A progressive path for Student Government

By Ankit Jain

Only two slates are running to lead Student Government (SG) this year: United Progress (UP) and Delta Upsilon’s satirical Moose Party. UP is the strong favorite, and their agenda is one of the most ambitious in recent history. It reflects and expands upon many of the goals of this year’s slate, Impact. UP’s platform and its relation to Impact highlight the evolving nature of SG and its role in the University.

Before last year, SG was not seen as a means for pursuing the progressive goals that Impact has initiated and that UP hopes to accomplish. UP consists of second-year Tyler Kissinger running for president, third-year Arlin Hill running for vice president of administration, and third-year Aseal Tineh running for vice president of student affairs.

According to Yusef al-Jarani, vice president for student affairs during the 2011–12 academic year and unsuccessful candidate for president in last year’s Ignite slate, SG has existed primarily as a funding body. Impact has changed the rules of the game, orienting SG toward political issues in a major departure from previous slates.

“What Impact did is relatively new—at least from what I know—which is this focus on a very specific…it’s almost like they’re running for local government or state government. You’re talking about these very broad policy issues as opposed to, ‘we want to reform the way funding is done on campus,’” Al-Jarani said.

Impact slate ran on a platform that sought to introduce UCPD reform, push for a level one trauma center, reform the sexual assault policy, and substantially improve access for disabled students, among other initiatives. The slate, consisting of fourth-year Michael McCown as president, third-year Sofia Flores as vice president for administration, and second-year Jane Huber as vice president for student affairs, won with approximately 45 percent of the vote, with 3,126 votes cast in total.

While expressing his support for many of UP’s goals, Al-Jarani questioned how representative Impact has been of the student body as large.

“There are people who care about these goals, but there are also a lot of students who just care about getting a job and being able to pay off their student loans. There are students who just care about having a good time on campus because academics are stressful. So I think that Student Government, if it is going to be a true representative of students, needs to hit on all those areas,” he said.

McCown defended his slate’s outlook with their electoral victory.

“I’m not a walking survey, I do not have unmediated insight into the minds of all fifteen thousand students; however, we won the election, we were honest about what we cared about in the election. That is democracy, that is representation, [and] that is what we have to deal with,” he said.

Kissinger, the likely future president, echoed McCown’s convictions.

“I’m going to do what I think is right; at the end of the day I can’t do something that I don’t think is right. I have enough faith in the people who vote that if they elect me, they think I will do a good job representing their interests,” he said.

Unlike Impact, however, Kissinger is running without a serious competitor to challenge his vision of what SG should be. Fourth-year PhD student Graduate Council Vice Chair Anthony Martinez, a member of Al-Jarani’s unsuccessful Ignite slate from last year, said that he thought last year’s contentious election played a large part in dissuading more traditional challengers to UP this year.

“I don’t want to call [them]career SGers, but people who have always been putting their efforts into SG since they first started here, maybe have shirked away from that based on the election that happened last year,” he said. Martinez said he considered running, but decided against it after last year’s contentious elections.

McCown explained that events in the activist community last year inspired him to run. “A lot happened last year that built a coalition…[and] really made people think about their issues and their activism in relation to other people,” he said.

Once elected, Impact quickly ran into the reality of Student Government responsibilities. “I think initially in the beginning of the year it was really frustrating coming into SG and getting committees thrown at you that you have to appoint people to and all these administrative duties and navigating those,” Flores said.

During their term, Impact slate has been able to establish their RSO Disabilities Accessibility Pilot Program, produced a report on the UCPD’s Independent Review Committee, and will launch a sexual assault awareness week later this month. However, it did not attain a voting student on the Board of Trustees, achieve a graduate student union, make significant progress on University divestment from fossil fuel companies, or convince the University to open a level one trauma center, among other campaign goals.

Impact’s efforts to reform sexual assault policies exemplify how their ambitious electoral goals often had to be scaled back to smaller, more achievable results. “For sexual assault, our platform idea was to have an informal complaint process, but logistically that’s really hard because University officials are sort of mandated reporters. But I think the sexual assault awareness week has sort of been an adjustment,” Flores said.

Many of Impact’s difficulties come with dealing with an administration that they claim was not interested in listening to SG on certain issues. McCown emphasized SG’s ability to affect change outside of the University administration in certain cases, pointing to the disabilites accessibility program, which provides funding and administrative support to RSOs that participate in accessibility training. “That’s a point of intervention you don’t need administration necessarily to be on board with. We can do this fully within Student Government, we have the capacity to do this program to see if it works, [and] it doesn’t require wrangling with any unwilling administrators,” he said.

UP slate’s platform echoes many of Impact’s goals, such as advocating for graduate student rights, a trauma center, and UCPD reform. However, their platform also includes concrete measures such as restructuring Student Government, conducting a campus climate report, and streamlining funding for RSOs.

If UP is elected as next year’s executive slate, the progressive turn of SG will continue for at least one more year. But after that, the institutional stature of SG and the politics of the students who run that institution remain to be seen.

“It’s sort of hard because SG is never going to be taken as legitimate until we have a higher [voter] turnout rate than we’ll have this year…. But at the same time, we’re never going to have that SG that inspires people to turn out until people take it seriously,” Kissinger said. So it’s this…bad feedback loop. I think it bodes very poorly for the institution unless people put a lot of time and a lot of energy and hold their representatives to a very high standard.”