In the most recent ASUSF Senate election, only 13% of undergraduate students voted. At the same time, every position on the ballot was uncontested except for two. Student turnout in the election process looked similar last year.
Why are so few students participating in the affairs of student government?
Some of the low student involvement can be attributed to the logistics of making voting information known to a student body that largely lives off-campus. Junior design major Stefanie Pillert said she did not even know voting had started, nor where she would be able to vote. Sophomore Matisse Guillen added that she only voted because her friend was running, but otherwise would not have known the election was going on.
For students that do not live on campus or eat in the cafeteria, where a majority of posters about the election were hung and Senators tabled, it is difficult to hear about these types of things, both Guillen and Pillert said, unless you are constantly checking your emails.
Freshman Isabel Friedly said she knew an election was happening this month but did not know when or how to vote or take part in it, despite emails sent out by the office of Student Leadership and Engagement (SLE).
As for the lack of students running, ASUSF Senate adviser Nick Heng said Senate leadership positions are competing with off-campus internships and opportunities.
“There is also the possibility that students are not aware of the change that they can make while on the Senate when it comes to running,” Heng said. “Senate has looked at different ways to boost participation and how they represent the community.”
One way Senate has attempted to increase engagement is through the referendum to add four student “at-large” positions. These positions are open seats for which students can run on behalf of any student group they want to represent on campus, rather than running for the already-established positions.
The at-large position referendum passed with an 87% percent approval.
“Students don’t always see the amount of impact they can have through involvement on the Senate, and the Senate has stepped up their efforts to promote that,” SLE Director Marci Nuñez said.
The new positions will allow students to represent whichever identity or groups they feel most passionate about advocating for, providing more engagement opportunities to those that might have otherwise not been interested in representing the student body, Nuñez said.
The Vice President of Finance position was one of two contested positions this year, which Senate President-elect Hector Bustos described as an important position. The group oversees a $1 million budget, which is made up of the student activity fee each student pays in their tuition. The other uncontested position was Vice President of Marketing.
President-elect Bustos, who ran unopposed, says he ran because he wants to increase the transparency within Senate, as well as the visibility of the organization. Through his work as a student government assistant this year, he has seen the amount of work senators and other student leaders do and how little of it is known to the student body, he said.
When he first joined Senate, Bustos said he was shocked that it was not more competitive. In addition to the time commitment, the lack of interest in being a Senator could be because the senators do not seem like a close-knit community, he said.
Freshman Senator Representative Abby Dinius ran unopposed in the fall and is not returning next year, partly for this reason. She had hoped to get to know the school better in her position but found that being on Senate was more individual than collaborative. Dinius is going to be a Resident Advisor next year, another reason why she is not returning.
Senator Dinius is not the only one who is not returning. In this election, of the 17 positions up for reelection, only two Senators will return to their positions. All of the executive positions are being replaced by new candidates and six roles remain unfilled.
“People don’t care about the school,” Dinius said. “They will complain, but they just expect things to change and I’ve noticed in Senate it is so hard to pass things. Even if referendums pass, it’s up to admin and the board of trustees to implement them so anything we do is not guaranteed.”
Bustos hopes to build better connections between Senate and the student body in order to get Senators and students more engaged. He wants Senate to be approachable and wants to avoid the organization appearing as an elite group.