The Undergraduate Student Government held its first ever Senate Forum on Jan. 31. The 20 senatorial candidates were given an opportunity to present their platforms and answer questions from the audience. It’s surprising that this forum was the first one USG has ever held — in the past, students should have had the same opportunities to meet their candidates and ask them questions in a formal setting.
While candidates do attempt to reach out to students via social media, posters and flyers, USG must continue to promote similar forums, and candidates must do more to reach out to students directly. Both USG and its senatorial candidates need to improve student engagement in the USG elections process by actively using social media and increasing their campaigns’ publicity.
USG uses its own Instagram account to promote the presidential candidates but somewhat glosses over the senatorial candidates. Each presidential ticket received its own post with a caption that detailed its platform and vision. The candidates’ Instagram accounts were also linked to these posts. However, the same publicity was not given to the senatorial candidates. All of the tickets are crammed into a single post, with no information about their individual platform points or social media handles. In the future, these senatorial candidates must be accorded the same exposure that their presidential counterparts enjoy to increase awareness of student campaign efforts.
Candidates for both the senate and the presidency are active on Instagram, but they appear to receive little engagement from students. While most accounts have posted colorful graphics detailing their platforms, their posts, for the most part, have no comments. Most of these posts are informational and do not ask for questions from the student body regarding their platforms. Politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have used Instagram, specifically the live-streaming feature, to directly engage with questions from their constituents. USG candidates could benefit from being similarly active on social media.
The most direct way candidates interact with students is through representatives standing on Trousdale Parkway canvassing and handing out flyers. While this is helpful for candidate visibility in the USC community, it only provides a cursory glance at what candidates hope to change and improve at the University. Most students are hurrying to classes and hardly stop to talk to candidates or discuss their platform points. To view candidates’ platforms, students would have to visit the USG website, a step most are not willing to take and many are even unaware of.
For students to more fully understand what the candidates stand for, USG must organize more forums to increase student interaction with candidates.
If students were given ample opportunity to interact with their candidates, they would be more invested in the electoral process. Students can also ask candidates directly about their stances on issues instead of only having access to a brief overview on the USG website.
While the Senate Forum was a step in the right direction, it had some glaring flaws. The forum was held in a classroom in Grace Ford Salvatori Hall with a relatively small capacity. This discouraged large groups of students from attending. If USG used larger theaters, more students could come to learn about their candidates.
In addition to holding informational forums, USG should consider hosting debates for senate candidates. Debates are common in national and state elections, and they allow for more direct comparisons of candidates’ platforms. This active and engaging event style could increase student turnout and overall interest in student government.
Establishing this tradition of respectful competition would engage more students in the electoral process and allow candidates to spar directly with each other over issues they care about.
USG, and the candidates themselves, must provide better channels for students to interact directly with campaigns. Through increased engagement, students will be more invested in USG, turn out to vote and hold their representatives accountable once they take office.