As an incoming freshman, it’s important not to equate a university’s student government with the lax, prom-planning responsibilities that high school student governments often handle.
Especially when that university has the largest student government in the nation, with the greatest control over the largest budget in the nation. The University of Colorado’s student government (CUSG) handles $36 million — money that comes primarily from student fees — and works with student groups, cost centers and the university to implement that budget in ways that will benefit students, faculty and staff.
This year’s student government leaders, who ran under a liberal-leaning ticket labeled “Pulse,” hope to focus the budget on a number of efforts, including increasing safety on campus by adding more lights, working to establish a stronger culture of inclusion for students on campus, improving CU’s free NightRide transportation service for students, and giving students multiple outlets to communicate and have a dialogue with student government leaders.
“Our main priority is really to represent the student body the best way we can,” says student body President Brittni Hernandez. That will mean interfacing with the administration on behalf of students.
In an effort to get more students involved and engaged, sophomore Director of Communications Olivia Leyshock says CUSG will focus on a new initiative called ART: accountability, responsibility and transparency.
“We know we’re ambitious and we know that we have a lot of big things going on, but we want to stay responsible,” Leyshock says. “We want to implement smarter choices with the money, and we just want people to hold us accountable, and we want to be as transparent as possible. So that’s what really affects my job, and what one of my main goals is.”
Pulse leaders say they plan to use social media to interact with students on a more regular basis in an effort to be a more transparent student government.
“We now have a Facebook, a Twitter, and I’m working on a YouTube channel,” Leyshock says. “So that in itself will get students engaged. We’re also putting our website through a total revamp that will get students involved in knowing what we’re doing. Students can hold us accountable, they can talk to us, and they can say ‘We want x, y and z,’ or ‘Why did you do x, y and z?’ and we can answer them.”
A smartphone app is also in the works that will allow students access to tools like a community calendar.
Part of Pulse’s diversity efforts will be creating an atmosphere of inclusion and equity. Hernandez says she and the Pulse party members hope to accomplish this by working with students of color, the LGBTQ community and other minority groups on campus.
“What does it mean to be a student from a lower socio-economic background who is on scholarships at CU, and what support are they receiving and what does that look like and what do they need?” Hernandez says. “Those are the questions we have to ask ourselves when implementing decisions that affect the student body.”
Pulse won the CUSG spring election by a whopping 57 percent of the vote, beating out the conservative-leaning Entrust ticket.
“I think that Pulse won by this overwhelming majority definitely because of the community support that we had behind us, and the momentum we built from the fall, and from prior years and issues we engaged students with, and the dialogue we were having — I truly believe that,” Hernandez says. “We sat there and we talked to students. The dialogue we engaged students in, the community support that we had and the passion, the drive and the love that we brought to this process all contributed to our victory.”
Student frustration at the administration’s attempts to squash the yearly 4/20 protest last year may also have contributed to the support of Pulse. Under CUSG’s conservative Invest ticket, last year’s leadership, more than $270,000 was spent between CUSG and the University of Colorado’s administration in increased police force and a largely unattended Wyclef Jean concert. Fish fertilizer was used on Norlin Quad to deter protesters further, while students were routinely stopped to show officers and campus security their student IDs.
While they were successful in their efforts to dramatically decrease the number of people on campus looking to toke up, upwards of 400 students still managed to defy officers and the administration by smoking on the Duane Physics lawn at 4:20 p.m.
In years past, the 4/20 event has cost upwards of $60,000.
Hernandez says she found the decisions of the administration and the previous student government largely unsuccessful.
“We think that the administration really saw a problem and that they tried to address it, but we feel they didn’t go about it the right way,” Hernandez says. “It was very fiscally irresponsible.”
And student voices weren’t given a large enough platform in the decision, she says.
“Students were not brought in to have a conversation,” she says. “We feel that’s problematic because it was mostly students that were affected by those decisions.”
While CUSG’s Invest party held an open forum to let students share their opinions on the subject, Hernandez says only holding a single forum for such a large issue was unfair to students.
“The last student government administration held an open house for students to come in, but they didn’t have a very good turnout,” she says. “They took opinions from that forum — and then also the fact that students didn’t show up — as an indicator of how students felt about the issue and moved forward. To me, when people don’t show up, you have to have a follow-up forum to make sure the students’ voices are heard in the issue.”
Hernandez says the issue of 4/20 is still a conversation to be had with Pulse and the administration.
“I would like to come up with a sustainable solution that we decide as a community together,” she says. “Though I don’t necessarily agree with everyone smoking weed on campus, I do know that it is their right to [protest] and I don’t want to infringe on students’ rights either. ... It really does pose some safety issues and costs a lot of money to have security out there even during regular years. But if students strongly stand behind the idea that it’s a protest and they want to share something and have something to say, then that’s really the issue — what are students trying to protest, say, and what’s another avenue to make that happen?”
Leyshock, the director of communications, says she thinks the university administration is very interested in hearing students’ view.
“We want to remain transparent and accountable,” Leyshock says.
“Something that we really want to do is just open that line of communication to students, so I think that we’re definitely willing to listen, but I think that, again, we are very focused on the value of our degree here at CU.”
Visit http://cusg.colorado.edu for additional information.