Words by Eric Bilach
Illustrations by Katie Herchenroeder
With the 2019 installment of The City College of New York’s annual Undergraduate Student Government (USG) elections concluding on Thursday, April 11, the ballots have been casted, all of the votes have been counted, and the results are finally all in. For some CCNY undergraduate students, these elections signify a changing of the guard—an opportunity to usher in new, or preserve past serving, representatives who have collectively been deemed the best suited for presenting the needs and concerns of the entire student body to the higher administration.
Conversely, other students have revealed to be quite crossed by the pageantry of these yearly events, dismissing them as mere ostentatious displays of pomp and circumstance rather than as a productive means of appointing student officials. Caught in the middle between these two extremes arises a third category of students—those who remain indifferent towards the entire process as a whole. As it follows, the statistics regarding voter turnout that are produced after every election cycle mirror these varied opinions that exist across campus, as well as offer some key insight into the individual sentiments held by voters and non-voters towards the USG.
In line with years past, the voter turnout for this most recent election cycle has managed to provide such insight. As per the official 2019 election totals, of the 11,639 eligible undergraduate students, only 1,275 casted at least one single vote for any one particular candidate (a grand total of 14,255 votes were officially recorded). A simple calculation of the first two figures determines this year’s voter turnout to be 10.94%. While this may appear to be a meager result considering it proves that (roughly) only one out of every ten students participated in voting, it is still a marginal increase from last year’s (2018) voter turnout of 6.15% (740 voters out of 12,036 eligible undergraduate students). Despite this year’s proliferation of votes; however, these current election totals demonstrate the sheer lack of voter participation from an overwhelming majority of CCNY’s undergraduate student population (89.06%).
In speaking with junior Kimberly Velazquez, she stated that she felt both “motivated” and “encouraged” to vote in the most recent USG elections. She elaborated on this point by explaining that she believes the act of voting to be a “responsibility” that all undergraduate students must exercise, especially when considering that these elections ultimately determine the individuals who will serve as the direct spokespeople for the student body to CCNY administrators and other “higher-ups.” For Kimberly, there exists an inherent self-interest that is tied to the act of voting—one that ensures that her individual needs, concerns, and voice, in addition to those of her peers, will be heard through proper student representation.
In the discussion on this year’s voter turnout, Kimberly suggested that perhaps part of the reason behind the lack of student participation in election cycles may be the preconceived notion that the power of the USG is “limited” or, at the very least, “not clearly defined.” In response, Kimberly rejects this notion on the grounds that, “Student government try their hardest to bring about change and new ideas to the campus.” Given her relationships with some of the members of the USG, she also revealed that she is “aware” of the organization’s tremendous work ethic, claiming that, “While it may not always be seen, their effort is definitely always there.”
In concurrence with Kimberly’s perspectives, junior Matthew Romano expressed that his position as vice president of Teachers of Tomorrow has permitted him to gain first-hand knowledge on the extent of the USG’s powers as an organization, as well as their influence over each individual member of the undergraduate student body. In a sit-down meeting with USG members Frantzy Luzincourt, then-Interim Vice President for Student Affairs, and Hannah Towfiek, Secretary, Matthew learned that the organization is in fact the “source of funding for all student clubs.” These funds are generated through student activity fees, which, at the present time, cost every continuing student $14 per academic year. From there, the USG disperses these funds equally among the approximately 200 clubs that exist on campus. The USG also has the ability to push across referendums to the higher administration (as well as the CUNY Board of Trustees) that can influence club funding and, by extension, those clubs’ financial stability.
In terms of relating all of these details on the USG’s list of powers to voter turnout, Matthew holds firmly that the majority of undergraduate students, particularly those who do not belong to or are not affiliated with any club, “fail to recognize” the organization’s direct impact on them, especially with regards to club funding and on-campus events and activities. In Matthew’s own words, the USG operates as sort of “the men and women behind the curtain.” By this, Matthew confirms the notion that the role the USG plays in fundraising, promoting, and running many of the annual functions – including Lavender Fever Homecoming Week, the Welcome Back events hosted by the Department of Student Life, bashes hosted by the Caribbean Students Association, among others – that take place across campus is rarely ever “unveiled” to the student public. As this suggests, even if a student is to partake in such festivities throughout the academic year, it is highly unlikely that they will be made aware of the extent of the USG’s involvement. Thus, their view on the organization as an entity remains relatively unchanged, which is ultimately reflected in the voter turnout of each election cycle.
Speaking from the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, other CCNY undergraduate students hold a much more critical perspective on the USG and their purposes and functions as a student representative organization. According to junior Omar Elsayed, “There is truly no point in voting for the USG at a commuter school. The vast majority of us come to school each day, then leave directly for home. So, when it comes down to it, the USG and their initiatives have no genuine effect on most of the student populace—only for those who care to participate in campus activities, many of which do not.”
Omar’s point-of-view regarding the USG’s influence on undergraduate students appears to fall in direct conflict with that of Matthew’s. Taking into account that CCNY can be defined as a “commuter school” (given that, via a compilation of various statistics, an estimated 95% of the entire student population resides off-campus), Omar’s supposition may hold some weight. Omar does not contest that USG policies may have some bearing over certain aspects of student life, rather he is arguing that said policies are frequently neglected and ignored by the college’s immense commuter population whose time spent on campus each day, in most cases, is typically limited to only class hours.
Further, in addition to this debate over the USG’s relevance to the undergraduate student body, Omar has also questioned the legitimacy of the organization and their positions. Omar claims, “In my opinion, USG roles are ghost positions students run for just to put on their résumés.” He expounded on this point by criticizing the entire USG election process as a whole, wherein he asserted that students running for office who “pander” for votes in the NAC Rotunda and offer “ambiguous” campaign ideas and platforms have not provided undergraduate students, including himself, with any incentive to vote whatsoever.
As CCNY transitions into the 2019–2020 academic year alongside the newest incarnation of the USG, improving voter turnout is already at the forefront of the organization’s agenda. In an interview with recently elected President of the USG Frantzy Luzincourt, he revealed that he is “proud” of the increase in student participation for this most recent election cycle. Regardless of such a feat, the newly appointed leader added, “[The USG] definitely still [has] more work to do and, hopefully, that number continues to increase.”
With opinions and sentiments of the USG on campus ranging from vehemently critical to utterly indifferent to highly supportive, Frantzy encourages undergraduate students to “become more directly involved with the USG” in order to 1) “learn more about how the campus works” and 2) enhance one’s daily college experience. By expanding on their current “grassroots approach” to campaigning, as well as their “aggressive social media strategy” on Facebook and Instagram, Frantzy and his fellow USG members aim to engage with undergraduate students at a more individual and intimate level. If such methods prove to be a success, perhaps voter turnout will continue to rapidly increase in subsequent election cycles; however, this remains to be seen as only time will tell whether or not this current USG administration will be able to have a positive impact on CCNY undergraduate voter participation.