This is Part II of a series exploring Northwestern's political culture. The goal of this is to peel back the layers of campus political culture to reveal how, why and in what ways Northwestern students are politically involved.
The low turnout for April’s ASG presidential election demonstrated the long-held perception that many Wildcats feel that ASG is either irrelevant or ineffective. This perception problem has driven some ASG senators to adopt new approaches to clarify the organization’s role on campus.
This year, only 20 percent of the student body cast a vote in the ASG presidential election, meaning that the opinions of the vast majority of Northwestern students are effectively unrepresented. Senator Nikki Romane and some of her colleagues are trying to address this issue by publicizing the events and initiatives that ASG sponsors. “Students don’t really see tangible things. There’s a lack of communication,” the McCormick freshman said. “ASG does have an impact on campus. We have to find a balance between making a statement and not overwhelming students.”
According to Romane, ASG plays a critical role in bringing prominent speakers to campus each quarter. Additionally, ASG's 10K Initiative gives students input into the improvement of campus facilities. However, many students are not aware of the benefits these projects bring to the student body.
“ASG does its job, but it doesn’t do it as well as it could,” Romane said. “The process isn’t always clear ... Right now, it’s not as accessible as it should be.”
In any government, honesty helps establish representatives’ credibility among their constituents. This key attribute is one that Weinberg freshman and Bobb/McCulloch Hall President Andrew Jovanovic feels is lacking in the governing process.
“I wish there was more openness on their part,” he said. “It can be done, and it’s not as hard as you think. There’s a lack of leadership.”
In particular, Jovanovic would like to see ASG be more responsive to student feedback.
“They can say that they’re welcoming, but it’s not that simple to get involved. There’s a lot of secrecy,” he said.
Jovanovic also criticized ASG’s voting procedure, which keeps the voting records of ASG senators secret. He cited the recent column in The Daily by Weinberg junior Alex Deitchman, whose measure to make the voting process public was defeated.
“I think transparency is key. To have a record of how people voted is important because it provides accountability to all those involved. There’s a lot they can do [to improve],” Jovanovic said.
Student group funding
The allocation of funds to student groups is another issue that senators are trying to address. Each quarter, ASG has to determine which groups deserve financial support and how much each one should receive. Because this process is so central to the operation of most student organizations, many student leaders are keenly interested in ensuring a fair, transparent process. However, some feel that ASG does not explain this procedure well enough, causing friction between competing groups and within the student body.
“Student groups don’t receive the correct amount of funding, but ASG does have the project pool, which is a pot of money that can be given out to student groups,” Romane said.
ASG typically allots this money to groups proportional to the attendance of their events, so emerging groups that have yet to establish their position on campus often struggle with this process. Unable to attract enough people to their events, they are incapable of acquiring more funding, which prevents them from growing.
This vicious cycle has encouraged ASG to invent an additional officer position. “Bringing on the new position as Student Activities Vice President will really help,” Romane said.
Some leaders feel that the organization’s perception issues stem from its flawed public relations strategy. Although many senators send out weekly updates on ASG meetings, their messages oftentimes fail to reach the student body because overburdened students habitually ignore emails from listservs.
Senator and Weinberg sophomore Evan Frohman noted that this inability to establish communication with constituents often leads to a sense of disillusionment with ASG. “We do a good job in terms of event planning, but we could improve on student awareness,” Frohman said. “People aren’t using all the resources they have.”
Over the last couple years, ASG has worked with the administration to expand student resources, especially in regards to mental health. “We’ve had a bunch of request for mental health funding,” Frohman said. “The mental health ENU is due to pressures from a lot of people.”
Since ASG has to work in tandem with the administration, major changes desired by the student body take time to implement. The ensuing time lapse between student initiatives and administrative policy reforms negatively impacts how many students view ASG, making it appear ineffectual and secretive. Jovanovic concurred with this analysis, noting that his hall government rarely has constructive interactions with ASG. “We just don’t know a lot of what’s going on,” he said.