On student representation and accountability: Keep MPIRG

Over the past few weeks, there have been many conversations on campus in regards to MPIRG (Minnesota Public Interest Research Group) and its opt-out system that MPIRG uses to receive funding. Before sharing my opinion on this subject I would like to state that I used to be a member of MPIRG and left out of frustrations with the group. Yet, many of the recent op-eds and conversations that have occurred on campus have struck me as misleading and misinformed. This is why I am sharing my support for MPIRG with this opinion piece, and why I encourage students to vote yes so that MPIRG can be allocated part of our student activity fund and remain on campus.

I left MPIRG due to my frustrations with the lack of racial diversity and representation within the organization, the methods that MPIRG employs for recruitment and because of the sexist environment and leadership that led me to feel unwelcome in the group. I attempted to remain in the group until my sophomore year when I decided to dedicate my energies and resources to other organizing efforts on campus. Although I still do not believe MPIRG has in any way solved the problems I took issue with, I have been made aware of the changes that the group has been attempting to make. For example, MPIRG has begun working with the Department of Multicultural Life in their recruitment efforts and attempting to take into consideration the claims of those who have been alienated and hurt by the group. I recognize that this is only a first step and that MPIRG has much more work to do to become a truly positive presence on campus, but I believe that forcing the group off campus while these efforts are taking place would be a shame and would stop very valuable efforts that student activists have been carrying out for several years.

Despite having left MPIRG and my many frustrations with the group, I joined MPIRG because of the skilled and hard-working students who were fighting for student justice and justice within our communities, and MPIRG did not prove me wrong. MPIRG students are some of the most passionate, hard-working students that I know on this campus and that is why MPIRG is able to achieve the successes that it does. Among these successes are the banning of plastic water bottles on campus and the procurement of sweatshop-free clothing in our bookstore, aspects of Macalester that many students value and that the school now boasts. I have not found many other groups on campus that set concrete goals for themselves and then work hard to achieve them in the way MPIRG does.

In addition, I have found MPIRG to be one of the few organizations that is committed to representing students and serving students. MPIRG is almost entirely student-led and addresses issues that are brought up by students and that concern students state-wide. Although I do not mean to diminish the importance of groups that do otherwise, I find this to be a fundamental reason why MPIRG needs to remain on our campus. As a student, I have had difficulty finding groups that are focused on fighting for my rights, and since so many students will be graduating with an overwhelming student debt and/or face many discriminations on campus (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) I believe it is very important that a group like MPIRG remains on campus.

Finally, I recognize the importance of fairness in the allocation of funds to student groups. However, I do not see how the recent accusations to MPIRG (often false and misleading) without MPIRG having the possibility to respond are fair. Many student groups (if not most) receive funding for their activities.

While most student organizations are accountable to the Macalester College Student Government in regards to funding, MPIRG is accountable to the whole student body. I disagree with the accusation that MPIRG allowing the student body to decide whether it should receive a budget or not is disempowering or in some way betraying students by taking their money. In fact, I have found the opposite to be true. Personally, I find that being able to decide how my money is allocated and having the possibility to hold accountable an organization whose mission is to represent me very empowering. In addition, this is not the only way that MPIRG allows itself to be accountable to students. MPIRG invites all students on campus to vote on their decisions (including the election of leaders), strives to be as transparent as possible in their decision processes and welcomes all students to come to meetings to voice their concerns in order to find solutions. I find many of these aspects to be unique to MPIRG and believe that this proves MPIRG to be a more accountable organization rather than less.

In conclusion, I urge all students to vote ‘yes’ on MPIRG’s referendum November 17 and 18. Please take the time to open your emails to support an organization that has accomplished many positive things for students at Macalester and that strives to empower students across the state. Although I can only speak for myself, I fear that many students will suffer from the loss of MPIRG on campus far more than it will benefit the students who have recently called into question MPIRG’s opt-out system. Please do not allow a lack of information in regards to a small aspect of MPIRG to eliminate the hard work of students on campus and across the state.