Vander Graaff: ASCSU skews focus away from student representation

Abby Vander

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Associated Students of Colorado State University is meant to be the “voice” of students. But on Wednesday, my experience speaking to the Senate made me question the very nature of our student government. The events that led me to this meeting are equally disconcerting.

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As a student journalist, I am fully aware that assuming someone’s opinion without their knowledge or permission is unethical.

Therefore it came to my surprise when my own name was placed on a resolution by an ASCSU member without my knowledge or permission.

The resolution proposed observation of Darwin Day, which was later changed to Evolutionary Science Day. I did not even know it existed until a member of ASCSU mentioned it to me.

I was met with contrasting reactions of concerned shock and extreme defensiveness that symbolize a deeper conflict at play in our student government.

After further investigation, I discovered the author of the resolution, a classmate in my section of ANTH 370, sent our class two messages on Canvas, CSU’s digital classroom platform, informing us that he added our names to the bill. He wrote that we should approach him if we wanted our name removed.

The issue here is the difference between opt-out consent, which accepts inaction, and explicit consent, which requires action. The ability to use someone’s name endorsing a document should require explicit consent. Under United States law, misleading use of another person’s name is defamation—a tort allowing the injured party to sue for libel.

For ASCSU to pass a bill, every voting senator must say yes individually in a roll call. But my name, as a community member, was placed on a bill without any verification.

My representation as a member of this University should not be based on how often I check my Canvas inbox.

Requiring students to approach a politician and voice their dissent for a proposal forces them into a confrontation they may want to avoid. This violates the right of Americans to keep their opinions to themselves. It sends the message that citizens are the ones responsible for denying support, instead of making politicians responsible for gaining their support through strong policies.

On Wednesday night, I brought this issue before the Senate as a community member. Pointing out injustices before our student government is an isolating experience, and the senators who were unwilling to hear criticism, along with the needlessly complex procedural aspect of its meetings, make it even more so.

As I explained what happened, I was met with contrasting reactions of concerned shock and extreme defensiveness that symbolize a deeper conflict at play in our student government.

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Between the many political interests in the room and the complex decorum, I could not decide if I felt more like I had stumbled into a cult meeting or walked through a spider web.

It seemed as though certain members of the Senate were only eager to right wrongs for the sake of the bill or their own reputation. After resting my case, I felt the need to defend myself, but was not allowed to speak again for at least an hour due to strict meeting procedures.

A flurry of senators apologized for these rules and attempted to explain how they could reintroduce my issue to the meeting. But even as a student familiar with policy, I was overwhelmed and confused by their explanations. My ability to defend myself was completely in their control.

The procedures need to be changed to make it easier for community members to find their voice. All gallery speakers should receive an explanation of how, when, for how long and how many times they will be able to speak before they begin to present.

To ensure accurate representation, there should be a policy stating that all endorsements must be explicit, provable and verified before they are put in writing.

Standing before ASCSU is not the preferred activity of any CSU student. It is overwhelming. And when it’s not overwhelming, it can be boring. It can even feel useless. But we as students must keep our leadership in check, because eventually these governmental failings will be applied to much bigger issues than a proposal to celebrate a controversial holiday.

ASCSU needs to promote an atmosphere of collaboration and train its members to invite criticism instead of recoiling from it.

Just like the rest of us, our student government makes mistakes. We are all at CSU to learn, so let this be a learning experience—one for our student government to do better and one for us to stand up for ourselves as its citizens.

Abby Vander Graaff can be reached at letters@collegian.com or online at @abbym_vg.