December 4, 2011/The Michigan Daily
By Giacomo Bologna
The Michigan Student Assembly hosted its first Student Association of Michigan this past weekend to foster increased discussion among student governments within the state about issues affecting every college student in Michigan.
Founded in 2007, SAM is a student-led organization comprised of representatives from student governments at the 15 public universities in Michigan. Jay Gage, SAM president and a student at Lake Superior State University, said the organization aims to work collaboratively with student governments to generate policies that can make an impact among students.
The event was held at MSA Chambers on the third floor of the Michigan Union. Sean Walser, chair of MSA's External Relations Commission of MSA, said while MSA has not been actively involved with SAM in the past, it has been increasing its role in the program.
“Having the conference here in Ann Arbor symbolizes our recommitment to the Student Association of Michigan,” Walser said.
This weekend's meeting drew participants from 11 of Michigan's 15 public universities. The agenda included a wide array of issues, including discussion on the impact of state legislation on students.
Gage said SAM has been achieving tangible goals, like aiding to defeat a bill in the state House of Representatives that would have cut $13 million in funding from Wayne State University and $18 million from Michigan State University.
Earlier this fall, SAM started a petition opposing the bill and collected signatures from student leaders at the 15 schools. Kevin Tatulyan, vice president of SAM and a student at Wayne State University, also met with state Rep. Bob Genetski (R–Saugatuck), who introduced the bill, to discuss their grievances, according to Gage.
After the meeting, Genetski pledged that the bill would not leave the committee, and while Gage said SAM cannot take full credit for Genetski’s decision, he emphasized the ability of the organization to influence state legislation.
“That's a really tangible result,” Gage said. “We may not be able to win the cuts just yet, but let's work on smaller, more obtainable goals. Let's work on keeping that bill in committee and saving $31 million.”
Tyler Helsel, a SAM spokesman and a student at Lake Superior State University echoed Gage’s sentiments, and said student governments now have more of an active relationship with state lawmakers.
“SAM has built this bridge to where (student governments) can go, and we can discuss these issues with the decision-makers,” Helsel said.
Jeremy Jones, a student government representative from Saginaw Valley State University who attended the conference, said SAM works on issues that affect both current and future students.
“As a future teacher, I definitely want to see my students go on to college, and obtain degrees and have successful careers,” Jones said. “Personally, (because) I pay for my education myself, it's definitely important to me that it remains affordable and that I can graduate without a lot of debt.”
During the conference, MSA introduced a resolution to oppose a House bill that would eliminate benefits for domestic partners of employees at public universities in the state.
According to Omar Hashwi, an LSA sophomore and MSA representative who spoke at the conference, 570 adults and 48 children would lose benefits due to the new legislation.
SAM passed MSA's resolution unanimously, and it will now be sent to lawmakers.
Despite its mission to unite members of student governments within the state, not every university or college in Michigan has consistently sent representatives to the organization, and Gage said he would like to see increased attendance in the future so students can work together to combat issues like cuts to higher education.
“Regardless of the size, regardless of the quality of education, we're all in this same boat together,” Gage said. “If you cut one (budget), you cut another.”
According Helsel, SAM's visibility isn't widespread around the state, but is something they would like to improve.
“A lot of people don't know what SAM is and what we do,” Helsel said.