No place for campus politics: Why some students choose not to run for USG Senate

Photo by Catherine Yang | Daily Trojan

In last year’s Undergraduate Student Government elections, only one candidate out of 13 who ran for Senate did not win a seat. Since then, USG has re-examined its elections process and implemented changes in an attempt to encourage more students to run for office, such as extending the application window and removing the signature quota a candidate must reach before campaigning. Called the largest election overhaul in several years by USG’s Director of Elections and Recruitment at the time, the result of the new policy’s first year was minimal: Only two more candidates are running for a seat.

Nicholas Fiorillo, current president of the USC College Democrats, initially considered running for office before ultimately deciding his passion for politics could be better served in other capacities.

“I know at USG, for example, they require you to spend so many hours in the office working on USG-related projects, while the work we do at College Democrats is a bit more flexible and varies based on the needs of the time,” Fiorillo said. “It’s a little more accessible, and more reflective of the work that I wanted to do at USC.”

One of the main items on Fiorillo’s agenda is to stimulate large-scale, on-campus interest in politics, rather than see students confine themselves to issues solely related to the USC community. While recognizing the outreach efforts that come from USG, Fiorillo saw the College Democrats as a more appropriate organization in which to focus his energy.

“I saw that I could have a more direct impact by encouraging young people on campus to get involved politically, as opposed to USG,” Fiorillo said. “For there to be a successful student body and climate here, I think you need both a strong student government led by talented, thoughtful people, but I also think you need groups like the College Democrats and others that encourage people to think beyond just what happens at USC and how we can have an impact in the national political conversation.”

On the other side of the aisle, leaders from the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom pointed to the perceived liberal slant of many officers in USG as a reason for its members’ disinterest in getting involved. Club chairman Maxwell Brandon, like Fiorillo, said he considered running but decided not to after he said friends reminded him that his voice would be the minority in student government.

“I actually looked into applying for an appointed position, and one of my friends who was on it was like ‘Max, you know no one on USG’s political opinions line up with yours, you’re going to be miserable,’” Brandon said. “So I was like, ‘Well, maybe I should just do something else.’”

Shannon Hennessy, the vice chairman of YAF, said that USG is often too closed off when it comes to listening to conservative viewpoints.

“For me, it doesn’t really matter if they’re liberal,” Hennessy said. “It’s just a matter of whether or not they’re willing to hear our perspective, which a lot of the times that’s not the case.”

Additionally, Senator Isabella  Smith said that for some students, the senator position can appear intimidating.

Smith has been in USG since her freshman year as a delegate for the University Affairs Committee and later the director of a hospitality committee; yet, she admitted she was initially intimidated by the senatorial position’s prestige.

“Once I overcame my original fear, I ran to be a senator because I wanted to represent a lot of students and I feel like I am a good voice, because I am involved in a lot of different things on campus,” Smith said. 

Senator Christine Bradshaw said low engagement could also be due to the pressures of securing a senate position by election, rather than appointment.

“[I] would think that people would be more encouraged to run because it is so popular vote-based,” she said. “It is all campaign-based and what you can do for yourself it is self-driven.”

But Bradshaw said she decided to run for senate because she recognized USG’s unparalleled ability to tackle problems and advance initiatives. She also explained the role of senators as mediators who can create resolutions directly aimed to address students’ needs.

“The main things that [senators] do are advocacy projects,” Bradshaw said. “We occasionally put out surveys to see what the student body is feeling or if we have something we are really passionate about.”