Over the past two years, I have had the honor and privilege of serving the College of Arts and Sciences on the Undergraduate Assembly as Representative Ernest. The experience has given me great memories but also very visible challenges, many of which revolve around advocacy.
During every term I’ve served on the UA, I have internally and publicly questioned how we connect with students from all walks of life and how we fight for their causes. I am unsatisfied with the progress we have made thus far.
I cannot say that my role as an elected representative on campus has been best used to advocate for students. Many campus issues that I encountered as a Quaker have not been addressed by the UA.
Rather, I have tried to tackle problems on campus through my radio show at WQHS, the columns I have written for The Daily Pennsylvanian and my involvement with steering groups. These avenues have, in many ways, been more effective than the UA in allowing me to advocate for the student body.
For this reason, I sincerely and respectfully resign as College representative and public relations director of the Undergraduate Assembly, effective immediately.
This was a difficult decision to make. It has been an open secret on campus that I had plans to run for vice president of the UA this spring. I have been displeased with the organization for a long time and had planned to address structural issues such as UA Steering if I were elected.
However, I’ve realized that I cannot single-handedly change anything within Penn Student Government’s bureaucratic structure. The UA needs decisive action. But our current leaders are extremely hesitant to take stances on pressing issues.
They have held back for fear of jeopardizing their future prospects on campus and outside the Penn community. This pervasive culture has been so ingrained within the UA that one representative is unable to change the system from within.
It says a lot when ordinary students like Christopher Abreu, Tania Chairez and Dephanie Jao can get their peers more fired up and ready to go than the UA can. In a similar vein, the work that many steering groups do on campus puts us to shame.
This is not to say the UA hasn’t done anything. We have innovated and found better ways to fund student groups and enhance campus life. However, $5 airport shuttles and mobile apps should not be the bulk of what we offer to students. Resolutions we have passed over the past two years tackle things that students don’t care — or care to know — about.
In our strongest moments we passed resolutions addressing the DREAM Act, the Diversity Action Plan and reached a consensus on the newly revised alcohol policy. These resolutions had an impact because they addressed issues that students care about.
Moving forward, members of the UA should expand their understanding of what student government can do. Do not be afraid to take a stand and step out of your comfort zone.
If the UA wishes to become a relevant entity on campus, it needs to diversify its members and steer its mission closer to the student body. Instead of working for students, we should work with them — they are just as knowledgeable and capable of pushing for causes as we are.
Although I am no longer a member, I am interested in the progress that the UA can make. I am done with the politics of Penn Student Government, but will continue to work for causes that are at the very core of campus life through my position as the advocacy liaison for the Civic House Associates Coalition.
A lot of work needs to be done. Next semester, a new class of leaders will emerge — one that will hopefully include leaders who are more diverse, proactive and assertive. We know better and we should do better.
Ernest Owens is a College junior from Chicago, Ill. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Ernest Opinion” appears every Friday. Toss him a tweet @MrErnestOwens.
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