Amidst a fall semester fraught with a global pandemic, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) sought to legislate and promote policies and measures that not only reflect the thoughts and priorities of the diverse student body in which they represent, but also enact real change university-wide.
ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick maintains that the organization’s ultimate goal this past fall was to elevate the voices of students previously left out of important conversations and decision-making processes at UW-Madison.
“By following the guidance of student leaders we were able to pass legislation that called for international student telecommuters to be paid, marijuana to be decriminalized, inclusive grading policies to be implemented and facial recognition technology from UWPD to be banned, among a ton of other items,” highlighted Mitnick — emphasizing the critical role the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition, the Teaching Assistant Association (TAA), the United Faculty & Academic Staff (UFAS), the University Labor Council and the UW Divestment Coalition played in addressing the variety of issues last fall.
Collaboration with Alder Max Prestigiacomo of District 8 on the City of Madison’s Common Council and Supervisor Elena Haasl of District 5 on the Dane County Board of Supervisors was also integral — serving as a crucial intersection at university, city and county levels where issues facing UW-Madison students are addressed, explained Mitnick.
Last semester, Open Forums held at ASM Student Council meetings, which were forced online amid the pandemic, often had twenty or more students expressing concerns or ideas on several issues and proved to be imperative to ASM’s decisions according to Mitnick.
“They [Open Forums] truly impacted the outcome of several votes and ensured that student voices were front and center. Many students shared powerful recollections in Open Forum that directly correlated to progressive policy changes,” said Mitnick, underscoring how all Special Orders at said meetings were also only granted to students.
“Student Council was a place that welcomed students and put their very valid experiences above all else,” emphasized Mitnick when describing specific policy successes such as the university international student telecommuting policy in early December was also ultimately accepted by university officials. “We were able to end payment discrimination for international student telecommuters with a reversal of the discriminatory hiring and nonpayment policies.”
Continuous support for a Moral Restart, first set forth by the TAA, the UFAS and the University Labor Council, also marked ASM’s commitment to the wellbeing of students as COVID-19 continues to ravage communities.
“Advocating for a Moral Restart forced the university’s hand in developing safer measures on campus related to the pandemic,” stressed Mitnick, although acknowledging how the university was and is far from addressing many of the platform’s components.
Additionally, ASM’s vote of no confidence in the UW-Madison Police Department (UWPD) last September “presented a shift in organizational philosophy” for ASM, according to Mitnick.
“ASM was not an extension of the administration or a mouthpiece for it,” said Mitnick. “It was the direct voice of students.”
In conjunction with ASM’s priority of highlighting student voices, Mitnick emphasized the importance of students’ emails to administrators and their choice to speak at public meetings in enacting university-wide change.
“Their [UW-Madison student] voices and very real experiences are way more important than anything myself and many other leaders have to say,” stressed Mitnick. “I see my role in ASM as using the access that comes with my position to get students who are impacted by problematic policies and circumstances in the room with the appropriate decision-makers.”
Despite several accomplishments, there continue to be limitations affecting ASM’s ability to advocate for their positions on a variety of issues.
“After legislation passed at the Student Council, we oftentimes had difficulty getting the appropriate administrators to act on our items and implement them,” said Mitnick, citing ASM’s vote of no confidence in the UWPD and refusal to allow Chancellor Blank time at the Student Council meeting unless she attended the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition presentation as an instance where university administrators did not take ASM seriously. Mitnick also highlighted how important meetings and discussions with university officials and decision-makers were often canceled “out of the blue.”
An example is when Chancellor Blank’s cited a scheduling conflict in backing out of an ASM meeting she had agreed to speak at after the BIPOC Coalition, mentioned previously, was invited to share their demands for change at a university level.
“When these barriers arose, we worked to find different paths to success,” said Mitnick. “By working in tandem with students on the front lines of these issues, we’re able to propose meaningful solutions to the appropriate administrators.”
Mitnick also described how personal politics within ASM itself often led to the delay of progressive policies.
“I hope that leaders will use this next semester to advocate for what is right and not let personal relationships, posturing for future positions and political grandstanding get in the way of creating policies and pushing administrators in areas to benefit the campus as a whole,” said Mitnick. “I truly believe that with a positive mindset and commitment to racial diversity, equity and inclusion, we will be successful!”
With the spring semester fast approaching, ASM is looking to continue advocating for students, university workers and community members across Madison.
According to Mitnick, ASM will continue to advocate for a Moral Restart, ensuring that “public health is prioritized over financial gain,” while pushing for more equitable grading policies and a more developed Pass/Fail System. ASM leaders will also be introducing and promoting a rental and housing assistance relief fund, a plan to address statutory processes that limit the shared governance rights of students and a call to remove the UWPD from campus.
“Policymakers all too often disregard issues when they do not impact them directly,” affirmed Mitnick. “However, part of working toward equity includes asking ourselves who benefits, who does not have a seat at the table and how can we as leaders mitigate unintended consequences.”