The Undergraduate Student Government Senate rejected the bylaw amendment proposal to add a new advocacy director by a vote of 9-3 on Tuesday.
This was the first proposal rejected by the Senate this academic year. The proposed repurposed Director of External Affairs position under the advocacy branch, was meant to increase political engagement among USC students. Many senators feared that the spirit of the position could be corrupted by partisan allegiances.
Senator Preston Fregia was vehement in his opposition to the new position. When the position was proposed two weeks ago, he referred to an article from The New Yorker, which described the influence of conservative groups on student governments in many top universities. USC was mentioned in the article, connecting the University’s student government with the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA. A recent Daily Trojan investigation referred to documents that linked USG President Austin Dunn to TPUSA.
“[The New Yorker piece] talked about this idea of people being influenced by outside institutions,” Fregia said. “And to be honest, I thought that maybe it could be someone like a senator, but I didn’t know that it was the head of the institution: Austin Dunn.”
Senator Natalie Antounian spoke in favor of Dunn and Vice President Morgan Monahan at the meeting, saying that their track record in office for supporting progressive policies spoke for itself.
Senator Katie Bolton led the charge in favor of the amendment for the new advocacy director, noting low political involvement among college students as justification for adding this position. Bolton said she consulted directly with Alec Vandenberg, co-director of the Service Student Assembly and architect of the proposal.
“Despite the fact that students make up a huge constituency, politicians have little incentive to faithfully represent our interests because we do bother to not involve ourselves in the process,” Bolton said. “We don’t vote and we don’t advocate for ourselves. Unsurprisingly, our priorities are largely neglected.”
Senator Blake Ackerman also spoke against the proposal. He voiced concerns regarding partisan bias and how it would be an issue regardless of whether it was conscious bias.
“I think that this position would become partisan because at the end of the day, students have their own positions and backgrounds,” Ackerman said. “Our job is not to use our backgrounds or use our positions as leverage.”
Bolton continued to press her point regarding student involvement in politics, describing how the new director could help students exercise their desires to become involved.
“By having an organizer in place that can facilitate that participation and empower students to make their voices heard, the … barrier to entry is decreased,” Bolton said.
Senator Tyler Matheson noted the abundance of questions and reservations regarding the amendment, saying that this was cause for concern. He suggested that the position be moved to programming, but that otherwise it would be unnecessary.
“All of advocacy is about issues,” Matheson said. “They advocate on behalf of students on issues and if we have to particularly say that this position can’t do that, it just makes no sense to do this.”