My first memory of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) is of being rejected from the Sustainability Committee.
I’d applied in the spring of my freshman year; I wanted to bring my perspective from working with Divest Princeton and other student organizations, and I was eager to learn more about how the University works so I could drive meaningful change. Getting the rejection email, I initially felt my efforts had been invalidated, but I later realized that the rejection gave me the time and freedom to explore new opportunities. I joined student communities passionate about technology, ethics, and other societal issues, all of which have given me chances to engage with different perspectives. Fast forward five semesters, I’ve served a year as USG Sustainability Chair, and I’m about to finish my term as USG President.
If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that every student is qualified to run for a position on USG by virtue of their lived experience of being an undergraduate at Princeton. Everything else you’ll learn on-the-job, with time and experience.
Our lived experiences are what distinguish USG from the University administration. We’re the ones walking to classes in the dark after sundown, we’re the ones waiting in long lines during short lunch breaks, and we’re the ones studying and working towards exams and deadlines right after break.
These lived experiences are what qualify all students to advocate for policy change on campus. As students, we have experiences relevant to safety, dining, and academics, not to mention a plethora of other key issue areas, including mental health resources, financial aid, and accessibility. Over the years, USG advocacy has made laundry free-of-cost and, more recently, brought academic minors to Princeton so that our hard work can be recognized in transcripts, applications, and more. USG is strengthened when the people who serve are both critical of the status quo — of USG and the University more broadly — and committed to the belief that we have the power to change it for the better.
What a student government representative really needs is empathy. Each of us experiences Princeton differently, splitting our precious time between unique priorities, whether they may be on fields, in stadiums, on stages, in labs, or even someplace beyond the Orange Bubble. The members of USG can never fully capture each and every perspective. Thus an important part of serving on USG is listening to others and working to understand and amplify other students’ concerns and ideas — all to improve the undergraduate experience at Princeton both in the short-term and in the long-term.
USG needs students who want to make positive and inclusive change for Princeton. You do not need any prior experience to run or join — applications for committees and other positions will open early spring. I was never in student government throughout high school; I started my term as Sustainability Chair with absolutely zero student government experience, and there’s nothing that could have made me feel ready to take on the role of being the president of Princeton’s undergraduate student body. Even as I near the end of my term, I feel I’m still learning new things about leadership and teamwork every day.
Nevertheless, running in an election is daunting, I know. That’s why I want to provide resources to anyone interested in running in this Winter Election and beyond: I’ve developed this campaign toolkit and set up office hours (sign up here) to meet with any prospective candidates. In addition, we have a weeks-long transition period where the outgoing team shares guidance and insights, so the incoming team can get up to speed and hit the ground running at the start of their terms.
Ultimately, Princeton is a special place. It’s still far from perfect; there are plenty of frustrations, inequities, and systemic issues to be addressed. Through USG, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about how Princeton works as an institution and to work with students, administrators, and other partners across the campus community to drive meaningful change. I’ll take these skills and experiences with me as I continue to serve, both beyond my term and beyond the gates. In the meantime, I look forward to welcoming in the next team of passionate change-makers, to continue pushing our Princeton University community to achieve its fullest potential.
Mayu Takeuchi is the President of the Undergraduate Student Government. She is a senior from Port Jefferson, N.Y. and Watkinsville, Ga. studying in the School of Public and International Affairs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.