Over the last two years, voter turnout at USC has seen a dramatic decline, indicating an alarming trend of voter disengagement among the University’s student population. After the 2016 Undergraduate Student Government election, the USG elections committee announced that students cast a mere 3,700 ballots — 39 percent less than the year before.
Informed voting and elections with high participation rates are hallmarks of a strong democracy, not just on a national level, but also on college campuses like USC, where elections directly affect students’ day-to-day lives to a deeper extent than any large-scale federal election ever could.
In the midst of a new political era, Americans — especially millennials — have grown particularly disenchanted with the establishment that has historically ignored their voices. Many justifiably believe they are trapped within a system that prevents them from affecting substantive change. However, failure to participate and remain informed due to these sentiments is ultimately counterproductive.
Now is not the time to sit back. Politics is an inescapable aspect of every citizen’s life, and in this sense, the decision to not vote carries just as many consequences as the decision to vote. Whether we vote for certain policies and leaders or not, they will inevitably govern our everyday lives; failing to vote will not magically remove us from the election’s impact. The choice to abstain is tantamount to allowing others to decide our fate.
USG has historically made strides toward creating a more inclusive campus climate. But many of the aspects of daily life on campus that students complain about could be addressed through voting for presidential and Senate candidates. Students should vote for candidates they believe are receptive to their needs and willing to listen to and communicate with constituents.
By voting in the USG election next week, students will be electing leaders with the capacity to affect undergraduate students’ physical and mental health, whether through changing dining options or advocating for better access to mental health counseling, establishing wider access to birth control at the health center or getting feminine hygiene products stocked in campus restrooms.
The leaders we elect will make decisions regarding budgets for crucial sexual health prevention training reforms, environmental sustainability and public health programs, public safety efforts, concerts, career fairs, mentorship programs, an array of campus events and, of course, tuition hikes. They will influence policies that could determine whether or not survivors of sexual assault are delivered justice and will impact the safety of our immigrant and international peers under a presidential administration that is unprecedentedly hostile toward them.
Now more than ever in this complex political climate, complacency in our student elections is not an option. With the safety of students of ethnic minorities and other marginalized identities at stake and so many ways for our campus leaders to help and fight for policies to protect the dignity of their peers, we must meet those seeking to serve us halfway by voting and speaking up for the change we want to see. Campus elections serve as the ultimate preparation for the “real world,” as they teach students to understand the consequences of action versus inaction, of being informed versus being ignorant.
As a student publication, our role at the Daily Trojan has always been to provide unbiased reporting to the campus community to empower them to learn, make well-informed decisions and vote in their best interests. However, it is also paramount that students recognize their responsibility to educate themselves and remain informed by utilizing the resources provided to them. Voter engagement on our campus stems from a reciprocation of effort between the press and the voter, and an informed democracy cannot exist in the absence of this relationship.
At the end of the day, the first step toward having our interests represented is expressing them through our ballots. The system is flawed, but to harp on about its flaws while never taking initiative, educating oneself and participating in elections will do nothing to fix it. It is critical that USC students learn this lesson now through participating in next week’s USG election. And change always starts with a single vote.
Daily Trojan Spring 2017 Editorial Board