Apathy stalls student engagement

With campaign posters scattered around the grassy lawn on Trousdale Parkway and social media campaigns dominating Facebook feeds, most students know that it’s the time of year again — the elections for Undergraduate Student Government.

Last year, Edwin Saucedo and Austin Dunn were voted into office with almost two-thirds of the vote of the USC student body. However, only 3,700  voted — a small fraction of the almost 19,000 undergraduate students on campus.

From on-campus protests and prayer events, student activism is increasing in light of the recent political climate. However, this increased activism might not be able to solve the political apathy on campus or translate into voter engagement.

Some students believe that the elections do not have an impact them directly. Angie Kim, a sophomore majoring in occupational science, has never voted in the election and does not plan to. She said the lack of information about what USG does makes voting a non-priority for her.

“There isn’t a big enough presence or visibility of USG on campus for me to be concerned about who’s in it,” Kim said. “How do I know from their campaign that they would support the things I want? Because everyone just pretty much says the same thing like, ‘We want your voice to be heard,’ but don’t really do anything about that.”

Morgan Spencer, a sophomore majoring in international relations, said she will vote in the election, but she does not feel many changes will be made.

“I don’t think the administration listens to students anyway,” Spencer said. “It seems like most of the measures they push are not granted, or are granted in such a way that will appease the irritation of the student body but not actually address the issues to make real change.”

Spencer commented on her perception of the role USG plays in the student body, or lack thereof.

“USG is not doing work that affects me or my peers, but even if they are, we’re not aware of it,” Spencer said. “If I knew what they did, then maybe I would care more.”

While the number of voters for the USG elections rose from 30 percent to 32 percent in 2015, last year showed yet another low turnout.

Aaron Ashby, a senior studying film production, said that many people do not vote because they are too involved in their personal and professional lives. However, Ashby recognizes the importance of voting.

“USG has a huge impact in our daily lives as charges. The resolutions that they pass, like being a sanctuary campus, directly affect our lifestyle,” Ashby said. “I want to make sure that the people who represent my values are represented in the Senate and in all the offices of the USG.”

The problem may be due to the truncated campaign time in the USG election that started last year. Since then, the amount of time that candidates are allowed to campaign decreased by a week — from three weeks to only two weeks. However, USG elections commission maintained the same two-week campaign period this past year.

Donielle Bunyard, assistant director of elections, said there are a few reasons why students may not engage with USG.

“The first thing that comes to mind is a lack of understanding of what USG is and does,” Bunyard said. “Many students may not connect projects like USC Uber or establishing USC as a smoke-free campus to the work of USG members.”

Bunyard said that despite the fact that USG members hold weekly office hours and are elected or hired to advocate for the student voice, the student body at large does not see USG as a real resource they can utilize.

“Voter turnout is also in some ways a result of how visible candidates are in any given year,” Bunyard said. “But this year, the candidates have very strong networks and are working hard to mobilize those networks both on social media and Trousdale.”

In efforts to promote the election and maintain voter turnout, USG continued their a social media campaign, “Vote On!” and worked with Annenberg Media to organize a live debate at Wallis Annenberg Hall, with an incentive to vote by offering a raffle for Air + Style tickets or a credit with ZipCar.

As USG moves to another election cycle, many students wonder whether there will be changes and greater efforts made toward making changes to improve voter engagement.

When asked how she thinks the voting will play out, Bunyard said that despite the elections this year, she hopes that the ultimate takeaway is for all the candidates to continue to be engaged with USG.

“I would hope that those candidates who are not elected would find an alternative route to create change on our campus,” Bunyard said. “It would be a shame for the election to dim the passion of any candidate.”