Congratulations to Abeer Syedah and Enoch Sun on winning the election of Minnesota Student Association Vice President and At-Large Representative! Want to know about their campaign and how they succeeded? Here are inside scoops from right before last week’s election.
Why do you (Abeer) want to include Enoch into your team this year?
Abeer: Historically, MSA has not been accessible and representative of the student body, and has been apathetic to the concerns of students who aren’t the majority. When I first came in, that’s the issue that I wanted to address. I saw the disparity between what we were doing and how that affected the marginalized population. This year with Joelle as President and I in the leadership position, we tested the water on what works and what doesn’t work. So this year, we decided that one of the important things was to bring in perspectives that we don’t have and we need to have and also institutionalizing it. So no one will have the choice to ignore other populations. We endorsed 20 people for all the representatives’ positions, half of whom are from outside of MSA, who have no bias towards the organization. Enoch clearly stood out. He is an activist. He is somebody who has taken initiatives on the issues of sexual assault. He works with the Aurora Center, and has been passionate about it. Sometimes issues like sexual assault are not the most prominent things on international students’ minds. Still they are the things that are indirectly affecting international students. Enoch is connected with the international community and also has investment in the issue of sexual assault.
Enoch, why do you want to run for At-Large Representative?
Enoch: I volunteer with the Aurora Center, which made me realized that sexual assault is now a major issue on campus and a lot of international students know nothing about it. They don’t know the resources and they can’t reach out. I want to be part of the MSA team to help international students be more aware of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, etc. Also, now I have lived here for almost a year, I realized that there are some resources/facilities on campus that don’t provide special services to international students.
Abeer: Enoch is really prominent in the issue of sexual assault, which we are really concerned about as well. Last year, Joelle’s primary concern was sexual assault. This month is sexual assault awareness month. We put on some awesome campaigns around campus, e.g. no grey. We think it’s really refreshing what Enoch can bring to the table, besides the passion about sexual assault issues, the variety of perspectives. We are looking forward to the variety Enoch can bring to other issues: mental health, transportation, wellness, safety, diversity, representation.
What specific issues have you been working on/ will you want to address concerning international students?
Abeer: This year we started partnership with MISA and ISSS. These conversations haven’t happened historically. We had conversations about the issue of integration, the relationship that international and international professional staff having in the class room, how international students are disproportionally affected by mental health problems, sexual assaults. We talked with ISSS about institutionalizing the role of international representative. MSA has recommended reserving seats for Minnesota international Student Association. Previously MISA just hasn’t been represented because they might not know; people might not have the time. Now we are going to ensure their voices get heard. We talked with ISSS about reopening the International Student Advisory Board, because the boards of the colleges and groups across campus have been really good to MSA.
Joelle and I, we want to implement the 5 Point Mental Health Plan. That’s the mental plan we did with Boynton, SHAC, Active Minds. One of the things I have learned through Enoch and my residents is that international students are the least likely population to seek mental health resources, the most likely to feel turned off. One of the things all international students told me was that: “I don’t want to be frank, but they (mental health professionals) are not international. They don’t understand where I’m coming from and where my mental health is coming from”. We worked really hard on international and multicultural disparities in mental health resources, because a lot of the conversations that happen around mental health today tend to assume that everyone has the same access, ideas about their mental health, which is not true.
Enoch, what other issues have you encountered during your time at the U?
Enoch: I’m taking freshman writing, international students section. One of the problems is that not a lot of instructors have received English as Second Language Training, and some instructors don’t know how to teach international students. Through the classroom, some students did not get the training they need, how to write papers in American way, etc. and thus the college life for them will get worse and worse.
Abeer: I’m aware that international students have particular problems at the university, but I didn’t have first-hand experiences with it until I became the Community Advisor for the Student Crossing Boarders floor. One of the experiences that stuck out was that most of the students don’t feel that they have access and resources to advocate for themselves. Once I had a conversation with MISA, a girl told me that one time she was in a classroom, and she couldn’t understand the instructor. So she has to use the translator to understand him. The instructor read her essay in class, failed her and made her leave, which was problematic in both language and domestic versus international issues. The behaviors of the instructor were unnecessary, and gross. It’s inexcusable. What I understood was that this was something a student experienced in the class and it was disgusting. So I agree that we need to pay more attention to international students.
We are doing advocacies on funding for a lot of departments. We advocated for the funding for the Aurora Center. Administrators were going to cut the funding for the entire male engagement coordinators. We secured the funding back, which was 100,000 dollars. Also MSA will tell you that the biggest barrier to students getting what they want is faculties. Faculties tend to be on the opposite end of our advocacy.
How is running for Vice-president and At-Large Representative for you guys?
Abeer: It’s hard work. Our vice-presidential campaign is experiencing the amount of reach as a state election. We are representing 30,000 people which is a larger population than the populations in some districts. I want to be the Vice-president because I want to tangibly say to the right people, specifically to the administrators, that I have been elected by 30,000 people, and you can’t ignore my voice. That’s the importance of the democratic process. Overall the experience is changing and rewarding.
Enoch: It is touch work. I focus a lot on international students. When I talked to international friends, they told me “you know, I really don’t care about this kind of stuff. I don’t care about university politics.” I think it’s really sad that a lot of international students don’t care that much about what is going on at the university. I’m not saying that all international students are like that, I’m not (laugh). So it’s hard for me to get votes, but still I have been using a lot of social media, words by words methods, etc.
Abeer: Last year, our voters turned out to be 10%, about 5000 people, not a lot. Enoch is trying to target on international students and that’s a narrow population. We hope that through Enoch’s campaign, a lot of international students will hear and learn about issues on campus and then get more involved, but it’s a slow process.
Are there any other issues that might be particularly concerning to international students?
Enoch: I think making friends with domestic students is particularly difficult for international students. Domestic students tend to make friends with domestic students. Some domestic students are not interested in any other country that’s not America, but some actually are interested in getting to know international students. So making friends with domestic students is quite a challenge. Luckily MISA has already started on creating conversations with ISSS and other international students to address the barriers between international students and domestic students.