There are roughly 36,000 students who attend UC Berkeley, 26,000 of whom are undergraduates and 10,000 of whom are graduate students. Our student government, the ASUC, is made up of five executives and 20 senators. These elected students act as representatives of the entire student body. As a result, decisions that can have an effect on the larger student body as a whole are often left in their hands. So how can 25 students represent 36,000?
The simple answer is they can’t. It is an impossibility.
To begin with, the idea that one individual can perfectly represent another individual — let alone a thousand — is fundamentally flawed. Everyone has different experiences in life, resulting in different opinions, perspectives and backgrounds.
Besides this ontological flaw, we can also look at the facts. Not a single graduate student is in the the ASUC Senate or holds one of the five executive offices. And yes, graduate students are allowed both to vote and to take office. The simple fact that this is uncommon knowledge is just one glaring example of how irrelevant the ASUC is to this portion of the student body.
In fact, the majority of the campus would probably say that the ASUC is irrelevant to them as well. Less than half the student population voted in last year’s elections. Moreover, many of these votes are not for political reasons; the people really believe in certain platforms and visions, but they are rather more motivated for reasons of friendship or popularity.
With such little participation and interest from the student body, all the ASUC can claim to represent is a minority of the student body. This lack of participation also becomes a question of democracy. With such little participation, exactly how can the ASUC be considered a democratic body when only a minority of the campus takes part in electing a group of 25 individuals who are then supposed to represent the entire student body?
The fatal flaw in this idea of “representation” is that it allows these individuals to take it upon themselves to decide what is best for the student body. They, at any moment, have the power to foreclose on any democracy by speaking for the other roughly 35,975 students, who are likely to have a wide variety of opinions. Just in the past month, there have been two major instances of our “representatives” foreclosing on a democratic decision from being made by the entire student body.
The first occurred on March 12, with a proposed bill to place a referendum to be voted on in this year’s elections that would make it the official stance of the ASUC to call for Chancellor Birgeneau’s resignation. The bill first had to go through a committee before reaching the ASUC as a whole; thus it was only a proposed bill.
Regardless, the bill was voted down by senators from Student Action and SQUELCH! There was also one CalSERVE senator, who was not a member of the committee but who was at the meeting, who also voiced his disapproval of the bill. These senators, as “representatives,” chose to speak for the entire campus by not letting this decision reach the students themselves. Which is interesting, since if the ASUC is supposed to represent the student body, then shouldn’t the student body get to say what the ASUC’s official stance is on anything? Of course, the next day Birgeneau announced he would resign at the end of the calendar year, providing potential proof that even he may be more progressive than the ASUC!
The second instance is the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative. As we all may know by now, President Vishalli Loomba decided to nullify the referendum regarding funding of The Daily Californian. There are many questions that arose regarding the timing of her action, but it does not change the fact that she prevented the student body from making its own decision. She, once again, as a “representative” of the student body, used her power to assume the voice of the students.
If the ASUC is to be a body representative of the student body, it must move away from this model of student representation. I can confidently say there is no one in the ASUC who would accurately or justly represent me, and I’m sure the same goes for countless other students. So why should a small number of folks have the power to speak on our behalf? We don’t need people fighting for our causes, and we certainly don’t need saviors. I think the majority of folks are sick of having “saviors.” Let the people represent themselves, empower us to speak for ourselves because you all should not be able to speak for us.
Honest Chung is a UC Berkeley student and member of Students for a Democratic University.
A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that not a single graduate student is in the ASUC. In fact, the Graduate Assembly is part of the ASUC and includes graduate students.
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