For most USC students, Undergraduate Student Government elections don’t matter. Heck, 70 percent of Trojans don’t vote for their student leaders.
A change in the campaign process for the student government offices is as relevant to the average student as a shift in how his or her Panda Express is prepared in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center below it.
But USG members, whose connection to the organization is shaped by countless matching profile pictures and bonding retreats, have plenty to say about USG leadership for the upcoming year.
Trojans’ newsfeeds might be full of people urging them to vote for their candidates, but it’s likely the posts were made by students who are already in office.
This is a change. Before this semester, students involved in USG weren’t allowed to vocally support candidates for a presidential, vice-presidential or Senate position. But now anyone can openly promote whichever candidate they choose.
And this is a huge problem.
When USG members couldn’t openly endorse candidates, it forced candidates to approach regular students. To get someone to share their campaign message, they had to reach outside of the office and get groups who wouldn’t normally vote invested in their platforms.
The Rini-Jordan campaign boasted more endorsements than any other ticket in history last year with the support of 45 organizations. The campaign reached diverse groups of students, from the men’s rugby team to the Lebanese Club.
As the elections continue, both presidential and vice presidential tickets have attracted endorsements from student organizations. But presidential tickets also occupy the profile pictures of the Executive Director of Program Board and Committee Directors.
It’s easy to get the people who run the voting booths active in the process. But when they’re the only ones, it defeats the purpose of students choosing their own leaders.
The change is problematic because it taints not only who votes for the office, but also the office itself. The positions that candidates aren’t elected into are chosen by the people already in USG. The Executive Director and Finance Director of Program Board help decide who inherits their positions. Their picks also co-hire PB Directors. When these USG members run or endorse candidates, it makes students hoping to keep, promote or get a position reluctant to support another candidate.
In this election, anyone with social media can see that many USG members are for the Edwin-Austin campaign. Because of the professionalism of our student leaders, it’s extremely unlikely that supporting the opposing Henriquez-Pham campaign costs a position or promotion in USG, but someone in an interview at an office full of Giants posters is not about to put on a Patriot’s jersey.
Even if USG supported Edwin-Austin and Henriquez-Pham equally, this change in the election process changes the student government itself. Within a few more years, we could look a lot more like UCLA, whose divisive politics have colored activity in student government.
Members of UCLA’s student government are vocal about whom they support, even split into political parties — Bruins United and LET’S ACT. This has proved to be alienating and, at points, destructive. Rather than encourage students to get invested in the issues, the election process has derailed into identity politics.
“USC’s student government system and election process becoming more like UCLA’s is unnerving.” said Jennifer Frazin, a junior majoring in English and critical studies. As a Jewish student, her anxiety comes from the outbreak of anti-Semitism demonstrated by LET’S ACT, whose members made national headlines for rejecting Jewish students like Rachel Bedya from office based on her Judaism.
At UCLA, the party divide became less over platforms and more of a schism between Jewish students and people of color. BU nominated a Jewish presidential candidate, Heather Rosen, while LET’S ACT supported Morris Sarafian, who partook in the anti-Semitic line of questioning Bedya that hit The New York Times.
Instead of endorsing candidates, Bruins in student government took each other down, with accusations of privilege, selling drugs and Jew-hatred. Members of each party cried hysterically as elects were announced.
But after the election, peace was not made. Candidate Kevin Casasola said his loss signified that voters don’t care about the issues he faces as a queer Filipino, rather than that they disagreed with his platforms. USC needs an election process that encourages a collaborative environment. Candidates with opposing viewpoints are essential, as is collaborating and respecting each other. USG cannot be captive to identity politics, let alone internal hostility.
If USG members need to keep quiet about whom they’re voting for, it’s worth the sting.