Yousuf Ali sat down with Student Government President Fiana Arbab before the semester started to talk with her about this year.
Yousuf: Could you start with a brief biography of yourself, and could you tell us how you got involved in the Student government?
Fiana: My name is Fiana Arbab. I am going to be a senior at U of M-Dearborn starting tomorrow. I am a double major in psychology and women’s and gender studies and a minor in sociology. I got involved in student government, initially, in my freshman year because I had a few close friends who had joined and encouraged me. In high school, I was in a lot of things involving political organizing. I was in Plymouth Youth Leadership. I was in Student Council. I was in things like Key Club, so community organizing and community involvement was really important to me. When I joined student government my freshman year, I immediately fell in love with it. It was a lot of fun.
Yousuf: The next question is for people who are new to campus or don’t know much about Student Government. What purpose does it serve on campus, and why is it important?
Fiana: Student government is a body elected by and run for the students. We are an advocacy group. We advocate for issues that impact students of all backgrounds. We also are a working group in the sense that we complete projects in attempt to solve issues that impact students every day. We work very closely with administration. We want to provide spaces and access for student voices to be at the table with access to university decisions. Yeah, we feel it is very important that students are present at every level of university business.
Yousuf: That leads perfectly into my next question. What goals does Student Government expect to accomplish this year, and how do you intend to achieve them?
Fiana: So, the thing with Student Government. Of course, we run on a very specific platform. Our original platform included things like increasing campus involvement in activism for students on campus, establishing student workers rights and a uniform policy, pushing towards a more environmentally sustainable university campus, and increased transparency. However, those are very broad platforms. The thing with Student Government this year is that we want to be open to investigation and new ideas. We don’t want to have a set, exact goals. We do have overarching goals; however, we really want to take Student Government to be a body that investigates on a day to day basis what the students need the most, and how we can best represent the student voices across campus. But there are some specific projects we are working on currently, such as sexual assault prevention on college campus. It is a national campaign; however, Student Government is working with administration to really spearhead those efforts, especially because our University with Student Government last year won a grant to do programming to help structure institutional change around sexual assault prevention. Another big thing is voter registration, especially in the current political climate. We really want to be sure that our students recognize the importance of their civic duty and also their power. Voting is not only a right. It is power. It is systematic power. We want to ensure that we, as Student Government, that we can provide as many spaces to students to claim that power; yeah, things like that.
Yousuf: Maybe, I’ll ask a follow-up question. You talked about better including student voices, presumably, outside of Student Government. How do you intend to reach out to those people outside of Student Government?
Fiana: That is a very tough question. I perceive that as a PR question. Dearborn has kind of had a history for low turnout at events, ineffective communication, you know. Definitely, one of our platforms is transparency, so there are many strategies that we are going to be taken. We want to work with the M.J. (Michigan Journal) to release maybe monthly reports of what student government is up to, in addition to the interviews, opinion pieces and whatnot. We also have reached out to the WUMD. We want to do a radio show. If not weekly, because that might be a lot, but at least bi-weekly, so that our students can hear what we are up to, and it will be a fun thing for Student Government to connect with the community. Of course, there’s the regular flyers, Facebook event pages, emails. It’s my job to email the general student population. I think I have access to sending those email once or twice a semester. That can be a way to communicate with the students, in addition to emailing the student orgs; things like that.
Fiana (cont’d): Wait sorry. The biggest thing, I don’t know how I forgot, we have launched a new Student Government website where anyone can subscribe, so any new changes to the website such as when I upload my Regents Report. You have full access to see the Regents Report. You actually get a notification through your email, if you’re subscribed, and you can actually read it right then and there. I am going to be expecting all the committees to write, at least, biweekly updates on their projects, on what is going on, and what they’re working on. So, students will know exactly what student government is up to. Just stuff like that.
Yousuf: OK, and do you anticipate any challenges in accomplishing these goals?
Fiana: Do I anticipate any challenges? Absolutely. I think progress and change are worth it because of the challenges. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. The changes that Student Government really wants to make, you know, we do have the little day to day details that may not take as much effort. It would be like a simple event programming, arranging for town hall meetings, things like that. But Student Government also serves a very special role on this campus in the sense that they have the ability to make institutional change, and when you want to make systematic and institutional change, of course, that is going to be challenging. That requires a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of strategizing, and a lot of communication, but I full heartedly believe in our administration’s ability to overcome those changes, and make progress for the entire campus.
Yousuf: Next question is what are some things that you believe that U of M-Dearborn does well, and what are others that can be improved.
Fiana: It kind of makes me nervous to go on record. I think things that our University does very well and what makes me very proud to be a U of M Dearborn student is our push for diversity. I know sometimes it may sound very cliche: diversity, inclusion, etc. But to be very honest with you, when I go to events at other campuses, I just feel different. When I am at Dearborn, I feel very comfortable, and also very energized by the diversity that I see here. I think our University does a very great job in at least attempting to really showcase the diversity we have on campus. I think something we really could improve on is our representation on an institutional level. I think all across levels on the University, such as senior leadership, faculty staff, even students, we are pretty diverse, but in positions of power, we are not very diverse at all, and I think we do a disservice to our campus community in that we have so much potential to tap into. We literally have a diverse population just sitting here being educated by this wonderful institution. We are not tapping into why not hire more of our students, our diverse students, to be in leadership on this campus. I think that definitely would be a step toward progress.
Yousuf: Very good, and last but not least, how can students who wish to get involved in Student Government do so?
Fiana: OK, that is a really easy question. There are several ways. Talk to any one of us, and we will show you the form to fill out. I do want to emphasize that student government is a body that is completely open to anyone that wants to come in. You are more than welcome to sit and engage in conversation, learn about the the updates. But if you want to be an official part of Student Government, and get your hands in on the projects, you can apply to be fellow by filling out the fellowship form. The fellowship form can be found on our website. It’s umdearbornsg.com, and then you just click on the form. There’s a fellowship form. You answer a few questions about why you want to be involved, what plans you have for Student Government, and then you are in.