UPUA Members Respond to Last Week’s Collegian Editorial

On Tuesday, the Daily Collegian Board of Opinion published an editorial that read “UPUA numbers disappointing“. In it, the Board blamed general apathy for the voter turnout numbers in last week’s University Park Undergraduate Association election.

It went on to say, “…perhaps more discouraging is the complacency that is apparent in some UPUA members. Commissioner for Administration and Enforcement Samantha Miller called the turnout ‘phenomenal’ and indicative of the ‘progress UPUA has made’ …If this year is truly indicative of UPUA’s progress, then there is a lot of room for improvement.”

Onward State reached out to Samantha Miller and Matthew Smith, UPUA 4th Assembly Chief of Staff, to give them the opportunity to respond to the Collegian’s “complacency” comment, as well as discuss the future of UPUA. Ms. Miller’s column ran on Friday.

Below is Matthew Smith’s response.

It feels great to finally have my voice back. As ex-Chief of Staff, I don’t have to choke down the desire to state that I am sick of the phrases “student apathy” and “UPUA’s progress.” Both appeared last week in yet another Daily Collegian editorial chastising the University Park Undergraduate Association. This time it was for supposed “complacency” setting in as a result of the student government election held March 31st seeing the same 17% voter turnout as last year.

Onward State graciously extended the opportunity to rebut the Board of Editors through providing answers to the questions of what UPUA officers have done to make student government more relevant and also what can be done to increase turnout next year. The first prompt requires putting an end to judging all aspects of UPUA as a single unit in the form of “UPUA’s progress.” The second prompt requires addressing the continued apathy at understanding “student apathy.” The relevance of our student government emerges as a no-brainer statement: Penn State students could use this voice to have whatever they want.

UPUA, a four-letter acronym, does not do anything. Every single act that occurs is the work of student body servants taking action on their undergraduate peers’ behalves. UPUA leaders are ideally supposed to be specialists in university politics. The Garner Street Lights, Residence Hall commons usage fees, wasteful Facilities Fee spending, and Legal Services certainly didn’t fight for themselves. Unfortunately, what has happened throughout the 101-year history of student government is that elected students convince themselves that what they can accomplish is what they are supposed to be doing. Programs, handouts, services and loud noises are all things students can do easily. Integrating undergraduates’ into all aspects of university and borough decision-making is really difficult and time consuming.

Compounding the problem is the broad misunderstanding of “student apathy.” The current narrative portrays Penn State students negatively as self-centered; we are too busy to vote. I believe what is being noticed is passivity; students aren’t supposed to vote. This is why the movement by the Greek system to vote like a block is so swingy. Most Greek voters only know that they should vote for whoever is supported by the Greeks. Student organizations drive on-campus life, but there is no similar organizing body for collective decision-making. The resources available to this voter pool are enormous and long misunderstood.

There are millions of dollars in the Facilities Fee, a completely unregulated IT Fee, and a Student Activity Fee that has grown so large that left over funds are spent every year now on cheaper gym memberships during the summer. Furthermore, the Student Activity Fee pays for a HUB full of administrative offices that control every aspect of our student union, and a Health Services Building were students have to jump through hoops for care. Pointing this out just draws the response that students had a chance. A weak student government is lucrative. It absorbs criticism pretty efficiently. Here is where voter participation must begin to matter.

Penn State students officially loaned the University Park Undergraduate Association to the 5th Assembly and President Ragland’s executive branch last Wednesday. As of the oath of office, the student body gained the right to demand, without apology, that its representatives be constantly extending the reach of the student voice across the town and campus next year. Every vote and every quote has to be called into question. Any representative uncomfortable with that must be made to leave sooner rather than later. The campus media has a responsibility to put individual pressure on new representatives and officers.  They also should ask far more and better questions to the administration and faculty. A complete overhauling of the attitude toward the UPUA relationship with Penn State will bring the best candidates forward over the next year and create critical internal development. The votes will follow.

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