New USG rules make elections democratic

As Trojans across campus stand upon the precipice of another Undergraduate Student Government election season — candidates’ websites will go live on Thursday — they are also mentally preparing themselves for the barrage of Facebook profile picture changes, debates between candidates and frenetic Trousdale Parkway campaigning that will color the next few weeks.

It’s heartening to see that the past year’s focus on diversity and inclusion within USG has allowed the organizations to look within — namely, to accurately assess whether or not USG structurally contains the diversity and inclusion that has painted external advocacy over the last semester. So as elections begin, it’s important that changes in USG rules — both the dismantling of Senate constituencies and the creation of the Positional Leadership Stipend — will make USG elections more representative of the student body.

Upon further reflection, it’s unclear why the specific Senate constituencies ever existed — considering that these demographics do not accurately represent the student body. Before the change, the 12 USG Senate seats were divided up into six residential, three greek and three commuter constituencies. An April 2014 USC admissions blog clocks in commuter students at 10 percent of the undergraduate student body. For these students to have a quarter of Senate representation seems undemocratic — but at the same time, it could be an important distinction for commuter concerns that often do not receive the attention they deserve. So, as USG moves forward with its new rules, it should keep an eye on commuter interests to ensure that they don’t fall by the wayside.

The new rules also restructure Senate constituencies to better represent greek interests. According to U.S. News and World Report, greek students comprise just 3,500 of the almost 19,000 undergraduate students at USC — that is, only 18.7 percent of Trojans participate in greek life. Compared to the 25 percent of representation greek interests were given in the Senate, it begs the question: If greek students have a louder voice, whose voices are they overshadowing?

Adding insult to injury is the greater institutional support that greek student leaders are already given within USG. It’s no secret that greek “armies” offer huge numerical advantages to greek candidates for both Senate and other leadership positions by storming voting booths and promoting candidates within their house on social media. This is even more true for new members, who could be instructed to support candidates as part of their pledging process.

But it’s not just greek student leaders who are given institutional support. Much like politics outside the gates of USC, it’s those who are given the access, guidance and means to run a successful campaign. That’s what makes the introduction of the Positional Leadership Stipend, which financially supports low-income student leaders, so crucial to changing this unfortunate reality. It’s both an important source of emotional and financial support for those whose thankless advocacy has changed our campus and an admirably self-aware realization that, in order to continue advocacy for diversity and inclusion, student leadership should be diverse and inclusive.

It’s no surprise that this election season will be one of unprecedented proportions, given the never-before-seen rise in size and scope of campus politics in the past year. Moreover, predictions that every Senate seat will be competitive this year — as opposed to the 12 unopposed seats last year — suggest that the election season will be an important transition step to see how USG leadership will evolve from a year of highly visible advocacy over controversial issues. Trojans, grab your popcorn and find a bench on Trousdale — or by your laptop. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Sonali Seth is a sophomore majoring in political science and policy, planning, development. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. “’SC, What’s Good?” runs every other Thursday.

Correction: A previous version of this column stated that, prior to the changes in Senate constituencies, there were four residential, four greek and four commuter Senators. There were six residential, three greek and three residential. The column has also been updated to correct the respective percentages. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.

1 reply
  1. Tommah Trojan
    Tommah Trojan says:

    In the past, a plurality of voter turnout has been greek. One thing I’m afraid of is that it will lead to an even more disproportional representation of Greeks in the senate versus what exists now. I guess the argument can be made that if the greeks turn out, they deserve the seats, but they already have IFC/PHC as a voice to the admins.

    On the other hand, these changes will make it literally impossible for a commuter to get a senate seat or run to truly represent the commuter community without having to pander to the former Res and Greek constituencies. Turnout among commuters has always been historically low (Total voter turnout under 350) while some individual residential and/or greek candidates received over 1000 votes.

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