CSG Candidate Profile: True Blue
By Hannah Harshe
Interviewing a subject for a profile can be like pulling teeth. I’ve experienced this more times than I’d like to admit. Some people just don’t interview well. They’re not sociable, they give monosyllabic answers, and I leave thinking, “What the heck am I supposed to write about?”
Usually, though, interviewing goes fairly well. When I leave, I feel as though I have a decent understanding of the subject’s personality, and I have enough quotes to write a comprehensive profile.
It is incredibly rare, however, that a conversation flows so naturally that we continue talking for twenty minutes after the interview officially ends, as if we were best friends who hadn’t caught up in years. And yet, that is exactly happens during my interview with Arathi Sabada and Marianne Drysdale, executive candidates for Central Student Government with the True Blue party.
A huge component of Sabada and Drysdale’s campaign revolves around outreach. (“46,000 is a lot of people, but that’s all there is. You can reach each student individually, this isn’t a national election,” Drysdale, True Blue’s Vice Presidential candidate, says.) As I speak with Sabada and Drysdale, I can see how determined and excited they are to hear from the voices of students.
Sabada and Drysdale met last year, when they ran with eMerge’s campaign, but they got to know each other better through Sabada’s work on the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, which provides unpaid student leaders with financial awards. (The Leadership Engagement Scholarship is no longer a part of CSG, and has since been moved to administration.)
“Marianne was really interested in working on it,” Sabada, True Blue’s Presidential candidate, recalls. “First semester she reached out to me and was like, ‘Hey, really interested in this project you’re working on, is there any way we can sit down and chat?’ We were just sitting down, we were talking, and we realized we had a lot of common ground. We were both interested in CSG, and we decided that we’d be great together.”
“One of the things that had initially drawn me to CSG was the Leadership Engagement Scholarship,” Drysdale adds. “If you are a student who is working several hours a week, the access to your student involvement is so limited, and if we can start to combat that for real, that’s really affecting people. Think about how much you’ve grown from the student orgs you’ve been a part of. Michigan is so much more than just about classes.”
It was this dedication to making change on campus that caused Sabada and Drysdale to run together. “Arathi’s really modest, so she’s not gonna say any of this, but I had always known that she had always done so much work,” Drysdale explains. “I just really respected Arathi because I have no idea who would do more work on behalf of students...I honestly don’t think that I would be doing this on any other ticket.”
“I think one of the reasons that I felt that Marianne and I would be a really good team is we share this community-minded perspective and being really student-focused,” Sabada says. “It’s what we like to call impact-hungry. So we’re really motivated to impact campus in a lot of ways. That’s really how we were brought together.”
Neither Sabada or Drysdale came to the University of Michigan expecting to run for a Central Student Government executive position. In fact, Sabada recalls feeling lost as a freshman. She had no interest in student government, but she found herself at CSG’s table talking to someone who recommended that she apply for the CSG internship program.
“The first one I applied to, I didn’t get,” she laughs. “Then the second was the programming team. It was all about programming for CSG, and getting out there and engaging with different student groups. I just absolutely fell in love with that aspect of it. I got to talk to the person who founded Small World in the med school, and that’s an opportunity that I would have never been able to ever touch before.”
After spending a couple years in the organization, Sabada started to get a clearer idea of the areas of campus that are ripe for change, and began to work to enact this change.
As for Drysdale? “I came to Michigan because there are so many different things available and that you can do,” she recalls. “I got to campus, and I expected the perfect one to fall into my lap, and it totally didn’t. I have student org FOMO because there are so many amazing things that are happening on campus.”
In order to combat this FOMO, Drysdale got involved with as many student organizations as she possibly could. She was a part of an a capella group, she ran at Club Running Nationals, she volunteered as a counselor for Camp Kesem, and she facilitated a creative writing workshop at a women’s prison.
Student government didn’t initially appeal to her. “I was always bigger issue oriented,” she explains. “I had imagined that in college, I would really devote myself to one thing. It might be women’s reproductive justice or another more justice oriented issue.”
But when a mentor reached out to her and recommended CSG as way to “touch as many lives at Michigan as you can,” everything changed for Drysdale.
“I walked into the meeting for eMerge and just was so inspired by all the people that I was around,” she says. “It was people from all corners of Michigan, people that were just absolutely leaders in their fields, [and] leaders in their communities.”
The defining moment for Drysdale was when she stood on the Diag campaigning for eMerge. “Normally Michigan is all about little circles that don’t really interact with each other,” she explains. “All of the sudden now I have, like, a handful of flyers, and I’m standing on the diag, and anyone who walks by, I can walk up to them and be like, ‘Hey can I talk to you a little bit about what we’re doing here?’”
For Drysdale, encountering students isn’t about making friends as much as it’s about impacting lives. “If I were helping students at Michigan be the best versions of themselves when they’re here, and helping them have access to all of the resources that they need, they’re gonna graduate being better versions of themselves,” she says, “that would touch more lives more than I could ever touch in my entire life.”
When it comes to platform points, both Sabada and Drysdale are motivated by their goal of making the campus experience, particularly student organization involvement, more accessible to students of diverse backgrounds.
“I was actually the Chief Operations Officer on CSG last year and one of the things that I commissioned was a CSG demographic report, so looking at the internal diversity of the organization and being like, ‘Hey, do we actually represent the student body?’” Sabada says. “I think it’s really important to look internally and understand the root causes and the issues behind the lack of representation and really targeting those and fixing those.”
Drysdale adds, “We’re supposed to be a public institution and we’re supposed to be embodying all these values of higher education, but so much is restricted by personal restrictions. By how you identify personally, where you feel like you fit in, and other external restrictions. Socioeconomic restrictions are just enormous on campus. I really believe in the power of us as a public institution to uphold those values of what should public education be, and that has to be defined by the students and pushed by the students.”
How exactly do they plan on doing this? Like most aspects of their platform, the first step is outreach.
“I will never have a grasp on this school in a real way. I’ll never be able to know what happens to everyone because it’s so different for me than it is for everyone else who’s here,” Drysdale says. “So we have to reach out to the organizations that are traditionally overlooked. Dance groups are a huge one. They don’t have performance spaces. They practice as hard as club sports, or honestly a lot of them practice at the same level of rigor as D1 sports on campus, and don’t have the same access to resources. But I’m not gonna know the unique difficulties of a dance group unless I reach out to a dance group. One thing we’re really focused on is shifting that burden onto our own shoulders of outreach and making sure that student orgs know that we’re there to embrace what Michigan means to them no matter what that might mean.”
Sabada also points to her previous project, the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, as a method of increasing accessibility to student organization involvement on campus: “It’s really enhancing socioeconomic diversity and making leadership opportunities more accessible, so we’ll definitely be partnering with more organizations like that to try to elevate that work and make sure that all opportunities are more accessible to students on campus.”
The next step to making student organization involvement more accessible is improving the booking process for meeting spaces. “If you have to pay for that space, that is a huge burden on the student org,” Sabada says. “So one thing that we’re looking to do next year is actually have a centralized booking system where you can go to book rooms for meetings and also event spaces on campus, and hopefully making that a free resource for students so they don’t have to spend their org’s money and they can focus more on the core of their activities.”
Drysdale notes that the importance of student organization involvement also stems from a broader campus culture issue. “I sat down with the Dean of Students, Laura Blake Jones, and we were talking about involvement,” she says. “She said a huge issue right now is thinking about involvement as student orgs alone. There’s this kind of elite circle of very involved student leaders. In order to get into that circle, it requires all kinds of extra time, extra resources, other barriers not being in the way of that. Whereas involvement can mean a lot of different things for a lot of different people. It can mean doing research with your professor, it can mean having a job on campus, it can mean working at Bert’s and talking to a student every single day that needs a cup of coffee. That’s all involvement.”
To Drysdale, this all goes back to reaching out to students across all demographics on campus so that CSG is equipped to understand and address their unique needs. “Even at orientation, people are like, ‘Get involved!’ But that ‘get involved’ thing, if you continue to hear it and you don’t feel like your obstacles are being addressed, you’re not going to. You’re going to feel like involvement is something at this school that’s not for you, and then there’s a million resources that you just lost.” Drysdale pauses a moment to breathe. “It’s something that I feel really strongly about. It gets me really heated when I think about it. It’s just upsetting.”
True Blue’s campaign fundamentally relies on their commitment to directly impacting the experiences of students across campus.
“I was initially frustrated with the idea that you have to be a poli-sci major, or you have to want to be the president of the United States to run for student government,” Drysdale says, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “I think we should talk about CSG not as a government, but as an impact body. Something that has a lot of money and a lot of sway with the admin, so that can make changes in whatever way that we want to do. It doesn’t have to be the same way that we always have.”
So, given the large budget and the sway with the university administration that CSG has, what would Sabada and Drysdale do?
“It would be great if we could have a university-run grocery store,” Sabada says. “I think food accessibility is something that is really serious, and also something we don’t have a lot of options for on campus. Meijer is two miles away, so having a university-run grocery store where we can go and have access to healthy and affordable produce would be a really great step in the right direction...If you’re food insecure, you’re twice as likely to report mental health issues and 70% more likely to report an eating disorder.” (Sabada is particularly knowledgeable about the issue of food insecurity on campus —- she spearheaded the creation of CSG’s emergency meal fund.)
Drysdale’s goals are also important, but focused more on culture, rather than policy. She says, “If I could change anything about student culture it would be more of an emphasis on individuality as a positive thing and less of an emphasis on groups and tiers and orientation. ‘Are you a performer? That has to be your identity and who you are! Are you an athlete? That has to be what you’re doing.’ I would emphasize different people being able to really embrace their individual Michigan experience.”
Sabada and Drysdale are eager to put in the work that it takes to have a successful administration as CSG President and Vice President.
“We’re here for their individuality of experience,” Sabada says of university students.
“We want to help them get access to the tools and resources that they need to make Michigan whatever works for them. We’re here because we care about you, and we’ll listen and take your concerns very seriously when we’re looking to enact our initiatives.”
“We’ll do the work,” Drysdale adds. “I don’t want to go into politics, this isn’t something that’s just a resume slap. We’re here because we’re passionate about Michigan. Neither of us would be on this campaign for a different school. I wouldn’t be on CSG if I went to a tiny school with a whole bunch of other students who were just like me. I’m doing this because I believe in the power of Michigan and all the resources here and I think that equality of access to those is just the best way that I can make an impact on campus. We’ll do the work because we care.”
And, proving her sentiment, as soon as our interview is officially finished, Drysdale turns to me and says, “So tell me about yourself! We’ve just been talking about ourselves this whole time. How did you get involved with SHEI?”
When the True Blue candidates say that they are willing to head to every corner of campus just to hear from the students, I believe them from the bottom of my heart.