Opinion: The lacking presence of student government

by Cougar News Contributor 464 views0

By Eddie Averill

Towards the end of the spring 2014 semester, as I walked through the quad, I saw a handful of students eating pizza. Naturally, I wanted to know where they got the pizza, and whether or not said pizza was being provided for free by some organization that just wanted a moment of my time. What I came to find was that the Associated Student Government, or ASG, was using pizza as a tool to make students care about their upcoming elections.

Each participant would receive a stamp-card. After hearing a speech from a candidate, the candidate would stamp the card. Five stamps and 15 minutes worth of speeches later, pizza was given.

My first instinct was to go for it, because I hadn’t eaten all day, and I’m a sucker for free pie. I then realized that this might be important. To be completely honest, I had no idea that COC even had a student government.

I was only in my first semester at the school, but the fact that I had nearly made it through an entire semester without hearing of student government made me think that I wasn’t involved enough in my school. So not only did I listen to the required amount of speeches, I listened to every single candidate, even those running for the position of assistant coordinator of activities, which seemed like the least important position. It was one of the more attention grabbing speeches. The candidate promised that if he won the position there would be multiple concerts on campus for the students to attend each semester. There would be more than just the under-promoted Battle of the Bands, which took place a few weeks after the pizza campaign.

As a student who loves music and attends COC, I was now moderately excited to vote for at least one of these positions, and the pizza now seemed like an afterthought.

One thing that I noticed in the election is that there weren’t exactly political parties, but a large group, “The Big Six,” which had one member running for each position, and a handful of independent candidates taking up the rest of the slots. This intrigued me, as the main talking points of each of these students from The Big Six was the fact that they were, in fact, part of this supergroup of student politicians, and that you should vote for not one, but all six of them.

The independent candidates seemed to dwell on policy for a majority of their speaking time, which was uninteresting to the primary audience of pizza-loving students who did not care one bit about policy. Come election day, I was filling out my ballot realizing that I could not remember a single thing that anybody in The Big Six party talked about aside from the promised concerts, and that the independent candidates’ policies were much more solidified in my memory. I voted how I thought was right for the school, but low and behold, The Big Six was triumphant, sweeping the entire election.

After realizing that I wasn’t exactly sure what these student politicians had in mind to help our school, I had no real reason to be angry about these elections. There was a possibility that these candidates would, in fact, help our school out substantially, but after attending the summer intersession and with this fall semester coming to a close, I have noticed no changes about the school I attend, aside from further progress in the construction area. I was disappointed, because I wanted to have a better student life, and I wanted to go to shows. Granted, I knew COC wouldn’t be booking any of my favorite bands, but when nobody had promoted a single on-campus show to me the entire semester, I felt like I was missing something. What exactly could the ASG even accomplish?

I was in luck on Tuesday, when ASG President Christine Colindres took a few moments out of her otherwise busy day to talk to me. When I asked her what she had accomplished thus far, she immediately wanted know my angle, asking me what I meant by accomplished. She used the phrase “different things” to summarize her accomplishments, which didn’t seem to be accomplishments at all. All of what she said were ideas, that she admitted were still just that. Her intentions as a president were as pure as they can come, talking about wanting to accomplish community development in countries like Nicaragua, although this, again, was just an idea that was in talks.

I asked how many students voted in the previous election, and got what I would consider a mixed-bag of answers. Although I had only asked Colindres, another student that was in the office interjected. “Something like 600,” he said. Colindres thought that the number was closer to 800, and a compromise to estimate that 700 votes were tallied was reached. 700 is a scary number, considering that would not even be one out of every 25 students voting. Although an overwhelming majority of students do not vote in the student body elections, many of those apathetic to student government would be pleased to know that the ASG does not get paid, aside from the Student Trustee, who is not a direct member of ASG, but an employee of the school’s chancellor.

I talked to Nathan Black, a COC alumni and current student of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, about the issue. While attending COC, he was close to the student government, although he never did run for office. When I asked him about the policy-making that the ASG had the capability of, he said that “ASG is more of a reflection of high school politics than college politics.” Apparently, the most important thing that they have a say in is funding clubs, and Black had a problem with the way they handled that as well. “Club grants are given somewhat arbitrarily, or if they aren’t, its very unclear what the criteria is for the decision,” said Black.

By the time that the most recent elections took place, Black had already been accepted on transfer to Berkeley, and was less involved in the ASG, so I decided to ask someone who was closer. A candidate in the previous election, who asked not to be named, had some very strong words about the way that the student government is run. He said that the ASG members are much more concerned with furthering themselves than furthering the school. “This is especially apparent in student elections — it’s just a popularity contest. The best-looking group of friends win. Policy competence is utterly meaningless,” he said. Although these are much harsher words than those given by his aforementioned schoolmate, when I read this quote to Black he said that it “sounds accurate to me.”

A former candidate calling the elections a “popularity contest” made me really think about how relatable COC’s student government is to that of my former high school. I still remember the speeches given at lunch time, and one candidate with a gymnast background ending each speech with a backflip. The crowd would go wild, and not one person knew what his policies were, or possibly even what position he was running for. He did end up winning the election, and during voting, I can still remember my classmates whispering questions such as, “wait, which one is the backflip guy again?” Backflip guy, as I will call him, as I don’t remember his name either, didn’t do much for the school, and neither did anyone that was elected. That seemed normal though, because I was in high school. How can someone who is not even an adult be any type of politician? It is high school, and that is its excuse. COC doesn’t have that same excuse, as one of the top junior colleges in the state. Whether the ASG will grow into something more meaningful or not only will be determined by time, but hopefully more students will care about it after this.