On Thursday night, Undergraduate Student Government campaigns will become public and candidates will be unveiling their positions on campus issues. It is worth recalling that last year, only 3,700 students — less than 20 percent of the undergraduate population — cast their ballots in the Undergraduate Student Government election. To put that in perspective, more people in Kentucky in Knox County wrote in candidates such as Dolly Parton and The Walking Dead character Rick Grimes than USC students voted at all last year. It’s no secret that millennials tend to not show up to vote at national elections, but it’s surprising and concerning that so few students take the time to invest themselves in decisions that affect nearly every aspect of their college experience. But it’s a new year and a new student body — so let’s find our voices and register our votes.
Elections provide an opportunity for people to express their beliefs, but the fact that not even 4,000 students voted last year — even with incentives like free In-N-Out — is discouraging, to say the least. This low voter turnout reflects not only our political apathy, but also our indifference toward how our campus runs. We talk about civic engagement and political participation on the national level — and even at the state and local ones — but there’s no reason that these concepts shouldn’t apply to our colleges. After all, it’s the policies created and enforced on campus that have a greater effect on us than many federal and other laws.
In the midst of lingering issues such as mental health awareness, silence is no longer an option. The options in the dining hall and on campus affect our health and well-being; policies related to sexual assault determine whether survivors receive the justice that they deserve; and tuition hikes often force students to take out more loans or even leave the school. Despite the progress of recent administrations, USC still struggles with transparency, affordability, sustainability and accessibility. Despite efforts by both students and faculty, many Trojans still feel disenfranchised, frustrated and voiceless. Despite recent initiatives, more work remains to be done to transform University Park Campus into a more socially, politically and environmentally aware campus. And with the advent of President Donald Trump’s administration, the question remains how USC should respond to federal policies, such as its stances on environmental protection and student debt.
It’s easy to doubt whether a student government can advance progress, much less affect a single student’s life. But realize that this isn’t your typical high school student government. Equipped with a staff of over 100 students and a budget of over $2 million, USG hosts dozens of events from concerts to speaker series, advocates for policies such as tuition freezes and makes structural changes, from extending dining hall and library hours to forging a partnership with Uber.
But voting isn’t passively checking a box — it’s an active decision that requires research and deliberation. We have the opportunity to elect a president, vice president and 12 senators — it’s our responsibility to weigh our options, determine which candidates align with our own positions and make informed decisions. At the very least, this should make us more aware of campus issues and steer us toward making a difference ourselves. We owe it to ourselves and to our fellow students.
Civic engagement is a lifelong pursuit, and it should begin here at USC. Too many millennials may have stayed home in 2016, but 2017 can mark a new year of student engagement, progress and, of course, free In-N-Out.