Ask what student government can do for you

thomasYou’ve heard it before: college students are apathetic. The 18-to-24 age bracket just doesn’t care what’s going on. Millennials are lazy. Take your pick of the unflattering adjectives — we’ve been called much worse.

Whatever quality we possess or lack as a group is usually given as the reason young people don’t vote. It’s a well-known fact that the 18-to-24 crowd is underrepresented in terms of the voting population (especially when you compare it to the voter participation rates of folks over 65).

Is it surprising, then, that out of the 57,000 undergraduate students at ASU, 3,349 students voted in the 2013 Tempe USG elections, down from 6,753 in 2010? In 2012, only 843 students voted in the 2012 Tempe USG elections. Of course, the Tempe USG presidential election only featured one candidate, but the rate of participation is still abysmally low.

 

 

If only a few thousand students vote in Tempe USG elections, what does that say about how many students pay attention to the day-to-day activities of their student government? Nothing encouraging, certainly.

Perhaps this is why a Tempe USG senator wrote to The State Press last semester that USG was not at fault “for any lack of student input of the athletic fee bill proposal,” a proposal that received abundant coverage for its passage in a manner that violated USG bylaws and potentially even Arizona’s open meeting laws.

The aforementioned senator wrote that Tempe USG had made a good-faith effort to reach “out through every medium and mode of communication at our disposal and when it came down to it, no one showed up to our senate meeting to speak against the proposal.”

I’m sure that’s the case, but that does not change the fact that the passage of the bill broke bylaws.

Consider this a modest proposal for the current crop of USG presidential candidates across the five student governments, many of whom cite transparency as a crucial issue for their platforms.

It’s not enough to say you’re being representative or transparent: You have to actually put that into practice.

This is obviously difficult for such a large student body. How can you make sure that you’re representing the needs and wishes of everyone? This is the ultimate conundrum for student government.

There are ways, though. USG could implement a referendum process and use focus groups of students, as the student government organization at UA does. To its credit, USG has held town halls, but attendance was “dismal.”

If students don’t feel they are being listened to, they are less likely to participate. There are often barriers to making one’s voice heard — a lack of time, lack of knowledge of how to contact leaders or a profound skepticism that making one’s voice heard will have any effect or is even worth the effort.

If you choose to seek public service, it is incumbent upon you to ensure that the students you represent are being accurately represented. It’s all too easy to insist you reached out to everyone — that doesn’t make it true.

It’s all too difficult sometimes to get college students engaged in the issues, even those that have a direct impact on those students — but that’s what you’re signing up for.

Reach the columnist at skthoma4@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @savannahkthomas