CSG Candidate Profile: MVision

By Hannah Harshe

When I first arrived at counselor orientation for the camp where I used to spend my summers working, the camp admin taught me a little saying that I would end up repeating to my campers every single day.

You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it.

It’s a valuable saying no matter who you are, but when you work with kids, it becomes particularly important. As soon as someone tattles on someone, or says, “but she started it!”, or starts crying because she doesn’t like what someone else is wearing, this saying comes tumbling out of my mouth instinctively.

You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it.

Of course, my twelve-year-old campers didn’t always internalize this saying particularly well.  If only I had known MVision’s executive candidates when I was a camp counselor, I would have used their story to exemplify this truth.

Daniel Greene and Izzy Baer have gone through a lot at the University of Michigan, and their campaign for the Central Student Government is their response to it.

 

“Historically, to give you some perspective, a President and Vice President come together, they build a platform, and they sell it to people, and that’s how they build a core team,” Greene, MVision’s Presidential candidate explains to me as we sit at a table in the loud, busy basement of the Michigan Union. Next to him is Baer, who is MVision’s Vice Presidential Candidate, and next to me is MVision’s communications strategist, Adam Seltzer. Greene explains that instead of following the traditional process, he and Baer held off on writing their platform and focused on building a core team by selling their “values and long-term image for campus.”

“Then we made the platform-writing process a core team effort,” he explains. “So regardless of whether you’re a policy advisor, a director of reps, a campaign manager, party chair, everybody sat around the table and contributed. To contribute, you had to have a direct experience with an event. That’s how we can ensure, because we know we don’t cover all the identities between the two of us on campus, that we can get as close to making sure that every community and every voice on this campus is heard within our platform.”

This concept of direct experience distinguishes MVision from every other party running for Central Student Government. MVision’s platform noticeably deviates from the issues that most other parties focus on. It features sexual assault prevention training, mental health resources, cross-contamination training for dining hall workers, and women’s empowerment. Every single platform point comes from the direct experience of an MVision team member.

“I’ve had some of the best moments that Michigan can offer, and I’ve also had some of the really, I wouldn’t say the lowest of lows, but I can’t even fathom having a worse experience,” Greene shares. “[Our platform comes from] the experience of the people who we have working with us on our team and our representatives. Because of that direct experience, we can really make a change long-term on campus.”

 

Daniel Greene’s direct experience extends into realms far darker than one would initially imagine based on his open, friendly demeanor and intelligent manner of speaking.

I was familiar with his name after reading an article in the Michigan Daily that commends him for his experience as Michigan’s first openly gay president of a social fraternity. When I mention this, Greene is quick to note the challenges that came from this experience: “When that article came out, some of the brothers were upset.”

His reaction to this, of course, is policy. “I am willing to take the blows personally to provide others the umbrella or shield from all the adversity they are facing,” he says. “I might not have all the identities that are the most marginalized. A big component of our team is bringing those invisible identities to the table, such as the LGBTQ community, such as those who struggle with mental health, or survivors, or those of lower economic status. Whatever the case may be, we’re gonna fight for them.”

The lowest of the lows for Greene occurred last winter, when his fraternity little committed suicide. “The desire to have nobody else go through that experience ever again is really the difference between me just wanting to be involved as an elected rep or chair of a committee, and run for president,” he says.

 

Greene’s experience on campus is not limited to the low points that inspired him to run. He’s also an extremely involved student leader. His first year, he was an elected representative and the budget allocations committee chair for LSA Student Government.

“At that point in time, I wanted to spend four to ten hours of my week doing student government because I thought there was a great opportunity that CSG, LSASG, and other student governments on our campus have to make a change,” he recalls. “We do operate on large budgets, we are able to provide the student body with solidarity, we’re able to provide resources, events, spirit.”

Greene believes his extensive experience with student government has provided him with the adequate experience for a successful administration as CSG president. “When it comes to CSG stuff, there’s not only rules from the administration and our constitution, as in the CSG constitution, but also rules as a public institution from the state,” he says. “There’s actually been previous experiences, not recently, where CSG or LSASG has been sued in an actual court of law because of these mishappenings. [My time as budget allocations committee chair] was the greatest opportunity to really get into the nitty-gritty here on campus and understand that we have a six-figure annual operating budget. How can we apply it without breaking the rules and how can we most productively serve the student body?”

In addition to his positions on CSG and LSASG, Greene has served as the president of his social fraternity and volunteers as a leader for Wolverine Support Network. This is no easy task, seeing as he also works two work-study jobs. (“I do have to take those hours,” he explains. “I don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Oh, I wanna run for president so I’m gonna resign from those positions.’ I need the money.”)

When it comes to his student involvement, he says, “It’s not just a thing on LinkedIn or on my resume. It’s not a bump in credit for me, but knowing that when I go to sleep at night, that I’m genuinely doing everything I can to make that change.”

 

To best understand Baer, MVision’s Vice Presidential candidate, imagine her in high school. She’s drenched in sweat after lacrosse practice and driving an hour and a half to Brooklyn every single day to work a phone bank for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. (“That was an extremely shaping experience,” she shares with a laugh.) Baer is characterized by a limitless, unwavering dedication to women’s empowerment.

Baer’s primary inspiration is her grandmother, a Jewish woman who was born in Germany in 1925. When I ask Baer if she’s willing to share this story, she says, “Yeah, but I’m going to start crying.”

Baer’s grandmother escaped Nazi Germany and lived in France, where she was in hiding for five years, unable to be Bat Mitzvahed or see any of her friends. When the war ended, she was thirteen years old and didn’t speak a word of English, but she came to the United States anyway, determined to build a new life for herself.

“Her biggest tool was education,” Baer says. “She learned English, she got rid of her accent somehow, went to college, got a degree in economics and began working. In the 1950s, an immigrant woman working was definitely not the norm.”

Baer’s grandmother dedicated her life to female activism, working with Planned Parenthood and volunteering with children of low socioeconomic status to improve their educational opportunities.

“She passed away about a year and a half ago, so I continue to look at what she’s done in her life and all that she’s contributed,” Baer says.

If Baer is seeking to live a life that would make her grandmother proud, she is certainly doing a good job of it. She has worked on three campaigns for women in government, including the Clinton campaign, as well as a local campaign in which her district’s first female was elected as a councilwoman, and a legislative internship for Sandy Galef, the longest serving Assemblywoman in the New York State legislature. At U of M, Baer has organized a panel on Women in Government, which will take place in March of 2018, and has worked to implement intergroup relation training for all incoming Panhellenic Women.

Baer currently serves as Vice Speaker of the Central Student Government Assembly and views her role on student government as an “amazing platform to make those changes” regarding women’s empowerment.

“My mom has never not worked,” Baer explains. “That was something that was extremely shaping to me, knowing that she could raise children and have a family and really pursue whatever she wanted in her career. So now I’m working to create those resources for other women on our campus who maybe didn’t have that amazing opportunity at home. I’m working with them, working with the career center, working with women faculty at our university, especially women in underrepresented fields, such as government, STEM, and business, and creating mentorship programs and events where we can go, and we can ask questions.”

 

When I ask Baer which platform point she’s most excited about, she points to the SAPAC empowerment fund, which would allocate resources to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center in order to provide advocates and volunteers with more comprehensive training about consent, healthy relationships, bystander intervention, and survivor empowerment.

“It’s time to address the culture that makes that so necessary,” Baer says. “22.5 percent of undergraduate females report to have been sexually assaulted in college...The underreporting of sexual assault is due to the culture and stigma that surrounds it and the grey area of, what is sexual assault? Do I feel comfortable reporting this? Is it someone I know? We’re really working to change that, so survivors have those resources, have those platforms, and then feel empowered to talk to SAPAC and to talk to other people who have experienced the same thing. I genuinely believe that’s the way we change the culture.”

Greene notes another similar program that MVision plans to implement, which is called the Next Step program. Next Step seeks to make campus more accepting for sexual assault survivors and involves policies involving student organizations, SAPAC, and the university administration. They created the program “based on my experience as being a fraternity president who had to navigate a sexual misconduct allegation and seeing where the grey area exists and how the school can better help,” Greene says.

 

Student organization funding is a hot ticket issue in this year’s CSG election, so I was surprised to note that it isn’t a major part of MVision’s platform. When I ask Greene about this, I am quickly assured that it is not for lack of knowledge on the issue.

“I was chair of the committee that did student organization funding from the LSA Student Government arm, so it’s a much more minute payout at the end of the day. CSG operates on a six-figure annual budget and so the sky can sometimes feel like the limit, especially if you get a donor or somebody else legally involved in terms of putting on an event or getting a collaboration across campus,” he explains. “I think that CSG can provide student organizations with better funding but I think there’s barriers to actually achieving that funding.”

According to Greene, these barriers do not stem from a lack of money or resources. He explains that, first off, the Student Organization Funding Commission, or SOFC, has some structural issues. (“It runs on its own cycles, and if a student org needs money quickly or has an emergency, then it has to pass by a resolution or a majority vote of the Assembly.”) He also sees the upcoming renovations to the Michigan Union as a cause of stress for student organizations who may lose their offices or typical meeting spaces and may need funding to account for this.

Greene is also realistic about the legal barriers when it comes to student organization funding: “There are laws, like you can’t pay a student salary through student government money. That’s a state law, so there’s no way around it. You can’t pay other certain salaries. You also can’t pay anything that has to do with political or religious speech. So a lot of organizations are already knocked off the table because, legally speaking, the school can and will be—because there are people who care a lot in this world—be sued for using student government money to fund a certain event.”

As Greene speaks, it occurs to me that he is the fifth presidential candidate with whom I’ve spoke about student organization funding in the past few days, and he’s the first one to mention the majority of these restrictions. Rather bluntly, he says, “I think that people’s views on this specific situation shows their experience working within the funding arm.”

 

Greene is not oblivious to the divisive campus climate in which he is seeking to lead: “With Richard Spencer trying to come to campus, and the national dialogue, and the LGTB teen bullying rate and suicide ideation rates going up again, it’s time to start being more proactive and making sure those members, as well as the members on our campus who are survivors who might not have a place, feel welcomed.”

Baer elaborates on this, stating, “A lot of what our platform is focused on concerning DEI in general is collaboration. Collaboration with Michigan, with Washtenaw County, with Ann Arbor. It’s completely absurd that 4.3% of our school is African American when 14% of the state of Michigan is. We’re a public university, and our university should reflect the demographics of the state. So we asked ourselves, how can we increase minority enrollment on our campus as a whole?”

MVision has several concrete policy ideas to point to in order to answer this question. Baer explains that they want to work with Wolverine Pathways to collaborate with younger students in hopes of giving the opportunity to enroll here someday. They also want to implement Digital Wolverines, which is an online module for all incoming first-years that would talk about identities and inclusion.

Greene also emphasizes the importance of representation within student resources, like CAPS and the Spectrum Center. “A lot of students feel, based on both their visible and invisible identities, that when they go to these resources, they can’t necessarily find somebody who shares the same background or the same identity as them,” he explains. “That’s a burden or even obstacle to fully optimizing their benefit...I think if we’re truly going to be a welcoming campus to all identities, then we need to make sure that, whether it is within the administration or even lecturers or professors or CAPS counselors or Spectrum Center volunteers, that people can go into the room and see that they have a community there that represents how they feel that their community should be represented.”

“DEI and increasing minority enrollment is a huge part of what our platform is and what we hope to see on our campus,” Baer continues. “As Daniel mentioned, that includes talking more about invisible identities, whether that be survivors, the LGBTQ community, mental health, low SES. We want to make our campus more affordable for all students.”

 

Adam Seltzer, MVision’s communications strategist, explains to me what drew him into the MVision team.

“The extent to which [Greene and Baer] are both so driven, and so proven to have experience in the different realms in which they’re trying to better campus, really just drew me in off the bat,” he explains. “And beyond the two of them and what they’ve done, which is so obviously incredible and inspiring, the team itself is just so diverse in a cohesive way. It’s hard to replicate certain experiences without living them, so I think that our team has a really unique makeup where we have different parts of campus, different identities, and we’re able to collaborate in ways that are unique.”

Gearing up to the election, the MVision team is busy and excited, but as Greene says, “Whether we win or lose, that change and bigger idea that we’ve committed to, the seeds have been planted and nobody can take that away from us.”

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