New advocacy position proposed at USG meeting

The Undergraduate Student Government Senate will vote next week on a resolution that would add a new position to its advocacy branch. The Senate also decided to rename the Director of External Affairs position to Director of Community Affairs, adding a Director of External Affairs position would entail different responsibilities if the resolution is passed.

Alec Vandenberg, the co-director of the student service assembly, proposed the addition of a new director position in the advocacy branch to promote student interest in external affairs. Daniel Zhu | Daily Trojan

Alec Vandenberg, a co-director of the Student Service Assembly, proposed the resolution at the Senate meeting Tuesday night. He said the new position would help advocate for the undergraduate population off campus, particularly in the political sphere. The new director’s role would include calling for town halls at USC for federal and state congressional candidates.

“We want to make sure that [undergraduate students] have an avenue to express their opinions and make sure that their rights are protected,” Vandenberg said.

He cited precedent for the proposed role, noting that the Graduate Student Government as well as undergraduate student governments at many other top universities like UCLA, UC Berkeley, Georgetown University and the University of Chicago all have this position. Vandenberg said USC is currently only serving its students’ on-campus needs, and that off-campus policies that affect students’ rights are also important for USG to consider. 

“I see a lack of organization of making sure that we have a mouthpiece to connect people to outside voices and external actors,” Vandenberg said. “[Both] on- and off-campus policies affect students’ rights.”

However, several senators including Preston Fregia, Buck Andrews, Debbie Lee, Tyler Matheson, Isabella Smith and Noah Silver expressed concerns.

Andrews questioned whether this new position would politicize USG elections, noting that elected officials would influence which policy preferences would be supported by USG. He suggested that a check be placed on the potential director to ensure that policies are kept non-partisan.

Fregia expressed concerns regarding the influence of this new position on the USG budget, asking if this position would be paid. Vandenberg, while noting that the cost of the new director’s activities would be minimal, said the position would be paid.

Lee asked whether the new director would represent the true will of the undergraduate population or merely the views of more outspoken individuals. Vandenberg responded that polling would be conducted in order to fairly gauge the desires of undergraduate populations.

Among the senators questioning Vandenberg’s proposal, Matheson was the most vocal, stressing the potential entrance of ideological politics and party affiliations into USG as a result of the position

“I don’t see how, if this becomes a reality, senators can not bring their political ideologies into USG,” Matheson said. “I can’t see a possibility where I wouldn’t identify as a Democrat or Republican in order to help me win.”

Matheson also noted the existence of political groups on campus, saying that they could serve this purpose better. He expressed fear regarding the politicization of USG if this new position is implemented.

“You can see why that’s a slippery slope because then all of the sudden, you have the USG office filled with party politics, as opposed to actually serving the students,” Matheson said.

Vandenberg attempted to ease the senators’ concerns, emphasizing that the new position would focus on specific issues rather than broader ideological commitments.

“It’s making sure that government is accessible to students, not dictating that government should influence them or how we should influence them to engage with the government,” Vandenberg said. “There is going to be an emphasis on making sure that this is issue focused. It’s not about partisan politics.”

The senate also voted 11-1 in favor of sending Cindy Pineda, a USG co-chief diversity officer to a first-generation and low-income students conference taking place from Feb. 16 to 18 at the University of Pennsylvania. Senator Natalie Antounian cast the dissenting vote.