Is there a problem with student apathy at UWT? If voter turnout and attendance at campus events are indicators, the answer is “yes.”
Of the 3,021 members registered to the Associated Students of the University of Washington Tacoma — UW Tacoma’s student government — only 454 votes were submitted in the Spring 2018 election. This was a 15 percent voter turnout. With so few students engaged in campus life and politics, are the ASUWT Senate and Board members doing enough to reach out to their constituents?
Senior Erin Emery does not know who the president of student government is, let alone her Senate representatives. The Executive Board make many of decisions which impact students’ campus lives, ranging from expanding access to campus facilities for students after-hours, to lobbying the Washington State Legislature for higher education initiatives.
The Executive Board includes the president — this year senior Armen Papyan — and the Board of Directors. They are paid a stipend for the maximum number of hours a student can be paid for in a week, 19.5 hours, with the exception of the president, who is paid for 25 hours of work a week.
Meanwhile, senators — the members of whom represent each of the campus’ academic schools — are only scheduled to work 2.5 hours a week, with the speaker of the Senate being paid for an additional 1.5 hours of work. The Senate’s role is to interact with students and bring student feedback to the Board. They also work on committees and, when need be, write opinions on behalf of ASUWT.
As a communication major, Emery falls into the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, which has two Senate representatives: Maria Crisostomo Salmeron and Hanan Gumale.
“I’ve never really looked into who my senators are, or really what student government does,” Emery said. “I’ve checked the little box to be a member to ASUWT, but I haven’t actually engaged with them.”
Every Friday, ASUWT has their meetings in Cherry Parkes room 206C from 12:30–2 p.m. for the Board, and 2–3 p.m. for the Senate. Meetings are open to the public, and ASUWT officers say they welcome any and all students to come in and participate. Only a few students a quarter attend the meetings.
Board and Senate members are required to respond to emails within 48 hours, according to ASUWT bylaws. In emailing the senators, all of them wrote back within the time frame. Undeclared Major Senator No.1 Vincent Da notably wrote back within an hour of emailing.
Da was a write-in candidate last year and won with only two votes to his name. He said that he works about four hours a week, but gets little input from the students he represents.
“So far this quarter, I’ve gotten about two students asking about ASUWT this quarter, and five since the beginning of the year,” Da said. “I also work as a Pack Advisor, and I know there are several inhibitors with engaging students on campus, like parking and how some students live far away. I’m trying to figure out how we can get more student involved, and I’m currently trying to help sophomores on campus. We have a lot of support for freshman students, but after their first year it really seems to fall off.”
Speaker of the Senate and Milgard Business Senator Julia Kilcup shared a similar sense of engagement.
“Personally, I have had very few students come up to me with issues related to the business school,” Kilcup said. “Maybe two or three.”
ASUWT has actively worked on projects which support increased student engagement, such as the now-defunct Late Night Study Program, as well as increasing the time students can run for this year’s election. They have also continued to help promote special events such as Pi Day and Huskies on the Hill, where they joined UW students from all three campuses to lobby congress for higher education.
Why is it that student engagement on campus is so low? Dean of Student Engagement Ed Mirecki said that there is a combination of factors at play.
“I’d say about 20 percent of students are actively engaged with campus involvement, 20 percent are almost never involved, and the other 60 percent falls in between,” Mirecki said. “For the 20 percent who are almost never involved, it could be that they simply cannot stay on campus when they do not have classes. It could be that transportation and parking is an issue. Or, it could be apathy. Looking at elections, on a national level we only have roughly half of the voting population go out and vote. A similar thing could be happening here.”