USC hosts first student leader symposium

Student leaders met at the second Shared Governance Symposium Sunday to discuss shared difficulties. Last semester’s symposium was held at Occidental College. (Emily Smith/Daily Trojan)

Twenty-five representatives from universities across Southern California brainstormed student government strategies at a conference meant to foster dialogue among student leaders Sunday. The Shared Governance Symposium invited leaders from USC, UCLA, Occidental College and Pitzer College to discuss challenges and collaborate on solutions found on each campus.

Undergraduate Student Government Associate Director of Marketing Truman Fritz, a sophomore majoring in business administration with an emphasis in cinematic arts, organized the symposium and welcomed the delegates to campus. He said the symposium would give student leaders the opportunity to act as “consultants” for one another.

“[We wanted] to talk about how we work with administrators to effectively enact our agendas … and represent at large,” Fritz said. “Then that conversation … started to spiral into something that I think is a lot bigger, which is building a regional coalition of educational institutions in Southern California to discuss how to do student government, how to make sure you are prioritizing the right needs, how you are representing students at large, how you are making an impact in your community.”

USG president-elect Trenton Stone and Occidental student body president Jacques Lesure helped organize the event, which was held at USC Village.  

“I wanted to connect with colleges from across the Southern California region … around best practices of elevating student voices at the institution,” Lesure said.

Occidental College created the SGS conference in Fall 2018 and hosted 11 delegates from the region. This semester, USC is hosting the conference, which has expanded to 25 delegates.

After introducing the event, student leaders initiated a open forum-style conversation to share some of the challenges of being in a position of leadership at their respective universities. Several attendees spoke about managing student apathy and low levels of engagement.

USG vice president-elect Mahin Tahsin said the apathy stems from students who feel like they don’t need to engage with campus issues because they are already preoccupied with their own studies and communities.

Erin Cooney, co-director of the USC Queer and Allied Student Association, said it is difficult to motivate students to work with an administration that is unwilling to change.

“We are overworked and also running up against institutions that are intentionally rigid,” Cooney said.

Shivani Kavuluru, president of Pitzer College’s Student Senate, suggested that stronger trust and widespread involvement in student government could convince students to participate and engage with their respective universities.

“For the student body to believe we represent them, I think we also have an obligation to convince them that we represent them,” Kavuluru said.

Representatives from the four schools also discussed the need for student governments to better represent the diverse student bodies at their respective universities.

QuASA co-director Varsha Sivaram said that this was a complicated situation for USG because it identifies as a nonpartisan body.

“I’m definitely on the same sentiment of having diversity of thought and opinion,” Sivaram said. “But at the same time sometimes I feel like that these are used as code … to have to listen to people invalidate an identity.”

The challenges of representation prompted the student leaders to discuss ways to promote diversity of both identity and thought, even when they may conflict.

At the end of the event, attendees expressed interest in having another symposium in the coming months and said they hope to increase attendance.

“The administration wants you to think that you have no say, they want you to think that you can’t do anything,” said Ava Ciosek, Occidental College’s Intercultural Affairs Liaison. “They want to churn students out … Like why are we all in this room? … Because we feel it’s our [duty] … to change them.”

A previous version of this article contained an error. Eva [sic] Ciosek is not Occidental College’s student body President — it is Jacques Lesure, as mentioned earlier in the article. Ava Ciosek is Intercultural Affairs Liaison on the Diversity and Equity Board. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.