Tuesday, October 23

Students unaware of USAC’s history


Council's past shows how slates formed to resolve social issues

As spring quarter begins to unfold, you can expect an influx of
articles and events surrounding the Undergraduate Students
Association Council elections and may be approached by prospective
candidates and their supporters. Embedded in these discussions is
the idea of slates. However, what many candidates neglect to state
are the very reasons why slates are formed in the first place. Only
by examining the history of slates on this campus is it possible to
understand their varying purposes and missions.

From its inception in 1919, USAC was primarily dominated by
councilmembers who ran under programmatic platforms that focused on
events such as Mardi Gras and Homecoming. During the 1960s, many
students became discontent with USAC because of its failure to
engage broad social issues such as the Civil Rights Movement and
the Vietnam War.

The emergence of the Third World Coalition during the 1960s
brought progressive students together. They saw the need to address
issues like segregation, racism in admissions, the lack of ethnic
and gender studies, and international, anti-imperialist movements.
As USAC was planning the next big victory party for UCLA’s
football team, students in TWC turned to USAC for leadership in
supporting these movements.

In the 1980s, TWC led the campaign for corporate divestment from
South African apartheid. Through Associated Students of UCLA, TWC
could make UCLA the first university in the United States to
disinvest from corporations that did business in apartheid South
Africa. Recognizing USAC as an important player with potential to
create positive social change, students were able to contribute to
the larger movement that led to the eventual dismantling of the
apartheid system.

USAC was seen as an important part in bringing about these types
of social changes. But it took progressive students becoming USAC
councilmembers to have these issues addressed. It was TWC that
politicized USAC around these issues.

It was not until the early 1990s that groups of students came
together to ensure that USAC’s primary focus would be on
serving the political interests of the student body. These students
saw that many students’ needs were not being met. Students
cared about issues like quality of education, diversity, access to
education, student retention and civil rights, while USAC did
not.

It became clear that these issues would not be the focus of the
whole council when it failed to unanimously condemn student
organizations in the late ’80s and early ’90s for
racist, sexist and homophobic acts. In 1992, student organization
songbooks surfaced, revealing songs like “Lupe,” about
going to Mexico to rape a young Mexican girl, and “Faggot
Fraternity,” mocking sodomy and AIDS.

People turned to student government to hold students to higher
standards of tolerance and understanding. As leaders of our student
body, it is USAC’s responsibility to defend students against
any form of discrimination and injustice. Progressive students and
students of color thus united to ensure USAC was more than events
programmers and resume builders.

As the successor to TWC, one of the ways the Affirmative Action
Coalition sought to address the aforementioned issues was to engage
itself in the USAC electoral process. Thus, in 1996, Students
First! was formed. As the predecessor to Praxis and Student
Empowerment!, Students First! was founded upon principles of
diversity, equality, empowerment, reflection and action,
self-determination and justice. Students came together under a
unifying goal that was much larger than simply winning the
elections or obtaining financial resources. Students First! was an
extension of TWC, which continually fought for human rights and
equal access to education as its underlying objective.

As history shows, the development of our slate has been rooted
in progressive principles and seeing USAC as one agent for change.
Our work (that continues today) is not about arguing over scarce
resources, but envisioning how student government should be a
strong advocate for the needs of students.

Throughout the year, we have been attacked as students from many
sides. Our student fees are increasing at record levels,
proportionally fewer underrepresented students of color are
entering UCLA, student services are being cut, and housing and
parking rates are reaching record highs.

I offer this historical context to shed light on the often-lost
history of which most current councilmembers and people interested
in USAC are unaware. It’s unfortunate that people have built
such demoralizing ideas of Student Empowerment! and our history,
and continue to perpetuate false notions of what we stand for.

Cordero is USAC internal vice president.

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