The University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) is looking to make its members more active and to increase student participation in the organization. This initiative deserves praise, but first, we must look to why it must happen, and then, we can wait to see if it works.
Much of the student body is disinterested in or disenchanted about USG. This can be seen in the latest election, where turnout “was historically low despite featuring a contested presidential race at the top of the ticket.” This was “the first time in at least the last seven years a contested presidential race had fewer than 3,000 total votes cast,” according to The Daily Campus.
Furthermore, the Senate has recently faced enormous vacancies, so much so that USG had to take measures that decreased the amount of Residential Senator positions from 31 to 20, according to The Daily Campus. This was a logical response to a problem that is still present: unfilled seats. At the time of the Senate restructuring, there were 20 unoccupied Residential Senator seats and seven empty Academic Senator seats.
Yet, this was a Band-Aid solution that didn’t get to the root problem. It had positive effects, such as affording more equal representation to students and forcing more competitive elections (two elections ago, six senators ran unopposed and write-in candidates captured 15 seats). That being said, the stigma attached to USG membership remains. For example, the East Campus dormitories are currently without a representative. USG is planning to hold a special election for the two spots, but again, it’s worth noting that this is even necessary.
Now that it is clear why USG has the responsibility to increase involvement, it can be said that its decision to try and do so is worthy of approval. The question then becomes, how?
In the past, USG tried to improve voter turnout by coming to convocation and the ice cream social at the beginning of the year. It has also been at the Involvement Fair, and has encouraged its own staff to personally appeal to their fellow students. Additionally, USG has reached out to the cultural centers and “all gender-binary language” was “removed from the election packets.”
We will not know the results of these plans until later, but the current wave of participation efforts will have to be different from the past, namely, more comprehensive. To USG’s credit, Sydney Dinkeloo, one of two Chiefs of Staff for USG President Dan Byrd and an eighth-semester political science/communications double major, has tried to instill an institutional concern for involvement.
“This semester we’re introducing a point system to track member participation across (USG),” Dinkeloo said. “Its aims are twofold: to increase accountability and also to objectively acknowledge and appreciate members who are excelling within and for the organization.”
There has also been talk of fixing the time conflict between USG Senate meetings and Residential Assistant staff meetings, which would be a welcomed change. USG also hired from within for its new “Legislative Coordinator” job, tabbing Lauren Oldziej for the part. She will help senators with their legislation and “make the process less intimidating to new senators,” according to The Daily Campus. This is another positive development, but USG should also look outside the confines of the Senate Chambers (located in the Student Union) for someone to connect with unaffiliated students.
Boosted involvement is an ongoing process for USG, and its ability to discern that it is a problem shows a previously unprecedented inter-organizational penchant for self-knowledge. UConn’s student government serves important functions as a symbolic voice for students and in their handling of a large budget pertaining to student groups. Success from USG’s efforts in combating this issue, though, has yet to be realized.