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Slates have same goals, but different agendas

By Shoshee Jau

April 27, 2010 10:49 p.m.

Since the 1990s, the unofficial slates of the undergraduate student government have fed and expanded the level of political involvement for the undergraduate student body.

Slates are groups of students that pool their resources together and run under similar platforms. Though they are unrecognized by the university and Election Board, currently, the two main Undergraduate Students Association Council slates, Bruins United and Students First!, have continued to dominate politics for undergraduate students.

Although both slates aim to work for the benefit of the student body, they differ in the priority of various agenda items and means of approaching issues.

This year, a third slate, the Defend Affirmative Action Party, stepped onto the front lines of the election scene, sending two candidates to vie for one of the three general representative positions.

An extension of a slate established at UC Berkeley in 1998, the Defend Affirmative Action Party aims to increase the number of underrepresented minorities on campus, said José Valenzuela, one of the general representative candidates. While the other slates have advocated for a change in university policies to increase awareness, the Defend Affirmative Action Party finds the solution in increasing the numbers of minority students.

“More education and the diversity requirement can help, but the real issue is that the numbers are too few, and it leads to ignorance about our (cultures),” he said.

Meanwhile, candidates from both Bruins United and Students First! are running candidates for every competitive position, as they typically do.

Students First!, the older of the two dominant slates, has had a long history of student political involvement and continues to lobby in the state and national governments for change on behalf of the campus, said Shahida Bawa, current internal vice president.

According to Rick Tuttle, administrative representative from 1971 to 1985, A predecessor of Students First! came into being in 1981 under the presidency of Sam Law, who formed the Sam Law Coalition to increase diversity in student political involvement on campus. The coalition later changed its name first to the Third World Coalition and then Praxis.

Since its unofficial establishment in 1994 through the efforts of 1992 president Mark Pulido, the slate changed its name several times, from Student Empowerment! to Student Power!, but continued to uphold the same values of promoting affordable education, increase academic quality and promote civic engagement and a sustainable campus, said current General Representative Jason Tengco.

“In the past, Students First! has fought against apartheid and was involved in efforts to bring about holistic admissions and the deferred payment plan,” Bawa said.

Though it was met with challenges from various parties from year to year, Students First! never faced a strong, unified and long-lasting party until Bruins United emerged in 2004, said Gabe Rose, USAC president in 2007.

The origin of Bruins United can be traced to David Dahle, USAC president in 2003, when a group of student organizations banded together to create the United Independent slate. These groups, including Bruin Democrats, Bruin Republicans, Jewish students and various Panhellenic organizations, felt that they were not adequately represented by the student government at the time, Rose said.

The mission of Bruins United is to provide equal representation and to open up student government participation to all students on campus. The slate works to voice the opinions and interests of all undergraduates, said current General Representative Thach Nguyen.

“We hope that students agree that your day-to-day life on campus is what USAC can be advocating for,” he said. Bruins United was unofficially established in 2004, when seven out of its nine candidates held seats on the council. The slate held five seats the following year and eight in 2008 before Students First! won back the majority last year. Rose attributes Bruins United’s fast growth to the issues it addresses.

“You talk about issues that matter to people, and if you’re working on projects that students will find valuable, they will vote for you,” he said.

While councilmembers have mostly been from two main slates, independent and third party candidates have often won seats in USAC, said Mike Cohn, associate director of the Center for Student Programming. In 2004, independent candidate Darren Chan defeated candidates from both slates for internal vice president, and about 10 years ago, a third slate, MP3, broke from Student Empowerment! to challenge the two opposing slates.

“There were three slates in that election, and the vote in the primary election at that time was almost split three-way,” Cohn said.

Last year, independent candidates from the Community Service, Student Welfare and Campus Welfare commissions established a third slate, called SERVE.

While most councilmembers and administrative representatives foresee the two-slate system to continue, some feel that such a system can become exclusive, Cohn said.

“Students have argued they don’t want to make slates a permanent part because it will shut out and make it difficult for independent candidates to run and win,” Cohn said. “It is hard, but independent candidates can win and have won in past years.”

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Shoshee Jau
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