In nearly four years as a UC Santa Barbara student, I have regularly — and often unwittingly — reaped the benefits of its undergraduate student union, Associated Students (AS). Buying course readers from AS Publications, pumping tires at the AS bike shop, jamming to friends’ radio shows on the AS-affiliated KCSB, attending concerts organized by the AS Program Board, even seeking counsel from the AS Legal Resource Center. One could say I have relied pretty heavily on the association. However, through all this, a few questions remained constant: Who the heck are the Associated Students of UCSB? What exactly do they do?
Attempting to reduce the group’s dizzying range of duties to a pithy mission statement no doubt cheapens their carefully cultivated ubiquity. However, in the broadest terms possible, ASUCSB is a not-for-profit student government organization that — per its official website — comprises “dozens of boards, committees, and commissions that are organized and funded … to enrich student life and give students services and opportunities not offered by the administration.” Paid for entirely by undergraduate student fees, AS receives no funding from the state and oversees an annual budget of over $9 million, which gets pumped back into a long list of affiliated businesses, services, initiative, and student groups.
Just one of the university’s two student senates (the second being the Graduate Student Association), Associated Students strives to give a collective voice to the nearly 20,000 undergraduates at UCSB. By giving these students the resources they need to play an active role in their community, AS hopes to foster a sense of social responsibility among its constituency. The organization offers accessible student-run business services like the Community Financial Fund, which provides students with more access to grants while teaching and encouraging greater financial literacy, as well as a bevy of student groups like the Commission on Disability Equality, the Queer Commission, and the Womyn’s Commission, which seek to offer a safe haven and a sense of belonging for each and every student at UCSB.
In addition to these groups and services, ASUCSB encompasses a fully functioning student government. For the most part, the structure of the AS government resembles that of a larger state or local government, complete with a cross-checking network of executives, policy makers, and judiciaries. The system is even bipartisan, split relatively evenly between the Democratic Process Party (or DP Party, evoking Isla Vista’s infamous Del Playa Drive) and the Open People’s Party (or OPP).
A third party, Better Our School System (or BOSS) was disbanded after the 2011 elections, when it became clear that the three parties’ platforms had become too homogenized. Indeed, in so many words, each party tends to promise the same things: to stave off unjust budget cuts, to provide greater access to financial aid, and to finance activities and events that the entire student body can enjoy. However, whether or not DP members and OPP members possess political identities as steadfast and fully formed as, say, those of Democrats and Republicans, their influence throughout campus is palpable.
This past April marked the culmination of the annual AS elections, during which aspiring student leaders mounted their bids for public office positions like AS president, vice president, student advocate, and collegiate senator, among others. This year, elected candidates all hailed from OPP, with 7,001 undergrad votes (or 39.73 percent of the population) deciding the result.
While this number may seem rather low at first blush, a recent study in the Eastern Education Journal called “Are You Voting Today? Student Participation in Self-Government Elections” argues otherwise. Examining “voter turnout at student government elections at 100 colleges and universities,” this study found that in 2012, the average percentage of turnout among the participating institutions was a measly 17.16 percent. That same year, by contrast, UCSB coaxed 41.78 percent of its undergraduate population to get out and vote — an impressive feat, given the rest of the nation’s comparative apathy.
In April, UCSB students elected Jonathan Abboud as their 2013-14 AS president. Abboud, who last year served as an AS senator, ran this year’s campaign on a platform of initiatives intended to keep student support at UCSB’s current lofty heights. Among these initiatives is “It All Comes Back to You,” a program that Abboud designed to give unused AS money back to the students who forked it over in the first place. According to Abboud, this project will enforce more fiscal accountability within ASUCSB, and “strengthen the mentality that the money in the AS budget is the students’ money, not AS’s money.” He also vows to work with advocates in hashing out a multi-year funding program for the University of California, and he plans to establish an AS Entrepreneur Fund that would promote “a culture of entrepreneurial innovation at UCSB.” Time will certainly tell if Abboud can make good on these lofty promises, but his comprehensive plans for reform speak toward the UCSB student government’s high caliber and resolute transparency.
So as it turns out, the question, “What is ASUCSB?” has no single, clear-cut answer; depending on whom you ask, the overarching goal of the organization might fluctuate. One might cast the Associated Students as fearless crusaders for the rights of the many, purveyors of the classic “college experience,” or simply suppliers of essential community services. In reality, AS seems to play all three roles at once, protecting, encouraging, and inspiring UCSB students by building an indispensable presence in each and every corner of university life.