Two weeks ago, the Los Angeles city elections flaunted the year’s most dismal instance of voter apathy.
And then the UCLA graduate student government election process began.
This year, all four executive positions in the Graduate Students Association cabinet, one presidential and three vice-presidential seats, are uncontested. GSA represents the voice of the graduate student body and provides services such as student-group funding and social events, which means it has notable access to campus administrators to advocate for graduate student needs.
While GSA has a history of elections with uncontested positions, this year’s bleak participation, in which only four of more than 12,000 graduate students are running, is disconcerting. At a time when graduate students stand to lose many of their student services because of budget cuts and construction projects that ignore their needs, and face possible tuition hikes due to a potential increase in the professional degree supplemental tuition, there is a need for the graduate student body to actively participate in student government, not remain indifferent to it.
The barriers to running for office are minimal; becoming a candidate only requires 50 student signatures. Uncontested GSA candidates automatically get elected as long as one person votes for them, yet no additional students beyond this year’s four bothered to apply, despite contested elections often giving way for greater voter turnout.
Increased engagement can help graduate students tackle the issues they face on campus. While GSA elections have generally boasted less-than-stellar participation, graduate students themselves have remained politically active. Be it a student-initiated petition to make more parking spots available to graduate students or the series of protests against the return to campus of Gabriel Piterberg, a history professor accused of sexually harassing two graduate students, they have sought various means of making their needs known to the administration.
And rightfully so. Developments such as the construction of the Geffen Academy – which required the relocation of the graduate student gym – and the cutting of doctoral-student travel reimbursement funds, have shown the administration is complicit with sidelining graduate student services in the name of expanding campus and cutting costs.
Even UCLA’s most recent proposal to construct five new undergraduate housing units would trample on certain graduate student services. One of the proposed apartment buildings would require the demolition of Warren Hall, a laboratory and an office building in the middle of graduate student housing.
It’s ironic that at a time when these services are in jeopardy under the administration, graduate students have turned away from their student government. GSA officers frequently meet with the chancellor and vice chancellors to discuss graduate student needs, and have access to resources the average graduate student doesn’t have.
And while many graduate students do not bother taking time away from their research and studies to engage with their student government, it seems counterintuitive at a time like this that only four people would care to pursue positions that best allows them to advocate for their needs.
Regardless of how busy their schedules may be, graduate students must recognize their voices and political sway have an impact. But that impact will only be seen if they actively participate in their government, not push it to the side.