U-M Central Student Government Vice President Saveri Nandigama shares her perspective regarding campus climate, progressive action plans, and her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Interview conducted by Grant Floto
#UMSocial Intern and University Of Michigan Class of 2020
Q: Thank you for being with us on Conversations for Change. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Saveri, but everybody calls me Sav. I’m a rising senior. I’m majoring in philosophy and I’m also minoring in religion and I’m currently serving as the Central Student Government [CSG] student body vice president.
Q: How would you gauge the current campus climate when we left school in March or so? What types of things do you expect heading into the fall semester?
My best friend actually is the student body president. We joke a lot that there’s just crises upon crises happening right now. I think that a lot of those will filter into the fall. We have coronavirus. We have the Black Lives Matter movement happening, and we have obviously your typical climate change, those other types of issues, as well as current campus issues like mental health that are just, I guess, magnified more given the climate all over the country. I definitely see it to be a pretty high-pressure year going into the fall semester. I think at the forefront, DEI and race equity and inclusion will be one of the biggest core values that we’re looking at.
Q: Do you think this movement and the protests will carry over into the school year with the student population?
I think that at least in my circles, I’ve found that student organizations and other groups are actually trying to take hold of the momentum on social media and transplanting it into something that can continue to be on the social media cycle, whether that’s an anti-racism working group or having “how to combat anti-blackness” dialogues. I think those are starting to happen, which is something I’m hoping will stick into the semester and sort of overcome that turnover in the news.
Q: Speaking of student concerns, what are some of yours and what type of changes do you want to see?
I’m a South Asian female, and for me, it’s very important that we focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion beyond just the buzzwords of DEI. We’re coming up on the fifth year of the DEI strategic plan. It’s great that we were able to undertake a five-year plan to increase DEI awareness on campus, but I’d really like to see more actionable items as far as what we can do to incorporate DEI, not as a separate department, but integrated within every single thing we do at the university. Beyond that, we actually published and sent out a survey to all the students on campus in our campus email and the top three concerns were in this order: DEI, mental health, and student wellness and sexual misconduct and prevention. Those are the three things that I also feel pretty strongly about. So yeah, hoping to see a little bit more work in all those areas.
Q: What do you think are some things that could be helpful and important to implement for incoming freshmen in regard to DEI?
I think one thing a lot of people are thinking about is: if you hold a specific identity coming into campus, how can you find people of that same identity, but also if you hold other identities, how can you still be exposed to the work that other identity groups are doing on campus? Because especially if there’s the possibility of a virtual fall semester, what does that mean for Festifall? What does that mean for all these mass meetings that I know I went to my freshman year? That’s something that as far as DEI is concerned is a huge issue that I’m hoping will be addressed.
Q: During the Town Hall last Friday, we heard from leadership like President Schlissel and Robert Sellers, the chief diversity officer and vice provost of equity and inclusion. We’ve also heard from leadership across social media. What do you think the student body hopes to see and hear from leadership going forward?
It was really nice to see students speak so openly on the town hall panel. I think it was a very productive dialogue. I will say that I think the student body as a whole hopes to see a lot of action items from what we discussed at the town hall. It’s not like, okay, thank you and then moving on. It’s more like, okay, great. We know that we’re getting a ton of petitions to talk about defunding PD or implementing X, Y, and Z reforms within DPSS. How can we actually do that or how can we communicate, why or why we can’t do X, Y, and Z like students are asking? Whether it’s action or communication, really seeing more of that outstretched hand, I guess you could say, from administration to students.
Q: Are there any specific action items that you have thought of?
I work at the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs [MESA] as an undergrad student coordinator. I’m pretty exposed to a lot of the work they do there. I think in a dream world, I would say that every student organization goes through an anti-racism teaching that MESA hosts, which is probably the best workshop I’ve ever been to on campus.
I highly recommend it. That’s one of my dream goals, but I also agree with expanding the race and ethnicity requirement across all schools and colleges. I think that as far as police reform goes, Amanda Kaplan [CSG President] and I actually released a statement where we would be conducting an investigation into sort of how we can create a safer campus for all student identity groups and not just limiting ourselves to like okay, how can we just reform the police, but is there a different way we can think of safety in general? How can we bring that about, especially in a debate and election year.
Q: What are the types of things that you do as the Central Student Government (CSG) vice president?
Amanda, the student body president, and I are best friends. We ran because we had extensive experience in CSG. I was the youngest chief of staff two years ago. She was chief of staff last year. We both just had a lot of different experiences on campus and really wanted to be placeholders almost for this title and be able to elevate the needs of students and wanted to provide access basically to everybody. As far as the roles, we take all meetings 50/50, but it’s mostly spending a lot of time on social media, speaking with student orgs and figuring out what students actually want and figuring out a way to make that happen in a way that makes administration happy, but also students happy.
At the end of the day, Amanda and I know that we have a very, very short time in office, so we’re not really going to be stuck up on formalities. It’s more like, okay, we’re here. We were elected by students. How do we really actually serve them? That’s the mentality we’re taking.
Q: One of the main purposes of this podcast is to give a megaphone to students of color and minorities on campus to talk about their experiences at U-M, and I’d love to hear about yours. What has this experience been like for you?
I’m a rising senior. I think my first year was when we had the campaigns going on. It was 2018. I think then I got exposed a lot to organizing actually as far as campaign organizing and I was involved with the Abdul Sayed campaign. There I was actually exposed to a lot of student organizers of color. That sort of made me more open to exploring leadership opportunities and really being able to define whatever my college experience was going to be by my own terms. Also, for context, I came from a high school that was, I think there were less than 25 students of color and it was very white to put it bluntly. I think here, I’ve really been able to find a community where I feel comfortable interacting with my white peers, obviously, but I also feel very comfortable in my own identity.
The biggest growth I’ve learned through my experience is that a lot of times, especially when you’re in a CSG network, there are a lot of just people that are like, “Oh, well you need to pander to X, Y, and Z groups.” Interacting with my peers of color, it’s very much like, “Well, who cares?” People who care about a cause are going to care about a cause and it should not matter who is telling them about this cause. Obviously there are nuances to that where you can’t take up space when a certain cause specifically affects X community. Policing specifically affects the black community in America. You need to leave them space, but it’s not like you should cater your arguments necessarily to be able to speak to exclusively white peers or exclusively South Asian peers. I think staying true to yourself is one of the biggest things I’ve learned by being a student of color here.
Q: You mentioned you went to a predominantly white high school. What was that transition like for you? Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen that come from either predominantly white high schools or more diverse high schools than U-M?
So again, I’m South Asian and I think I came in with the perception of like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to finally be able to express my South Asian identity.” I always grew up having school friends and out of school friends. My out of school friends were always South Asian and my in school friends just so happened to all be white. It was very like A world, B world, C, very compartmentalized. I think I was like, “Yes, I’m going to finally be able to be Sav.” That was not the case at all because I realized that I really didn’t agree with a lot of the things and the way my community was forming for lack of better terms.
I thought that I just had to be with my own identity group the entire time, but really, as I’ve grown, I’m kind of like, you know what? Why am I limiting myself to this one community? I mean, U-M has clout is what I realized. The best part of U-M and the reason I think that U-M has the name that it does is because of the people in U-M and the people that the college produces is just, you’re so exposed to so many different identity groups and so many different views and so many beautiful minds.
My experience is literally made because I was like, you know what? I’m just going to meet whoever I’m going to meet, have a conversation with whoever I’m going to have a conversation with. Whatever happens, happens. I think that mentality of like 1) whatever happens, happens, and 2) it is what it is, made me sort of see U-M through all of its highs and lows in my college experience and still be able to come out of it with a very fond appreciation for the university.
“I think staying true to yourself is one of the biggest things I’ve learned by being a student of color here.”
Q: What are some things that you would encourage your peers and fellow students to do now in order to get more involved, in terms of Black Lives Matter movement and other DEI-related movements?
Obviously if you come to the University of Michigan, you have a certain level of caliber. You probably were top of your class in high school. You probably were the president of two clubs and maybe founded two more in your high school and did a ton of volunteering. Everybody here is like that. I think we’re conditioned almost at this point to be like, “Okay, I need to do this really big walk-in protest and this really big X, Y, and Z.” I think now, especially, I’m learning that you don’t need to do everything super big and super flamboyant. You can just do a small get-together and maybe start a book club or maybe it’d be like, “Hey, do you want to talk on the phone about what’s happening right now? I don’t really feel like texting about this” with one of your friends.
It’s those small conversations that have created those big movements we see like Black Lives Matter. I think we forget that in order to get to a big movement, you need to start small and need to create, not a following, but a group of peers that are all on the same page and all equally passionate. Building that passion comes from those small conversations. I think making sure that you don’t overextend yourself by focusing on creating the next big thing and being able to find time to self reflect and rely on other people and really create a community that can serve as a foundation for that next big thing is something I really encourage students to think about.
“I think we forget that in order to get to a big movement, you need to start small and need to create, not a following, but a group of peers that are all on the same page and all equally passionate.”