Student advocacy key to A.S. election

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A lot of people are curious as to what an Associated Students Senator does exactly. I used to be confused, too, and kind of still am.

One of the primary reasons students do not vote in A.S. elections, like the one happening today and Wednesday all across campus, is a lack of information. Why should a student who is squeezing in three classes between work, family and traffic care about some 22-year-old upstart who wants to get “A.S. Senator” on his or her resume?

One could think of other reasons to not bother voting in this week’s elections.

First, there’s barely any competition for the senate seats on the ballot. Almost everyone on the ballot will be elected regardless. Second, it’s not as if there has been a huge word-of-mouth campaign from candidates interested in getting out the vote. I work at the Daily Sundial and I still have no idea who a majority of them are.

But regardless of all the reasons we have to walk right past polling locations on Tuesday and Wednesday, there are some undeniably important principles at stake.

The worst thing that could happen to students is for the administration and CSU officials to perceive us as apathetic. The day that happens, we’re in a heap of trouble. It might have happened already, actually. On Thursday, the CSU Board of Trustees will vote on a proposed 2006-07 system budget that will raise student fees another 8 percent for undergraduate students and 10 percent for graduate students – kind of a big deal.

I know our A.S. student leaders are putting together a trip to go “visit” the board with a bunch of students from the other 22 CSU campuses. I hope this protest works. But what if it doesn’t? What if the tangible victory doesn’t happen and fees go up again, and what if Corey Jackson, the CSU student trustee, votes yes on the fee increase? Nothing.

Fees will go up as part of a compact between the governor and the CSU Chancellor that had student input, as expected. But at least a point was made. At least apathy wasn’t the defining characteristic of students on that day.

For the A.S. Senate, as well, I say let’s give them a chance. Let’s take five minutes and stop at a polling booth and make this kinda-democracy come alive.

Because on this campus, that burning question remains: What is the role of an A.S. Senator, and why should the common student care?

For a long time, I’ve used the “there’s $5 million reasons why you should care” response, in reference to the organization’s operating budget. And yes, that point does still hold. The senate and whatever student organizations and social groups its members belong to see a lot of that money, and representation on the board can be beneficial.

The more compelling point, however, is the senators’ role as an advocate of the students of their respective colleges. Their constitutional roles demand that they speak on behalf of their student constituents, just like a real “politician.”

But does this really happen? Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, and that’s unfortunate. Does this whole “representative student body” thing really work on a campus like this, where apathy, even among student leaders, runs rampant? Can student leaders make a difference in the lives and minds of their constituents?

I hope so. Because of this, I am going to go to the polls tomorrow and vote yes for all of the unopposed candidates, abstain on the two contested races – just to screw with them – and yes on the three referendums, the last of which will create new “At Large” senate seats to promote even more opportunities for representation.

But here’s the kicker: Come April, when the student body is gearing up for another election cycle and the prospect of even more uncontested senate “races,” the Daily Sundial, student clubs and organizations, and the entire student body must take a long, hard look at everything our elected officials have done since October 25-26.

We must see if anything has changed. Was my five minutes at that polling location back in late October worth my time? Has my college implemented mandatory academic advising? Has my college, which just lost almost $500,000 from its annual operating budget because of state cuts, let students down easy and deliberately? Has the push for school spirit and pride been led with serious, intelligent A.S.-led dialogue? Have they made Homecoming more than just a “celebrity” basketball game, and turned it into a community-involved fury of CSUN athletics celebration?

Because if things continue the way they have been, with senator-pursued advocacy being the least visible of all the things A.S. does, then finding out why students don’t vote becomes easier and easier, as not voting being more and more justified.

Ryan Denham can be reached at editor@csun.edu.