Know History, Know Self. No History, No Self.


Students unaware of USAC’s history

Council’s past shows how slates formed to resolve social issues

By T.J. Cordero

As spring quarter begins to unfold, you can expect an influx of articles and events surrounding the Undergraduate Students Association Council elections and may be approached by prospective candidates and their supporters. Embedded in these discussions is the idea of slates. However, what many candidates neglect to state are the very reasons why slates are formed in the first place. Only by examining the history of slates on this campus is it possible to understand their varying purposes and missions.

From its inception in 1919, USAC was primarily dominated by councilmembers who ran under programmatic platforms that focused on events such as Mardi Gras and Homecoming. During the 1960s, many students became discontent with USAC because of its failure to engage broad social issues such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

The emergence of the Third World Coalition during the 1960s brought progressive students together. They saw the need to address issues like segregation, racism in admissions, the lack of ethnic and gender studies, and international, anti-imperialist movements. As USAC was planning the next big victory party for UCLA’s football team, students in TWC turned to USAC for leadership in supporting these movements.

In the 1980s, TWC led the campaign for corporate divestment from South African apartheid. Through Associated Students of UCLA, TWC could make UCLA the first university in the United States to disinvest from corporations that did business in apartheid South Africa. Recognizing USAC as an important player with potential to create positive social change, students were able to contribute to the larger movement that led to the eventual dismantling of the apartheid system.

USAC was seen as an important part in bringing about these types of social changes. But it took progressive students becoming USAC councilmembers to have these issues addressed. It was TWC that politicized USAC around these issues.

It was not until the early 1990s that groups of students came together to ensure that USAC’s primary focus would be on serving the political interests of the student body. These students saw that many students’ needs were not being met. Students cared about issues like quality of education, diversity, access to education, student retention and civil rights, while USAC did not.

It became clear that these issues would not be the focus of the whole council when it failed to unanimously condemn student organizations in the late ’80s and early ’90s for racist, sexist and homophobic acts. In 1992, student organization songbooks surfaced, revealing songs like “Lupe,” about going to Mexico to rape a young Mexican girl, and “Faggot Fraternity,” mocking sodomy and AIDS.

People turned to student government to hold students to higher standards of tolerance and understanding. As leaders of our student body, it is USAC’s responsibility to defend students against any form of discrimination and injustice. Progressive students and students of color thus united to ensure USAC was more than events programmers and resume builders.

As the successor to TWC, one of the ways the Affirmative Action Coalition sought to address the aforementioned issues was to engage itself in the USAC electoral process. Thus, in 1996, Students First! was formed. As the predecessor to Praxis and Student Empowerment!, Students First! was founded upon principles of diversity, equality, empowerment, reflection and action, self-determination and justice. Students came together under a unifying goal that was much larger than simply winning the elections or obtaining financial resources. Students First! was an extension of TWC, which continually fought for human rights and equal access to education as its underlying objective.

As history shows, the development of our slate has been rooted in progressive principles and seeing USAC as one agent for change. Our work (that continues today) is not about arguing over scarce resources, but envisioning how student government should be a strong advocate for the needs of students.

Throughout the year, we have been attacked as students from many sides. Our student fees are increasing at record levels, proportionally fewer underrepresented students of color are entering UCLA, student services are being cut, and housing and parking rates are reaching record highs.

I offer this historical context to shed light on the often-lost history of which most current councilmembers and people interested in USAC are unaware. It’s unfortunate that people have built such demoralizing ideas of Student Empowerment! and our history, and continue to perpetuate false notions of what we stand for.

Cordero is USAC internal vice president