Phoenix Rising: Students must address systemic flaws in student government

phoenixrising

With multiple organizations with separate brands serving students, a unified student voice in downtown Phoenix is difficult to attain. (Nicole Neri/DD)
With multiple organizations with separate brands serving students, a unified student voice in downtown Phoenix is difficult to attain. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Arizona State University’s presence in downtown Phoenix has an immense impact on the surrounding area for better or for worse. Meanwhile, the voice of these students has found itself crippled by the systemic disorganization of the student body.

The Undergraduate Student Government Downtown is the recognized voice of the students on our campus and its members (including, at one point, yours truly) come into office with grand visions of change. However, its ability to impact the environment is heavily restricted to three options.

Option one is that the students can fund themselves through the student activities fee to host an event highlighting an initiative, like the prevention of sexual assault or purchase supplies for our student organizations to grow and engage more students.

Option two is that we can’t do it on our own, so we ask administration to do it for us, and ASU or community officials oblige us because ultimately, it would be something they can live with — or possibly even like.

Option three is that we students want to see something bigger than ourselves changed, but officials from ASU or the community are opposed. This is the toughest option and usually the one reserved for the main complaints of the day, which usually revolve around tuition, food choices and parking. However, it is also the only time the USGD is actually needed, as otherwise we could do the job ourselves.

Unfortunately, when the time calls for the USGD to organize itself for students, it is burdened by many institutional decisions made by people who came long before us that benefit ASU administrators.

The concept of ASU as one university in many places contributes to inspire territorialism among the local student governments, and students spend more time arguing amongst themselves than debating with outside officials about the future of the university.

While we ironically fear any intrusion on our local control of our university from any work with our peers at the University of Arizona or Northern Arizona University, we willingly give up most decisions about our tuition, classroom policies and many campus services to isolated and distant university boards and committees.

Around 19 of these boards and committees require students to apply for positions talking about our shared parking and transit issues, the use of our Sun Devil Fitness Complexes and the distribution of financial aid. Despite the difficulty in simply finding enough volunteers for these relatively low-profile positions, students can wait months for their paperwork to be actually processed and may not even serve in the semester they were appointed.

Besides that, the five presidents of USG and the Graduate and Professional Student Association (which is university-wide, by the way), are given the ultimate yes or no with their Council of Presidents weekly meetings as to the policies that affect all ASU students.

If you think that may be a bit much to put on just five individuals when the university has whole departments of employees to monitor and dedicate themselves to the cause, you are probably right. These CoP meetings are constantly derided as long and often crunch many important topics. Perhaps if there were 19 functioning boards and committees, these decisions might feel less rushed for many of its members.

But if this asymmetry of information is not enough, students are more acutely crippled in their advocacy efforts by a far more subtle separation.

The Programming and Activities Board, which operates around 40 events on the downtown Phoenix campus each year, is uniquely separated from the student government.

PAB members represent some of the most spirited and organized students in our campus, and the depoliticization of events can be a benefit. However, the fact that we do not share in the model of our peers at the UA or NAU — whose own programming wings are part of their governments — means that PAB members are more apt to hearing complaints about campus issues than our USGD members do, and PAB is not responsible for addressing those issues.

Despite these issues, many students have tried and succeeded in doing great things on the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus.

ASU Downtown Alive! connected students to the local community, and Barrett, the Honors College students were very vocal when the college underwent massive staffing changes four years ago, allegedly to focus more on academics instead of community engagement. And Student Health Outreach for Wellness serves vulnerable community members with the talent of our local medical students, which attempts to accurately reflect the good, the bad and the ugly of our community.

These colossal efforts should be recognized. But we must not forget that for true progress to be made — and for the student voice to be heard clearly — ranging from the maroon and gold offices of our university to the marble atriums of the State Legislature, these systemic issues that divide us must be confronted and overcome.

Contact the columnist at raboyd2@asu.edu.