The Collegian sat down with the current president of the Associated Students of Colorado State University Jason Sydoriak at the end of his 2015-16′ term to discuss his legacy. Sydoriak reflected on his opinions on the future of ASCSU and Colorado State University, his successes, and things he would have done differently over the past year as President.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Collegian: What was your best experience at CSU as a student?
Sydoriak: I think honestly, the best experiences I’ve had is whenever I had opportunities to be able to speak to fellow students or community members. There has been a few opportunities whether with the center for public deliberation facilitating conversations or when I was campaigning I was able to speak with students. But I think that’s what I enjoyed the most.
What would you say you have accomplished in your term as president at ASCSU?
A lot. I would have to make a list. I mean there’s nothing grand like I guess Ramride or anything like that. But if you think about it, I initiated the resignation of the area director because they were not doing their job right. I was able to encourage the administration to pursue that. We have a new website, there’s new things around this office.
We initiated U+2 reform, although that might not necessarily make it on the ballot. We created ATFAB, the Affordable Transportation Advisory Board. We just were able to get the administration approved for projects to be funded like last night. That’s West Lawn renovation, new composting facility, a program to encourage instructors to use e-texts and a new position that’s full time directed at getting students to do scholarships.
U+2 was one of your big initiatives. Who will pick that back up, and what’s the future look like for that?
So I think I overestimated the students. The students, they want U+2 change, there’s no question about that, but it’s really become a stark illustration of how apathetic and disengaged students are. We did all the leg work, with creating the ordinance. All we needed to do was get the signatures. No one’s coming to us to volunteer. In fact, I’m the only one who’s collecting signatures anymore.
So even people in ASCSU, who are supposed to be representing the students, have failed to do that. Who will pick it up? I don’t know. Mike Lensky has helped collect signatures, but does that mean he’ll be able to pick it up? No, it doesn’t. What it comes down to is people being citizens and being actively engaged with their city, and they’ve failed to do that, and that’s not just necessarily just on their part.
There are barriers to it, but if you’re not willing to circumvent those barriers, and break down those barriers, then I don’t know what the fate of U+2 is.
Do you think that someone will pick it up?
I hope that someone will pick it up. I am more than happy to help the next administration figure out where to pick it up from. So, it’s just like every single year at ASCSU. Someone’s going to bring up U+2 like they know more about it, but they won’t follow through.
What was something that was unexpected this year in your term?
Well, I tried to have a pretty bold administration. Very blunt, and maybe it should have been expected especially given just how culture is, but it’s amazing what people will say without knowing who you are.
I don’t think, and this might be an over exaggeration illustrating what I don’t know, but I don’t think anyone has received more unjust criticism than myself. I have been poking all the bears: administration, the city, even this government but some of the stuff that has been put online, some of the stuff that has even gone through the Collegian, it’s amazing what people will say without knowing who you are.
I think that is an extension of what the culture is at ASCSU and what has always been in ASCSU: people trying to play government and turning it into a hyperbole when it doesn’t need to be or at least not directed at the right places.
Do you think that will continue to the next president?
Oh, absolutely. The majority of the people were craving this toxic environment, and i’ll say it: it’s “the sick caucus.” The fact that they now put ideology into a non-partisan organization, conservatism, just shows what they’re willing to do to this dynamic, and they’ve put their support behind Daniella. But they’ve also given me support at times.
So they will – and all senates do it – they will most likely turn on the executive probably mid-fall.
What did you see as the biggest problem going into the job, and the biggest going out?
It’s participation. It’s what I’m talking about, and I think it’s an issue that all student organizations will face. I think that there is a misconception of what it means to be a citizen. Whether that means you’re a member of this association, which all students are, or just a citizen in your own state and your own country, people don’t participate and you’re going to come into this job and you’re going to think that that you can change all of these things and then you start hitting those barriers of participation or lack of.
Those people who are willing to sacrifice their time and effort to pick up that slack, mid-Fall, it’s all going to fall apart because they’re going to be exhausted. They’re going to be burnt out.
We’re an association. We’re a union. We’re supposed to provide leverage against these other large organizations, whether it’s the city or the administration. That’s our job on behalf of the students, but we don’t treat it that way and going out of it, it’s pretty easy for most people. Most of my predecessors, by the time they get elected, they’ll stop working for the most part. They’ll end up doing the status quo.
For me, it’s difficult going in right now being someone who served his country, I can’t imagine not working until my last breath or last day, at least not serving my constituents to the very last day.
Do you think this apathy can be fixed, or it is on an individual basis?
I think it can be fixed. I mean, it’s both an individual basis and then you’ve got this solidaristic aspect, this group mentality, and both of them get seized by populism. These little ignitions of participation – which can be good and can be bad. We saw it with diversity. We had the most people engaged with ASCSU with this discussion. It’s over now, where did everyone go?
I think it is an important thing to put our political capital toward, but we need to constantly be engaged. That’s what democracy is. I can’t just give you democracy. We can’t one day reach level 100 ‘you are now democratic’. Democracy is something you constantly have to be practicing and we don’t see that, and so the more we practice it, the more you’ll see the apathy go away.
Where do you see the diversity bill going in the future?
Well, there’s some issues with it. For instance, an amendment that was put on it before its vote that I was actually against. Initially, I thought it was a compromise, but then I realized it wasn’t the best mechanism. It’s to include the student organizations. What they forgot to do is, if that student organization gets disbanded, how do you take away that vote? The vote just remains forever. So there needs to be some tweaking to that, tweaking to actually function.
I think we will get senators for those seats. I think people will pursue their organizations to get those senator seats. But I also do fear that there is a block in senate that are willing to dismantle the diversity bill, dilute it in some sort of sense that it doesn’t have the impact it’s supposed to have because there’s such a confusion to what was trying to be accomplished.
In hindsight, what do you wish you would have done?
Well, certainly get U+2 on the ballot. But you know honestly, there are a lot of little things I wish could be different or accomplished. By the end of the day, it’s what I was trying to state in my either first or second letter to the Collegian, to the students and that was to inspire that sort of civic responsibility, that identity.
I think that we have an idea of what the society should look like, but were not willing to put forth the effort to get there, and so we’re going to fall short. And that’s mostly because we don’t trust our institutions that make us a democratic society and then we’re apathetic. It always comes down to that.
If you knew about the struggles with apathy before you went into your term, what would you do to try to change that?
I think that’s the million dollar question. I don’t know. I always think that, yeah you can try to engage the people who are out there now and get them riled up, I mean that’s what populism is: “Hey, there’s this issue, social hosts, let’s all go to the city council and tell them no”. But that isn’t sufficient.
The first thing you need to do is change those institutions, to create mechanisms that can actually harness the potential of people, and I wish I could have done that more.
What are your plans for after graduation, and how has ASCSU helped you?
I think I’m a little bit different than past presidents. I’m 28, I’ve served in two wars, did six years in the military, and I’ve done many other things. I don’t think ASCSU’s prepared me for anything besides what it means to take extreme criticism. I mean, it has helped me out with just being able to collaborate with people who are not military, civilians.
I’m moving back to Boston. New England is where I’m originally from. Don’t have a job lined up, but I will probably get into public policy. I think what ASCSU has let me do, is refine my character. It’s allowed me participate in some of the most challenging things, and to ensure that my character remains intact and that I have integrity throughout the whole process.
Collegian Assistant News Editor Seth Bodine can be reached online at email@example.com or on Twitter @Sbodine120.