Image of Kerckhoff Hall via Wikimedia Commons
Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) officer evaluations released by the Daily Bruin on April 24 revealed that a majority of 2016-2017 USAC officers did a poor job of fulfilling campaign promises, with only two officers scoring 5 out of 5 in terms of platform completion, and zero officers scoring above a 4 in platform quality. Several officers, including USAC President Danny Siegel and USAC Internal Vice President Sabrina Ziegler, received a disappointing 2 out of 5 in terms of fulfilling their platforms.
As a response to their own student government’s inability to deliver on campaign promises, a significant number of this year’s USAC candidates ran on platforms geared toward increasing USAC transparency and accessibility.
Internal Vice President (IVP) candidate Neha Quraishi’s “U-See-USAC” platform sought to keep students informed through biweekly updates in order to hold officers accountable to their campaign promises. Similarly, External Vice President (EVP) candidate Jack Price promised to send students weekly budget reports that detail how much money the office spends, and on what.
It is difficult to say how effective these proposed measures would be in increasing USAC accountability and transparency. Members of USAC are responsible for developing and submitting their own transparency reports, in which the success of their office is easily and often exaggerated.
The fact that most USAC offices fall short on their campaign promises is disappointing in and of itself. It’s one thing to promise students easily-implemented services like access to paid internships or discounted test preparation courses and fail to deliver. However, it’s another issue when USAC candidates propose platforms to support vulnerable student populations, including students of color, undocumented students, and homeless students, who are forgotten about the instant the ballots are cast.
Marginalized student populations already suffer from a lack of representation by their student leaders. Of the fourteen USAC officers evaluated for the 2016-2017 academic year, only one ran on a platform geared toward increasing equality for a marginalized student population — in this instance, a campaign to empower women in tech, science, education and health fields. However, the officer, Academic Affairs Commissioner Ashly Mohankumar, was unable to carry out this platform to the degree her platform specified. While Mohankumar had initially planned to help mobilize a variety of UCLA organizations in order to empower women in these industries, her campaign resulted mainly in a series of social media posts featuring women within these professions.
Significantly more candidates who ran in this year’s USAC elections sought to address issues of systemic inequality through campaign platforms. General Representative candidate Celina Avalos proposed the “sHEROES” campaign initiative to enable womxn from a variety of backgrounds to become activists and leaders within their communities, and virtually all of EVP candidate Chloe Pan’s “Advocate, Innovate, Elevate” campaign platforms sought to increase equality, safety and security for marginalized student populations.
Although some of this year’s USAC candidates took a step in the right direction in terms of increasing student representation in USAC offices and through campaign platforms, it remains unclear whether or not these candidates will prove more effective than their 2016-2017 counterparts. Apart from just their failure to develop campaign platforms into timely, measurable goals, officers are also severely limited by USAC bylaws, which strictly outline what USAC offices are and are not responsible for doing. Officers also face challenges due to understaffing and the large amount of time and effort it takes just to meet with members of the UCLA administration.
The inefficiency of USAC officers and their platforms ultimately results in thousands of dollars in wasted funds which should be reinvested into the UCLA student body and used to meet the needs of UCLA’s most vulnerable students. This would be best accomplished if USAC offices partnered with and redirected funds to existing student social justice organizations that are better equipped to create positive change on campus.
UCLA student groups have consistently addressed social justice issues more effectively than the majority of USAC offices. USAC is generally good about posting workshop notices, application deadlines, and meeting agendas to their website. However, UCLA student organizations are responsible for the creation of entire academic departments as well as the Freshman Summer and Academic Advancement programs, which provide support to low-income, historically underrepresented, and first-generation college students. While USAC’s EVP office generally stays on top of lobbying for things like tuition and middle-income housing affordability, student organizations much more frequently help to pass state legislation and hold programming to educate on issues of social inequality.
Several of the 2017 USAC candidates also ran on platforms aimed at accomplishing tasks that have already been undertaken by existing student organizations. IVP candidate Vivy Li’s proposal to create a mobile app “that is inclusive of all aspects of student life at UCLA” appears to be similar to the Student Wellness Commission Active Minds’ campus mapping project, which is currently being developed by the UCLA administration and members of the Active Minds Advocacy Committee. Platform proposals like Li’s are not only a waste of time and funds due to their redundancy, but are also poorly conceived and therefore impossible to carry out. USAC candidates shouldn’t be wasting platform items on programs that have already been organized by other student organizations, particularly when those organizations are better equipped to actually deliver on them.
In addition, by including items in their platforms intended to further social justice causes important to marginalized campus communities and then failing to deliver on these items, USAC candidates succeed only in undermining the validity and importance of those causes.
“I wouldn’t like to see the subtleties of social issues minced [by USAC],” said third-year political science student Renee Ding. “Especially if they try to play up issues for votes. It trivializes issues if candidates just put it as a line on their platform but don’t care about it very much.”
By running campaigns based on social justice platforms, USAC candidates are also running on the idea that they can enter the spaces of marginalized communities on campus and appropriate the causes that people have been fighting for far longer than the last round of USAC elections. Candidates who aspire to “be” the voice of marginalized student groups make it clear that they believe they hold the power and can choose whether or not to lend it to members of marginalized communities. Student social justice organizations that dedicate their full attention, resources, and effort to issues of social inequality should not be denied credit for their own ongoing activism because a USAC candidate decided to run on a half-baked, half-assed empowerment program. While Chloe Pan’s Bruin Action Coalition platform shows her support for existing social justice organizations on campus, none of the other 2017 USAC candidates demonstrated comparable interest in or respect for these groups or the communities they represent.
In some cases where it may be unsafe for certain student populations to advocate on their own behalf, it is absolutely the student government’s responsibility to advocate directly for the interests of the student body. Otherwise, USAC should establish funds to be rerouted to other student organizations who have more time, more members, and more know-how about a given social or political cause on campus and within local, state, and national communities. Most of these groups are severely lacking in funds, which are spread too thin between UCLA’s 1,100 student organizations and are not nearly enough to support the kind of large-scale programs, events, or lobbying trips that USAC is able to afford. USAC’s Community Service Commission has already made funds available to service organizations on campus, and other USAC offices should follow suit.
By these means USAC would be able to amplify the voice and the power that student social justice organizations have already created for themselves rather than just co-opting it. Redirecting resources to these organizations would also allow USAC offices to devote the time and effort to tasks that they are actually equipped to handle. True representation is about fueling, not appropriating, the causes that the student body is passionate about, and such should be reflected in the programs of USAC’s recently elected 2017-2018 officers.