On Oct. 12, the University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government (USG) met for caucus. The main topic under discussion was how to discuss.
“The Undergraduate Student Government held a caucus meeting Wednesday night at the University of Connecticut to discuss debate and discussion procedures among members,” the Daily Campus reported at the time (seriously).
With newly-elected senators filing in for their initial caucus, the meeting became a workshop on debate etiquette. While it is good of USG to attempt to instill a sense of dignity in their debates, the fact that they had to spend an entire designated gathering-time speaking about something they should have learned long before college highlights their dysfunction and lack of awareness.
This lack of awareness is in reference to numerous articles and editorials in the Daily Campus, as well as a general feeling from the student body, that members of USG misuse valuable time, particularly around elections, at the expense of improving the student experience at UConn.
This caucus, focused on teaching respectful debating skills, appears to be one of these missed opportunities to use time more efficiently. Speaker George Wang discussed the merits of debate with senators: “I like to think of debate as a sort of marketplace of ideas, where you can put out all your ideas and people can listen to them and say, ‘You know what, I agree with this and I disagree with this.’” General points gone over included, “listening to other points of view, even if they disagree with your own, and avoiding repetition of previously discussed points.”
Through high school, students learn to debate respectfully, observing basic etiquette in the process. It is also a skill one can acquire from going about their daily business. A student becomes a senator presumably because they are able to hold a respectful back and forth with someone who disagrees with them. Though it is admirable that USG would want to hold constructive debates, spending time meant for student affairs in order to hold a seminar on debating is the sort of activity which decreases student confidence in USG.
Caucus is supposed to be a designated time when members of USG can sit down in the same room and talk about the challenges facing students. Instead, this caucus was spent in such a way that overtly nodded to past critiques of USG. If freshly-minted senators need a lesson in discourse, this time should be scheduled outside of caucus or senate. Senators should come to USG prepared to solve student issues, and should dedicate as much time as possible toward that end.