As your 2016-2017 Undergraduate Students Association Council internal vice president, I recognize that I am standing on the shoulders of giants. The office has been blessed with a long history of qualified, insightful and proactive visionaries. From partnerships with Associated Students UCLA to campus safety mobile applications, the office has proven that it has the potential to be a champion for students while striving to move campus culture forward.
For too long, USAC has been seen as an elitist governance body with limited empathy and understanding of the myriad lived experiences of our undergraduate student body. We preach diversity and inclusion, but very rarely have the courage to demonstrate our “commitment” to such principles at the council table and abroad.
We can not move forward as a school until council recognizes the privilege we have and the power we hold to make positive change on campus. When asked to discuss any campus issue in this article, I first thought of tuition hikes and mental health accessibility. Of parking limitations and divisive boycott, divestments and sanctions attempts. While all of these issues – and so many more – present obstacles in our pursuit of higher education equity, they can not be solved until the student body trusts its elected representatives to do so.
The bar is set high, as it should be. Our undergraduate association will only be able to win the trust of its 29,000 constituents if they believe in our capacity and competency to listen critically and follow through on our promises. It is for this reason that I, along with the members of my office, hope to hold ourselves accountable to a higher standard of council leadership as we fight to advance the on-campus interests of students. But my office can not do it alone, and our efforts will require the utmost collaboration from both the other 13 USAC offices and our most important stakeholders.
But we cannot simply have problems with no solutions. As your elected student government officials, alongside the administration, student body and faculty, we must find ways to create a stronger sense of trust among these entities. Too much time has passed with a student body unaware of the roles and privilege USAC members hold, and this unawareness must be remedied.
Sitting at the council table and meeting with influential administrators comes with responsibility, and this responsibility must be exercised properly to gain the respect of the students we serve. It is painstakingly obvious that there exists a level of apprehension when it comes to the student body and the student government.
The solution to bridge this gap is to ensure that council makes systematic and structural changes in our own organizational procedures to win back the trust of the student body. When we make promises with snazzy catchphrases and hashtags, the student body needs to hold us accountable. When we ignore the needs of historically underrepresented and marginalized communities, the student body needs to remind us who we serve. When we are challenged by an uncomfortable idea or decision, the student body needs to be knowledgeable of these ideas or decisions.
The days of Food Trucks for Finals, Spring Activities Fairs and student group endowments will continue under my office’s leadership, but they will also be accompanied by equitable funding reform, USAC accountability and increased collaboration between campus stakeholders. The status quo is meant to be broken, and my office will be challenging it daily in order to restore your faith in our school’s undergraduate student government.
I hope you’ll join us.