USG’s institutional flaws hinder the democratic process
Content warning: The following article contains mentions of sexual assault and drugging.
The elections for Undergraduate Student Government take USC by storm every year, with Trousdale’s green lawn impaled with campaign posters of presidential and senatorial candidates. After the Daily Trojan Editorial Board conducted interviews with USG presidential candidates over the past week, witnessed the egregious actions at the presidential debate and observed and researched USG’s tumultuous past, it has become abundantly clear that the USG elections do not need an endorsement but, instead, a criticism.
In separate interviews with the Daily Trojan Editorial Board, the three president and vice president tickets, Hannah Woodworth and Nivea Krishnan, Rachel Lee and Collin Colson and Kyle Valdes and Safal Mengi, detailed their platforms.
The Hannah-Nivea ticket bolstered its policy platform with its intent to approach its positions of power with an “educational lens.” Despite calling for proactive solutions to combat sexual assault, particularly within Greek life, they still framed themselves as pro-reform. Ironically, they also agreed that the reforms outlined by the University will be ineffective.
They emphasized understanding diversity, equity and inclusion issues through “listening tours,” inspired by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, that will be conducted with various recognized student organizations to understand student concerns. Additionally, the duo will embark on a “Fact Finder Mission” named by the USC Hillel group in a 2019 newsletter, a University-funded trip to “Israel and Palestine to better understand the conflict from people who are actually on the ground living through it,” and an accessibility audit. They echoed their support for existing sustainability projects within USG and maintaining a virtual class option model to ease accessibility concerns.
The Kyle-Safal ticket’s initiatives included moving mandatory Diversity, Equity and Inclusion workshops to an in-person format to mitigate student inattention and appointing members from Black and Indigenous people and people of color organizations to their cabinet as “experts.” The pair also emphasized accessibility initiatives, such as an advocacy committee of students with disabilities, architectural renovations on campus to increase wheelchair accessibility and free Lyft rides to LAX.
However, their ticket presented the least inspiring approach to addressing Greek life’s rampant sexual violence. Although the pair acknowledged the harm fraternities incurred on the student body, their stance is decidedly anti-abolition, advocating instead for “brother-to-brother” accountability and targeted prosecution of only proven assaulters and accomplices. As discussed in the previous Editorial Board’s piece on sexual violence in Greek life, this approach only deters from the systemic issue at hand and shifts responsibility away from perpetrators.
Inexplicably, Mengi also stated that Greek life abolition will make the task of educating racist members more arduous.
“Banning and abolishing Greek life, in essence, that wouldn’t teach the students about the systemic racism that, you know — there’s students in those fraternities and sororities that are contributing to the systemic racism on campus … They’re only going to go to other campus organizations, and it’s going to be the same thing over and over again,” Mengi said. “We’re trying to come up with solutions to teach these students about their microaggressions, about sexual assault issues.”
The Lee-Colson ticket also entered the election as write-in candidates, combining satire with a pro-abolition, anti-gentrification platform. The campaign supports community fridges on campus, denounces the label “DEI” as a “superficial veneer of actual diversity of opinion and actual inclusion of different voices” and proposes requiring restaurants in USC Village to register under the Residential Meal program and reallocation of Department of Public Safety funds.
Lee emphasized that their position as an outsider of the USG system will enhance communication between USG, USC administration and the student body.
“Burning the gap between the student body and USG … will just foster a totally different vibe of communication within the students, and they will know what we are doing,” Lee said. “They will know that we are exercising our powers as students first and foremost, and officers of the government secondly.”
The Lee-Colson ticket argues that “reform is not an option” and that the system, as a whole, should be abolished. This goal is ideal, but USG’s infrastructural setup, unfortunately, ensures that such a platform would never win.
Greek Vote Influence
From presidential candidates in the past, such as Austin Dunn, a member of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, in 2017, to the USG president today, Alexis Areias, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, the Greek vote has a history of ensuring a Greek-affiliated ticket secures a win in almost every USG election cycle.
Although USG does not keep hard data on the demographics of voters, a problem in and of itself, it does not take a lot of digging to notice a connection between Greek affiliation and whom the “student body” elects as president and vice president.
This year seems to be no different. During the Editorial Board interviews, two out of the three tickets appealed to the Greek vote in response to questions about Greek life following sexual assault accusations at IFC fraternities.
Kyle-Safal’s ignorant and apologetic platform echoes the “few bad apples” dogma that has become familiar to those protesting the systemic abuse rampant in police departments and corporate spheres for decades: Fraternities are not the problem, individuals are.
Although none of the tickets are directly affiliated with Greek life, undertones of the Greek vote’s importance undercuts their platforms and campaigns. For example, the Hannah-Nivea ticket openly promotes its campaign manager, Jack Goldman, as a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity on its Instagram page.
When Greek life already holds so much power on campus, it is counterproductive to USC’s need for change when USG elections give it even more power. The Greek vote should not be the end-all-be-all voice that comes from the student body, especially when Greek life only comprises 14% of the student population.
USG cemented its corruption during the presidential candidate debate last Friday.
The debate highlighted the Lee-Colson ticket as USG outsiders, resulting in its advocating for a grassroots campaign movement. In an almost-poetic display of USG’s inner corruption, USG’s official Instagram account commented, “I think door to door soliciting isn’t allowed lol so idk how they are gonna do that,” after the Lee-Colson ticket stated its intentions to knock on doors and explain its platform.
This mere comment not only lacked professionalism but also invalidated USG’s reputation as an institution that could run a fair election. The Daily Trojan Editorial Board condemns USG’s actions and demands that USG issues a public and permanent apology to the Lee-Colson ticket for this blatant disregard of professionalism, which further perpetuates a lack of respect toward write-in candidates and establishes USG as an exclusionary bureaucracy that uses nepotism to elect candidates with internal connections.
In addition to the comment, the Lee-Colson and Kyle-Safal tickets, as of now, are not officially listed on the USG ballot as write-in candidates, which further exacerbates USG’s anti-democratic policies this election cycle. To rectify this and give the student body a chance to fully evaluate all potential candidates, USG must allow write-in candidates to appear on the USG elections website and on the ballot.
USG also claims to “seek to create events that make people smile, implement policy that makes you feel at home, and uplift all student life at USC,” but these promises are nothing more than optical.
In response to questions of how each ticket would ensure the completion of USG projects to the student body, the Hannah-Nivea ticket highlighted that USG is an advocacy organization “at the mercy of the administration,” with Woodworth stating that she would hesitate to guarantee that various projects would be completed.
Via the current USG project tracker, only three out of 90 projects are marked as complete, with incomplete projects dating back to 2019. Although all three tickets had varying focuses within their platform’s plans, they shared one central commonality: advocacy. However, we have heard the preaching of advocacy, inclusion and change in USG before with past candidates, yet the student body continues to struggle with these issues today.
Some students are unaware of USG’s purpose because many of its practices are ostensibly done in a vacuum.
USG should vocalize student frustrations and bridge the gap between the USC undergraduate population and administration. A 2019-2020 $2.4 million budget, with $268,225 allocated as stipends for elected officials, should motivate USG enough to keep the administration in check.
However, time and time again, candidates make false promises to amplify student voices in their campaigns with little success. A disconnect between USG and the USC population remains, both in how it prioritizes its projects and these projects’ progress.
Transparency between USG and students must go beyond a lengthy project tracker. It must enact better communication with the student body and address issues that matter. The tracker fails to distinguish whether these 87 incomplete projects are just initiatives to keep USG leaders busy or if the student body’s input supports the growing list.
USG must inform USC of its accomplishments and capabilities. It must work with students to challenge the administration when necessary and incorporate non-USG affiliated students in their processes. Until it does, USG will remain an afterthought for many.
Call to Action
Although the Daily Trojan has chosen to not endorse any ticket, students should be encouraged to still participate in the democratic process, no matter how flawed, that will dictate the next leaders of USG. We hope students thoroughly research and understand the platform of each ticket, not just for the sake of tradition or a free meal but for the betterment of the USC student experience.
Students must also consider a vote’s advocacy compared to actively organizing and pushing USG and USC administration for tangible action. We can either blindly follow the wave of Greek voters, or instead demand better from our student representatives so that USG advocates in all students’ best interests.
Student government members, regardless of their prior experience or platform, must be held accountable for their promises and shortcomings, as should any campus. As the University recovers from a period of pandemic-related hardship, USG must advocate on behalf of the student body and present practical, feasible solutions beyond starting dialogue with USC administration. Without this kind of action, what is the purpose of USG?
The Editorial Board, composed of seven editors and three staff writers, conducted interviews with each of the three presidential tickets. Members of the Editorial Board did not participate in any news-related coverage of the USG election cycle. The Editorial Board framed each interview around the same questionnaire composed of questions on timely topics at USC, with follow-up questions allowed afterward.
Clarification: This article was updated on Feb. 24 at 10:02 a.m. to indicate that the “Fact Finder Mission” was named by the USC Hillel group in 2019