section of their platform. “How it starts for us is making sure that our party is representative of the people on the campus. We wanted to make sure that we had advice from a variety of backgrounds, advice from a variety of schools, so we can build from that,” Williams explains.
The party notes on its platform that it wants to focus on coalition building between high-impact student organizations and increased student civic engagement by tabling at Residence Halls and University Academic Buildings.
“It starts from a willingness to acknowledge we don’t have all the answers, that we’re coming from distinctive and individual perspectives, distinctive and individual experiences,” Williams says. “If we’re going to engage this campus, if we’re going to engage people from a variety of perspectives, we’re going to have to get out there and have these conversations and be frank. I like to think of the university as a family. That doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree, in fact it means that there are going to be points of disagreement, but it means that we will listen and we will respect and we will figure out how we can work together.”
Fundamentally, Shetty and Williams’ campaign stems from a deep love for the university.
“I’ve been, continually inspired by the students who go here,” Shetty says. “Obviously, there’s a brilliance that is kind of standard here at Michigan. Everyone here is really smart and everything. But there are people here who have beaten the odds to even come here, and there are people here who are beating the odds every single day. Watching that happen is so inspiring.”
Williams agrees. His parents went to Michigan, and his younger brother and sister will be attending in the fall, so Michigan is a family for him in more ways than one. “My favorite thing about the people of this campus is just how engaged and how intrigued people are,” he says. “They turn out to be so multilayered and multifaceted that it can just completely shift your perspective.”
Shetty hopes that, as president, he’ll have the opportunity to do as much good for this university as he can. “I can confidently state that our slate of candidates and core team members understand the nuances behind a lot the decision making and how we’re going to advocate for those things,” he says. “So we had our policy team go through every single platform point and have a plan on how to actually get that done in a year.”
“No matter what happens, I think Amplify as a party and Amplify members will always have our students’ back, because that’s what Michigan’s about,” Williams adds confidently. “We’re a family here.”