The Minnesota Student Association (MSA), which represents the student body with 20 at-large elected members, student senators that are elected through their individual colleges, and representatives selected through their respective student groups, currently meets at 4pm in Fraser 102. The legislative body is a tool for students to advocate for themselves collectively on the greater university level. This year MSA has successfully voiced their concerns to the administration regarding several student issues.
This last semester student government led a campaign called “Break Up with Your Landlord” that helps students understand what they are getting into when they decide to live in off-campus housing. MSA has a list of facts and advice to help prevent students from falling victim to predatory housing companies. MSA suggests that new tenants take pictures of their housing before they move in to help keep their safety deposits. Safety deposits are supposed to cover damage that is not part of normal use. For example: painting rooms and appliance repairs are the responsibility of the landlord not you. On the other-hand if one of your ragers ends up with a kicked-in door you are out of luck.
MSA suggests that Student Legal Services look over your lease before you sign it to make sure there are no discrepancies that may end up in a future dispute. It is also important to figure out how utilities are paid and when the move-in move-out dates are. Often students are required to move out before the lease officially ends so that the property companies can asses the damage done by the tenants. The University of Minnesota has a list of problematic landlords that they have agreed to release to the public. The companies include: Minneapolis Rental Property Group (MRPG), Millennium Management, The Miles Group, and Prime Place (re-branded as Arrow).
MSA is also organizing to preserve and expand affordable housing units. With the increase in luxury apartments at the university students and local businesses are being continually displaced. MSA plans to work with the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA) and the Northeast Business Association to include the voices of students in the community. Currently MSA is working with the MHNA to have a set amount of affordable apartment units in the General Mills apartment complex to accommodate students.
The Gopher Chauffeur service has expanded to include weeknight service. The Gopher Chauffeur is a transportation service that students can use on the weekends to return home after attending events on and near campus. This idea was originally brought up during last year’s election by candidate Matt Snow, who brought the issue of student safety to the table. Originally, the idea was shot down by the current administration during last year’s campaign due to the skepticism of the logistical possibilities. However, after more and more comments about students wanting to be safe returning home after late library nights, MSA pragmatically changed their minds and made it happen.
MSA was able to work with lawmakers at the Minnesota State capital to push for a more defined medical amnesty law to be passed. Now, if someone is with a friend who needs immediate medical help they will be free of legal consequences if they are under the legal age for alcohol consumption. This is aimed to encourage witnesses to ask for help when someone may need serious medical attention.
With recent federal government acts to restrict traveling to certain countries linked to terrorism and the ending of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act enacted by president Obama, MSA is advocating for students who may be illegal immigrants or unsure about their abilities to stay enrolled at the university. MSA and the university are working on a formal procedure to allow students to take courses if they cannot return to the United States. MSA has also joined the student governments of the other Big 10 schools to advocate congress on the behalf of students to pass legislation that would protect the immigration status of students who were protected by DACA.
MSA, with the partnership of the Student Senate, Chabad, Minnesota Hillel, and the Muslim Student Association collaborated with university officials to expand Kosher, Halal, and Vegetarian options for students. All residential dining facilities and Coffman Memorial Union Marketplace will offer kosher options. Halal offerings are available at CMU marketplace and Halal chicken breasts will be available in all residential dining facilities. To accommodate vegetarians and vegans at least two vegan options will be available at each dining location. A new menu will be developed, and vegetarian options will be promoted so students can be aware of their options.
Other activities of note are the exploration of improved mental health and sexual assault support policy changes to better fit the university community. This includes adding more professionals to help troubled students, and removing the stigma around those with mental health conditions or sexual assault survivors. The first week of March will be the MSA elections where students will be able to vote for MSA President and Vice President, Student Senators from their respective colleges, and at-large representatives.
This year there will be controversial referendum that will ask students to vote Yes or No on three questions: Should the University of Minnesota Regents divest from companies that are
Complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.
Maintain and establishing private prisons, and immigration detention centers.
Violating indigenous sovereignty. As the winter is turning into spring, new elections will bring changes to UMN student advocacy.