A committee trying to reform the undergraduate student government to include underrepresented communities held its first meeting Tuesday night.
The ad hoc committee, which aims to discuss ways to increase student representation in the Undergraduate Students Association Council, is meant to consist of several USAC representatives and a student focus group. However, only one of 15 students in the focus group attended the first meeting.
At the Nov. 10 council meeting, USAC Transfer Student Representative Divya Sharma proposed creating the committee in response to the presidential election results. He said he wanted to see more representation of student communities on the council table. The council approved the formation of the committee at its next meeting on Nov. 15.
Sharma, who plans to oversee the committee, recommended council members Academic Affairs Commissioner Ashly Mohankumar, Internal Vice President Sabrina Zeigler, Community Service Commissioner Zack Dameron and Student Wellness Commissioner Christina Lee to help with outreach or research-based tasks in the committee. The council approved Sharma’s recommendations unanimously Jan. 10. None of the appointed council members attended the committee’s first meeting.
The committee plans to hold weekly meetings to discuss the possibility of restructuring USAC to include more student groups that are currently underrepresented in student government. Sharma added the reform could be small, such as adding a position to an office, without creating entirely new seats on council.
“We need to reform the system,” Sharma said. “The best system is to have people of different communities in power.”
The focus group, which consists of USAC and non-USAC members, is supposed to provide student input to the committee to better inform its discussions.
In November, Sharma suggested restructuring the council to resemble a senate system, and potentially eliminating the general representative positions. However, some council members said they were concerned about the proposal because they thought it might not be an effective model.
Sharma added he thinks USAC needs to be more accountable and do a better job of reaching out to students.
“We don’t hear representatives say, ‘I will go out into the community and talk to them,’” he said. “It’s difficult to constantly reach out but it’s our job.”
Three USAC council members, a USAC staff member and a student who is friends with a council member attended the event. Justin Jackson, a second-year political science and communication studies student, said he only came to the event because he and General Representative 2 Ruchit Majmudar saw there was a meeting near Majmudar’s office and decided to stay. Johnson and Majmudar left after about half an hour.
The attendees discussed how USAC could better hear student concerns and provide underrepresented communities with USAC positions.
Brian Kohaya, USAC Office of the President appointment director and the only member of the focus group who attended, said he came to hear perspectives from people outside of USAC.
Mohankumar, a committee member who did not attend the first meeting, said she wants the committee to act as an outlet for students to voice concerns or suggest improvements to student government.
Sharma said he thinks emailing reminders could have increased attendance. Students volunteered to be part of the focus group by filling out an online form.
Zeigler, a committee member who also did not attend the first meeting, said she thinks student focus groups help gather as much student input as possible.
“Our main goal is to see if there are any systematic changes that can be made in order to create a better student government,” Zeigler said.
Sharma said he hopes the committee will find a way for USAC to better represent underrepresented communities on campus.
“We need communities as a whole that are lacking,” he said. “We need an arts and world culture position, engineering position, not just ethnic culture groups (in USAC) but also academic-based organization representation.”
Sharma added he believes USAC usually does not reach out to enough of the student population when it appoints students to positions in offices or committees. He said he thinks it looks bad when mostly friends of USAC members get appointments.
External Vice President Rafi Sands, who is not part of the committee, said he thinks the committee’s aim to improve USAC’s system is constructive, but he has no opinion on its specific goals.
“It’s good that student government is being self-critical,” Sands said. “We should question our own systems.”
Cultural Affairs Commissioner Amy Shao, who is also not part of the committee, said she does not think the committee would be effective if it neglects to inform students on how the undergraduate student government currently works.
“Lots of students don’t know USAC and its structure,” Shao added. “Is (a new reform) what students want?”