For the past several weeks, the Political Student Assembly has sponsored multiple events per week, but that might change as the assembly takes a “quality over quantity” approach to becoming an effective resource for politically focused student organizations under the leadership of a new executive director.
Edwin Saucedo was voted in as PSA’s executive director Monday following former Executive Director Luke Phillips’ resignation.
“PSA as it currently stands is too targeted to people who are already involved,” Saucedo said. “I feel like the purpose of Program Board is to serve the student body as a whole. My goal and vision for the remainder of the semester and the upcoming semester would be to attract a larger audience through political events that bring in big names and appeal to a larger audience … bring that diversity in and make sure everyone in the student body has a chance to become politically involved.”
The main purpose of the assembly, one of nine assemblies in Program Board within the Undergraduate Student Government, is to promote political discourse and action among students, a mission they carries out through various speaker and discussion-based events and by supporting the political activism of students and groups on campus. PSA is considered the umbrella organization that supports and advises about 16 member organizations, including the USC College Democrats, USC College Republicans, Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation and Young Americans for Liberty.
PSA holds weekly meetings on Mondays for its own executive board members, member organization representatives and students interested in becoming involved in politics at USC. A speaker event typically takes up the first hour of the meeting, while the second hour consists of official business, such as voting on funding requests and which events PSA will co-sponsor with member organizations.
USC Red Cross Member President Adrienne Visani serves as her organization’s representative in PSA. She said the assembly allows her to connect with leaders of other organizations and find ways to emphasize USC Red Cross’s political aspects, including international services and human rights.
“As a pre-med student, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that people are politically engaged,” Visani said. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to bring up the political element of USC Red Cross. Because we have a lot of pre-med members, it’s nice to get them exposed to other things that are going on that really do have an impact on people’s health, just not in the way you might think.”
Visani said PSA has helped spread the word about her organization’s events, provide a network of support and provide vital funding, such as awarding funds to fly in a guest speaker.
Though PSA manages several member organizations, many of opposing viewpoints, the assembly itself is a neutral party. PSA does not endorse any political view, candidate or position, but it does support the right of its constituents to express and lobby for their respective views.
PSA Assistant Director Kevin Tsukii said that the assembly vigilantly works to remain nonpartisan at all times.
“It’s kind of a struggle to be as impartial as possible, to be unbiased and to welcome as many different viewpoints as possible,” Tsukii said. “We have to find a way to balance all of our programming. It’s being political without favoring one or the other too much and getting people to join the discussion without turning people off.”
Though PSA takes a nonpartisan approach, the group does work with member organizations to encourage political engagement within the student body through actions such as registering voters on Trousdale Parkway.
Nonetheless, Tsukii said that the differing political views of PSA’s member organizations do surface often.
“There’s kind of this underlying tension because you know what other people are thinking when they say things, but it’s really great how we’re able to kind of laugh it off and just get along together and move forward,” Tsukii said. “In an assembly like this, that’s what makes a lot of our events great, the discourse that happens.”
In addition to more intimate events about politics, PSA hopes to bring more well-known political figures to campus in the future, according to Saucedo. Last fall, PSA co-sponsored an event that brought comedian and political commentator Bill Maher to speak before a packed audience in Bovard Auditorium.
Saucedo also said that PSA will continue to host forums for students to talk about current events. Past events of this nature include a talk about the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and those in Hong Kong.
“People are really interested in seeing current issues,” Saucedo said. “When we did the Ferguson talks, for example, we had over 70 people because it was a current event. We had a professor come and speak about what it meant and what it means going forward. I want to continue doing these smaller events on topics that are affecting everyone.”
Despite the successes of their own events, several members of PSA feel that the organization struggles to combat general apathy toward politics on campus.
“It’s a very painfully slow process getting people involved in politics,” said Shikhar Gupta, PSA’s webmaster and a member of two PSA member organizations. “We’ve had really good showing at events at the beginning of the year, but it tapers off. People get busy with midterms, people don’t have the time or might not be engaged in certain issues. It gets frustrating at times, but it’s something that changes over a long period.”
Nonetheless, those involved with PSA feel that their goal of increasing political engagement among students, though at times a challenge, is a worthy cause.
“People always talk about how the millennial generation is going to have a huge influence on politics, but not yet. Not yet, because we’re still kids,” Phillips said. “But we need to be cultivating the minds of the millennials generation to be thinking about the issues that are going to be facing us as we get deeper into the 21st century. That is where I think PSA is going to have the biggest influence by bringing in inspiring speakers and interesting speakers and by giving students the chance to talk about these issues that they’ll have to deal with 10 or 20 years down the road.”