An interview with the MSA presidential and vice presidential candidates
A group of about 40 students gathered on a Friday night in the back of Purple Onion for the first, friends-only announcement of what was soon to be a campus-wide campaign: the candidacy of Nick Alm and Makda Biniam for president and vice president of the Minnesota Student Association.
“I initially said that I wanted to be on a ticket with Makda. I was totally down to be her VP. She was not down to be president,” Nick Alm joked to the crowd of friends and collaborators, all there to share in the excitement of the preparation to which many had already contributed.
Alm, the current MSA Speaker of the Forum, and his running mate, Biniam, the Academic Affairs Committee Director, sat down with The Wake the morning of this announcement to discuss their candidacy, and the paths that led them each to make the decision to run.
“I am a first-generation, queer college student,” Alm said. “I didn’t choose to go to the U of M because I wanted to do business…my goal of coming to college was to step out of the closet more.”
“Myself and Nick belong to marginalized populations, but also the majority,” Biniam said. “I’m part of a sorority on campus, so I’m a part of one of the largest organized communities on campus. I’m also a black woman in Carlson with a STEM minor.”
If Biniam is elected, she will be the first black woman to serve as MSA president or vice president.
Biniam explained the importance of identity in the leadership structure of MSA: “What sets us apart is that we can resonate with so many diverse individuals just because of our identities and our backgrounds, and I think that in itself is a credential that we need to acknowledge.”
“I have a responsibility to give back to the organization and make sure that I share the successes and non-successes that I’ve seen,” Alm said.
Alm has personally seen a lot of successes during his time at the University of Minnesota. During his sophomore year, he and several friends established Carlson School of Management’s first LGBT+ student group, Compass. Both Alm and Biniam speak to the culture shift that has resulted within Carlson, as well as some tangible changes to the administration.
“We just advocated successfully for the hiring of Carlson’s first diversity director,” Alm said. “We were very fortunate that on almost a weekly basis, someone would reaffirm that we were doing the right thing…every time that happened, it gave me just a little more energy, a little more drive.”
Alm’s interest in supporting LGBT+ involvement in business expands beyond the University. Concurrent with the creation of Compass, Alm co-founded MoSAIC, a non-profit that helps connect LGBT entrepreneurs from around the world with professionals in Minnesota.
“The model we adopted was…Skyping with individuals, helping them develop business plans using their ideas, their goals, asking them what they want.”
This model of allowing initiatives to grow from the ground up is reflected in Alm and Biniam’s philosophy regarding the role of MSA leadership in campus change.
“We’re just one organization at the end of the day; we’re a big one…but we can’t effectively advocate to the level necessary for everyone on campus,” Alm said.
The strategy they hope to employ involves listening to the ideas of student groups targeting specific issues, and providing MSA resources and expertise on successful campaigns in the hope of broadening the reach and benefits of change initiatives.
“We’re going to be focused on partnerships and coalitions,” Alm said. “There’s so many projects, there’s so many great ideas, there’s so many voices to incorporate.”
Their platform addresses issues of housing and food security, textbook affordability, and support for student-facing departments like Boynton, the Aurora Center, and Student Counseling Services. In addition to these, Alm and Biniam plan to address the serious issues of accessibility and accommodation for students with physical disabilities.
“We have heard some horror stories from people with disabilities,” Nick said. He cites the numerous building projects planned for the University over the next decade as an opportunity to address these failures: “When those infrastructure projects get planned…we need to have that voice at the table.”
The key hallmark of their platform is the intersection of their initiatives with consideration for the needs of all student populations.
“When it comes to things like sustainability, diversity, and inclusion especially, we don’t have platform categories for that because our whole platform incorporates diversity,” Nick said. “We need to move away from discussing diversity and inclusion as a separate thing.”
Voting in the All Campus Election is open to all undergraduate students March 1, 2, and 3 at vote.umn.edu.