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Bruins United, Students First! slates to focus on their past success

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With campaigning for undergraduate student government elections set to begin Thursday, Bruin Walk will soon be the site of signs, shirts and candidates asking students to vote for a particular slate.

The two slates that dominate undergraduate elections at UCLA are Bruins United and Students First!, which have, for years, battled for a majority of the Undergraduate Students Association Council. Like political parties, slates are groups of students that pool their resources together and run under similar platforms.

Bruins United was founded in 2004 by a coalition of students from Greek organizations, Hillel, Bruin Republicans and Bruin Democrats with the goal to open funding to all groups on campus, said Anna Alexandroni, co-chair of Bruins United and a fourth-year political science student.

It ran as a slate for the first time in 2005, when it won a majority on the council. That year, the Bruins United-dominated council lifted a rule that had restricted USAC funding to diversity groups, or groups representing underrepresented minorities.

The last time Bruins United held a majority on the council was during the 2007-2008 academic year. Since then, Students First! has had far more representatives at the table; Bruins United has been unable to win more than four council seats.

Two years ago, Alexandroni said her slate did not have the strongest candidates. But this year, she said, they don’t know why they didn’t win.

“Every year we go back to the drawing board,” she said. “What did we do wrong on our end? Did we not mobilize voters enough?”

But this year’s four Bruins United councilmembers, with a greater representation than the previous year, had more success in implementing a broad range of programs, she said.

Cristopher Santos, current external vice president and member of the Students First! slate, said this year’s council strived to set aside slate politics and focus on what students wanted.

“That’s one of those things we want to communicate to next year’s council,” Santos said.

Bruins United tries to mobilize students by offering tangible ideas that would benefit every UCLA student, said Jason Youdeem, Bruins United co-chair and a fourth-year global studies student.

“We’re running the best leaders on this campus,” Alexandroni said. “Our candidates are some of the most qualified on this campus for these positions.”

Students First!, which has existed on campus in different manifestations for about 30 years, concerns itself primarily with affordability of higher education, Santos said.

This year, the slate will focus on promoting past successes, said Yannina Casillas, campaign manager for most of the Students First! candidates and a fourth-year anthropology student.

“The problem with student government (is) you can do things, but no one knows,” she said. “They voted us in because they felt our platforms mattered to them. We’re trying to show them that we fulfilled that promise and more.”

Both slates try to appeal to all students on campus, although in the past the slates have been associated with specific types of student groups.

Typically, the Bruins United slate has been identified with Greek organizations, although Youdeem said he tries not to pigeonhole the slate into any section of campus.

“If 4,000 people in the Greek system always voted, we would have won every year,” Alexandroni said.

Similarly, Casillas said she disagrees with the idea her slate caters only to organizations for underrepresented students.

“We make sure that all groups on campus are represented,” she said.

In the past, slate rivalries have placed a cloud over elections season. With last year’s incident where various slates’ election signboards were torn down and vandalized, slate leaders recently met to ensure that slates and candidates keep the race fair, Casillas said.

Santos said he advises candidates to remember why they are running ““ for their fellow students.

“The minute you forget why you’re running is the minute you’re running for the wrong reasons,” he said.

The Bruins United chairs similarly reached out to the other candidates to set a tone for this year’s elections.

“If we set the tone for elections in a positive way … it will engage the campus and make the process more enjoyable,” Alexandroni said.

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