Why student government elections matter

Tommy Wan, Columnist

Conversations of power are difficult and divisive. 

Civic engagement, repeated statistical points and critical dialogue are often the catalysts for change. Your voice at the ballot box matters, especially for studentwide elections. 

UT’s studentwide elections are consequential. Student representation is an avenue for equitable funding, uplifting student voices and facilitating inclusive efforts with UT administration. The legislative body plays a pivotal role in steering the priorities on and off campus. Initiatives such as scholarships, food distributions and club appropriations are all at the helm of elected student representatives. However, student engagement in this election process has been historically low.

“UT Student Government is a powerful organization, especially because we’ve received so much funding … and have initiatives that are going on in nearly all facets of student life,” said Ana Fuentes, a government junior and co-director of UT’s Hook The Vote. “Students are (disconnected) with (SG) itself. … There’s not much awareness of student elections.”

She’s not wrong. 

Out of more than 50,000 students, there were only 2,750 ballots cast for this year’s Executive Alliance, which determines the president and vice president. For the At-Large Graduate Representative seat, only 85 ballots were cast. Presently, there are 11,075 graduate students enrolled

“I’ve been on the board for three years. In my first year on the board, there were about 7,000 voters. Now, it’s dwindled down to (a few) thousand. … Not many students are aware of how these elections were run before the pandemic, and it’s definitely been an adjustment,” said Jenny Ainsworth, the 2021-2022 chair of the Election Supervisory Board.

Some students are unaware of campus elections or student government initiatives.

“I’m not even sure that (SG) does anything,” said Vaishnavi Penta, a Plan II and government freshman. “(UT) is a student-led University. … It’s important to know who we elect as our representatives so that we can have a good grasp on what’s going on.”

The effectiveness of student government is a two-way street involving the student population and the organization itself. 

“You have to make sure that your voice is heard, and that also goes both ways,” said Isabel Agbassi, SG vice president and public health junior. “At the very least, we can advocate and push it hard to make sure that your issues are elevated here, and (there is) action.”

Recently, the freshman class voted in the first-year elections — a foremost chance to voice their concerns. Many candidates emphasized that the student voice is essential for proper representation, deciding priorities and increasing transparency. 

“I represent all freshmen. It’s important for them to understand that … everyone’s voice matters,” said Cosmo Miyahara, first-year representative and physics freshman. 

While the pandemic has taken a toll on student engagement, there are tangible solutions: Universitywide email notifications from SG, collaborating with student organizations, shifting election dates and making candidate platforms more accessible. 

“Communications initiatives, such as a campuswide email or a resource guide, could definitely lead to more transparency,” Fuentes said. 

There’s a simple doctrine: students have the ability to command the stage of campus discourse. 

“The reality is that a lot of students show discontent with SG and legislative student organizations as a whole. But the reality is that these institutions will continue to exist,” Universitywide representative and government sophomore Adrian Tristán said. 

Students have a voice on campus. Voting is our vehicle into conversations of power. Use it. 

Wan is an aerospace engineering and Plan II freshman from Houston, Texas.