We at the Highlander would like to give our congratulations to our newly elected ASUCR representatives on their hard-earned victories this year. The campaign was long and sometimes negative, but each of you soldiered through the slime and debris to earn the trust of the student body and represent us to UCR, the UC and the Riverside community. If their support is any indication, you are the best choice to truly better our campus and the conditions of UCR students.
Most praiseworthy is the fact that student turnout was the highest on record, both in percentage and in sheer numbers. Over 6,500 undergraduate students took the time to cast a ballot this year, or 38 percent of the total undergraduate population. This is leaps and bounds ahead of our prior elections — especially last year’s, which motivated only a puny 17 percent of students to vote. The candidates running for our elected positions gave students a reason to take part in the democratic process. Students are frequently criticized for not paying attention to local issues or not taking part in elections, but this year UCR students paid attention and took part.
ASUCR itself has largely been responsible for generating so much interest in campus issues. Without the debates, students would not have had the opportunity to see the candidates’ positions on issues. Without actively talking with voters, students would not have known the candidates cared about them and the issues important to them. Without campaigning so actively, the students would not have been so active with their votes.
ASUCR has succeeded in turning more eyes than ever toward student activism broadly and ASUCR itself more specifically. Now more than ever, it is important for ASUCR to prove that it is a place students can come to for help with the issues important to them. The incoming senate has drawn student interest, but it cannot rest on its laurels and must now undertake the hard work to maintain that student interest.
Although there are a number of things that can be done, there is no substitute for basic student outreach. Right now, it is too difficult for students to contact their elected representatives. Senate meetings are held late at night and can alienate commuters or students who work part-time. Holding office hours is one way to enable students with a variety of different schedules to talk to ASUCR representatives. Senators cannot shut down this vital method of communication by ditching their office hours.
But office hours by themselves aren’t enough. ASUCR should also hold regular outreach events to the student population so students don’t have to come to the senate chambers to have their voices heard. This idea has been promised many times on the campaign trail; now ASUCR can fulfill it by tabling at nooners or organizing outreach events in the HUB for students to attend.
ASUCR doesn’t have to limit itself to events explicitly labelled “outreach,” either. They can make their presence known by having senators attend athletic events, Barn shows and other campus events. The Food Truck Festival was such a great success because it provided starving students with dynamic food opportunities frequently unavailable on campus. But it also gave ASUCR an opportunity to show what it can do and prove to students that their student body truly is listening to them. Having more events in this vein will raise the profile of ASUCR and show students that their university representatives can have an impact on their college lives.
Another impediment to student involvement is the legal and procedural jargon that surrounds the senate meetings and bylaws. Procedure is of course important to ensure that all voices are given a fair hearing, but some students may not understand why it’s important or how a senate meeting works. Holding workshops to describe the purpose of ASUCR and how it functions would immensely benefit students. Students can learn how to craft legislation of their own, how to get involved in ASUCR and discover the resources available to them on campus. At the end of the day, students would become more engaged in the decision-making process at the university level, something that can only be beneficial.
But even if ASUCR holds outreach events and legislative workshops, it can’t expect students to maintain interest if we don’t see results. This is why it is so worrisome to see that the first official act of the incoming senate is to select a president pro tempore and elections director via secret ballot. This isn’t the first time either. Each and every ASUCR vote on divestment was held secretly, with senators refusing to trust the students enough to show their votes — even though students trusted their senators enough to elect them.
We understand that there are multiple factors at play, but the democratic contract is one of mutual trust and respect. Students trust their representatives to listen to them and be honest with them. In turn, representatives trust the students to be engaged and make informed decisions. Students have upheld our end of the bargain. ASUCR needs to do the same. If not, students have no reason to invest their time, energy, or trust into an elected body that is unresponsive and opaque.
One of the most interesting results of the election was the rejection of the ASUCR fee referendum, despite the massive turnout largely generated by parties spurring students to get involved in the ASUCR elections. Perhaps students felt as if they could not trust ASUCR with their student fees, even as they voted in record numbers. It is up to ASUCR to change that dynamic by bringing true transparency to our student government.
As we wind down to the end of the quarter and the end of the year, we must remember that every ending is also a new beginning. ASUCR has the opportunity to turn the page on this year and open a new chapter — one in which students take a more active role and ASUCR is seen as the bringer of change it has the potential to be. ASUCR can take what it’s learned from this year and add in a pinch of new ideas to create a better, more representative student government. With so many eyes on ASUCR right now, it is important that ASUCR not squander that chance.