Many members of the editorial staff at the Daily Sundial have attended CSUN for at least four years. A few of us are graduate students. Like many of you, we have seen our tuition double since we started our education. We have seen classes get cut while unit caps were established. This has resulted in fewer students enrolled in our university, and paradoxically, students having to take longer to complete their degrees. And earlier this month, the CSU closed admissions for the 2013 Spring semester with the exception of a limited group of students, due to reductions in state funding over the past several years totaling $750 million.
Under these conditions, and having seen the tradition of the last few years, we can expect our campus to get political this fall. Unfortunately, what that tradition looks like is a few students engaged in ineffective political activities, while the majority apathetically disengage.
Real change is not possible unless we effectively encourage people to get active, do our homework and are not afraid to be leaders.
Reflecting on our coverage of the political events over the last year, we acknowledge the efforts of student leaders who tried to spur participation from their peers. A small group of activists (some associated with the Occupy movement, but not all) spent a considerable amount of time trying to bring more attention and awareness to the education issue—a few from our campus even participated in a brief hunger strike at the expense of their physical comfort. Our student body government, the Associated Students, hosted a series of events called Big Politics to engage students in our government’s political process and give us an opportunity to meet important legislators.
Ultimately, these activities and events did not inspire many students to participate in the political dialogue. This was due to three main issues: problems in communication between the leaders and the student body, a lack of clear and tangible goals, and an unwillingness from the average student to step up.
Improve communication to bring people together
From our reporting, we have learned that many students feel out of touch with A.S. and often feel alienated or put off by the student activists. In our observation, most people do not have a clue what A.S. does. Several of our reporters have witnessed some of the CSUN activists act disrespectfully toward anyone who criticized their movement.
Leaders need to have good public relations with their stakeholders and make people want to join their cause. They need to treat those with opposing or conflicting views with respect. Self-righteousness will not only do little to convince people of your cause, but will discourage them from considering your point of view.
Do your homework and create clear and tangible goals
Leaders need to have a deep understanding of the current situation and establish tangible goals for their campaign to work toward. If your goal is to raise awareness for an issue, but you have no tangible goal that the public can engage in, the community may gain knowledge, but has no road to empowerment.
A.S. needs to know that running an election campaign saying you will change things is not enough. And having official meetings, hosting political events to raise awareness about the issues or going to Sacramento once a year is not enough.
Student activists need to know that making signs, marching around campus shouting at people to “wake up” and sitting in on our administration’s office in University Hall is not enough to change anything. Going on a liquid-only hunger strike is brave, but the goal cannot be to shame the administration into acting humane and courageously–it is not in their job title. Your time is going to be much better spent gathering signatures to put a measure on the next ballot than camping out in front of the Oviatt.
Both groups should work together and direct energy into lobbying both the CSU board and the California legislature. While President Dianne Harrison and Chancellor Charles B. Reed (and whoever is chosen to be his replacement) decide how money is spent within the CSU, they do not control how much the CSU is funded—the state legislature does. Petitioning the government is more effective than hounding Harrison or even Reed. Imagine if student groups from every CSU took their petitions and rallies to Governor Brown’s doorstep.
This past May, the California Faculty Association voted to go on a statewide teachers strike if negotiations with the administration failed. And although the new tentative contract between the teachers and the administration is far from perfect, the pressure the union had put on the administration yielded results. Student activists and advocates should take a lesson from this—students should organize as one large body across CSU campuses like a union, and work together with professors.
Don’t be afraid to become a leader
If you are not an activist or a student representative, you still have a responsibility. Access to higher education is a right, but also a privilege that we must respect and preserve to the utmost.
This does not mean that all of us should become community organizers. It just means that we cannot stand by and let a few student leaders do all the work. If you see a problem with your representatives’ methods, let them know what would work better, or even better, get involved and become a leader.
If you have the right to vote, use it and express that education is important to you. On Nov. 6 California voters will vote on a tax initiative that will determine if more than $1 billion will be cut from the state’s higher education budget ($551 million from community colleges and $250 million each from the CSU and UC systems). We implore you to read the initiative and take a stance on this issue.
Although college students are not to blame for what the state or the CSU does to our funding, the majority of us are guilty of being a distracted, misinformed, unorganized and apathetic constituency. We cannot expect a fruitful attempt at real change unless many more students feel a personal responsibility for their education and develop a willingness to fulfill that responsibility with effective action.