UCLA student government abandons membership in ‘ineffective’ liberal advocacy group

The undergraduate student government at UCLA has withdrawn from membership in a national student organization that organizes student bodies to lobby for liberal causes.

UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC) voted 7-2-1 Monday to withdraw from the United States Student Association (USSA) in response to concerns that the organization was failing to provide students with a reasonable value in exchange for their annual membership fees, The Daily Bruin reports.

“It is financially irresponsible and intellectually lazy to continue the membership of an organization that is ineffective,” said USAC external vice president Zach Helder, who introduced the motion to withdraw from USSA at a council meeting last week. “We all know that USSA is a sinking ship.”

The UC Student Association, which represents students throughout the University of California system, had previously withdrawn its own USSA membership earlier this year.

As articulated in its core belief statement, “USSA believes that education is a right and should be accessible for any student regardless of their socio-economic background and identity … [and] is dedicated to training, organizing, and developing a base of student leaders who are utilizing those skills to engage in expanding access to higher education and advancing the broader movement for social justice.”

Currently, the organization is running three advocacy campaigns—opposing sexual assault, promoting racial justice, and supporting free higher education—each of which has the dual components of lobbying for action by the federal government and pressuring campuses to adopt various policies that the group favors.

The “Ending Sexual Violence” campaign, for instance, supports the federal Teach Safe Relationships Act, which would require that any sex education programs taught at the K-12 level “also includes curriculum on consent and healthy relationships.” They have also partnered with “Carry That Weight” (an organization inspired by “mattress girl” Emma Sulkowicz) to promote the adoption of a Survivors’ Bill of Rights on college campuses.

While the content of Survivors’ Bills of Rights varies from school to school, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education identifies problematic provisions in many iterations, such as the State University of New York’s apparent reversal of the presumption of innocence for individuals accused of sexual assault.

The USSA’s “State of Emergency” campaign promotes the End Racial Profiling Act, which it claims would help “dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline,” as well as the Voting Empowerment Act, which would overrule “attempts to prevent ‘voter fraud’ [that] have served as cover for the very real intent of various politicians to disenfranchise communities of color.” In conjunction with those lobbying efforts, the campaign also calls for “large public demonstrations on college campuses across the country” to bring awareness to “the ethno-stress experienced by students of color on predominantly white campuses and over-policed minority communities.”

Lastly, the “Fund the Future” campaign seeks to promote policies designed to further the goal of free higher education, such as increasing and expanding access to Pell grants so that they fully cover average tuition costs and ending subsidies for private colleges.

Prior to its withdrawal from the organization, the USAC had already been distancing itself from the USSA for several weeks, starting with Helder’s refusal to send a delegation from the school to the USSA National Student Congress earlier this month, according to The Daily Bruin.

Helder claims his decision was based on a simple assessment of costs and benefits, noting that USAC spends about $25,000 each year on membership fees and to send representatives to USSA conferences, and that he believes the money could be better spent on other initiatives.

To that end, he has proposed diverting the funds toward organizing an independent lobbying corps composed exclusively of UCLA students, the details of which he plans to reveal at a council meeting on September 22.

USSA President Maxwell Love told The Daily Bruin that he believes UCLA’s withdrawal is a mistake, pointing out that the organization has a national presence, established relationships with policymakers and advocacy groups, and is able to support the efforts of individual universities.

“To build a program like this from scratch is a monumental task,” Love said, adding that, “USSA already provides direct access to council and committee members who play an important role in federal affairs negotiation.”

Yet although Helder has indicated that issues such as Pell Grants, higher education funding, sexual assault prevention, and campus safety will likely be on the lobbying corps’ agenda, there is reason to believe that its goals will be more moderate than the USSA’s, or at least more closely-attuned to student priorities, given the measure’s source of support on student council.

Of the seven votes cast in favor of withdrawing, six came from members of the Bruins United slate, while both “no” votes came from the two councilmembers on the LET’S ACT! slate, which together comprise the two largest “parties” in UCLA student government elections.

The LET’S ACT! platform is very much in line with the objectives espoused by the USSA, calling for tuition-free higher education, achieving diversity through affirmative action, and promoting “racial, labor, and environmental justice and equity.” Bruins United, in contrast, represents an amalgam of groups—including Bruin Democrats, Bruin Republicans, and some Panhellenic organizations—that banded together in 2003 to represent and advance the interests of all students, imbuing the slate with a broader, more moderate platform.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @FrickePete