Over the past month, I’ve been pondering the merits of student advocacy in the University of Connecticut. There are some great groups on campus, from UConn Unchain to Collaborative Organising to the many cultural centers and cultural programs offered to the student body. Up until recently, there was also UConn Praxis, which was a Tier III organization that helped introduce the plastic bag ban in Mansfield, among their achievements. Each group offers a great route to advocacy catered to the issues most pressing to them.
But over all of these, one group has been catching the headlines: USG. You may know them from programs such as HuskyMarket, Period Boxes and many others, but that’s not what I’m concerned about today. I’m concerned about their misguided and often misleading attempts at advocacy over the years.
Just two weeks ago, UConn President Radenka Maric announced that university funding was being slashed by the state and that this will lead to a rise in tuition (the cited figure was $3,000). Let’s pause this story to look at those figures.
First, is our budget being cut? Short answer: yes. But it’s important to realize where that money is coming from and what it’s being slashed from. After the university’s announcement, word had gotten out that this was not a net loss but a loss from what the university was asking from the state government. Why? Well, some of the blame could be put on the expiration of COVID-19-era grants from the federal government. While I don’t agree that these grants should expire (the pandemic isn’t over, wear your mask when you’re sick and cover your cough), it’s obvious to any fool with a calendar and a red sharpie that it was going to do so eventually. In fact, this hypothetical fool can use that sharpie to mark a nice X when it does. You might be thinking to yourself, “Yeah, but the university administration does stupid things all the time, how is this any different?” Well, dear reader, that all rests on our dearly elected USG.
Mere hours after the email announcement from President Maric, an email from the USG with suspiciously-similar talking points landed in our inbox. Among the many claims that it made, it curiously included the line “[Governor Lamont’s] ‘values’ include raising tuition by $3,000 for over 30,000 of his constituents, shaping a future where ‘inclusion’ excludes Connecticut’s next generation,” referring to the budget that the governor recently released. I won’t go into the details of what happened next as it has been well documented by the wonderful Daily Campus and its many news and opinion articles [insert many, many links here]. Long story short, USG put up posters, spray painted buildings and bussed over 700 students to the capitol to watch President Maric plead her case. They then had an afterparty— honestly, I don’t know what that was about either— and continued their victory laps on social media. Seeing this, many students took to the comments to call this event out for what it was: a performative stunt.
USG is no stranger to such stunts. In my time as senator last year, we had a “Rally for the Peaceful Planet.” The rally was so important to USG leadership that they called an emergency meeting of the Senate to approve a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis at UConn. The rationale for this given to me by the Speaker in a phone call was to catch the then-President Andrew Agwunobi off-guard at the rally the next day and make him promise to uphold these values. What followed was a handshake and a photo op, followed by a task force that USG did not follow up on and let fade into obscurity. This has become a tragic trend with USG: coming up with a catchy rallying cry for students to get behind and a flashy way to get the message out, and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
Students are tired of this cycle of trendy issues followed by inaction. They, including myself, are calling USG out. What is the USG’s response? Contempt. I stated my concerns and aired my grievances to the student government, and in response, I was met with many current and former USG officers and their friends questioning my advocacy and asking why I don’t stand up and do something for the university. Well, I would if I were the one holding elected office. “They’re just students,” they said, “it’s not a real government.” Then why are they holding up valuable student funds and resources? Why do they have a constitution that lays out their responsibility to the student body? Why, when they are criticized, do they feel the need to make personal attacks on students they claim to represent?
The student government has also failed to make USG more accessible. They still hold Senate late into the night (on a weeknight), they still have a messy and confusing website that they often cite and they timidly advertised this election cycle, only posting about their debate the day of.
It has become clear that USG does not represent us, does not work in our interest and only works toward polishing their resumes and building their reputation and that of the university administration. Here’s a possible solution: boycott the USG elections.
I don’t mean boycotting the entire elections. There are some important ballot measures on there. Vote for Student Trustee, vote for the Tier-III funding initiatives, but do not vote for USG President, do not vote for Comptroller, do not vote for CDO and do not vote for Senators. We must show them that while we care and want to see our campus become a better place, we do not have confidence in their abilities to deliver that future. We must end this charade.