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If elected to lead USG, we will bring the outside voice in

<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authors views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

The way I see it, Princeton is not okay. In my time here, I have repeatedly observed students’ inability to thrive because University leadership prioritizes public perception over student experience. In so many spheres of our lives, this community deserves better. Fixing student government is the first step to getting what we deserve. 

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From the outside, it so often feels that the Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) priorities have nothing to do with students and everything to do with the administration. When was the last time you talked to a U-Councilor or a class senator about a struggle you faced? How many of your friends can even name your class representatives? That needs to change. 

I’m running for USG vice president on a ticket with my friend Isabella Shutt ’24 to truly reflect the opinions of the student body, not the administration’s.

Students can beg for change for years without the administration budging an inch or USG providing any support. Students protested Princeton’s fossil fuel investment and had to force their way onto the docket for years before Divest Princeton was able to pressure the administration into taking one step — albeit a big one — toward their ultimate goals. Our USG representatives have had influence with administrative figures all this time, but only recently have they given substantive support to their peers’ activism.

My question is: why? Why has USG come to exist as an extension of Nassau Hall? Why is communication between USG and administrators entirely opaque to the vast majority of students? Why does USG leadership find it useful to gate-keep relationships with these same administrators?

Although USG Senate meetings are technically open to the public, there is a stark difference between being invited to a space and feeling welcome in it. How many students would genuinely feel comfortable walking into a room with the student body president, vice president, class senators, and U-Councilors to voice concerns or contribute to conversations about widespread change? The door to the meetings may be unlocked, but the feeling of openness ends at its doors.

Of course, it would be easy to give up on USG and Princeton. I’m a junior in the English department. I could be spending my time writing my junior paper and confining my complaints about Princeton to my Instagram story. But I’m tired of having so much to say and feeling like there is nowhere to take it. Making USG accessible and worthwhile to those students not already involved in it has to be a priority from now on. It is USG’s job to represent student voices as they are, not to translate them into a more palatable version for the administration’s sake.

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That’s why I’m running for vice president.

Isabella and I will provide the outsider perspective that is sorely missed in student government right now. Over the past three years, I have never been a member of USG, but I have seen its leaders express time and again their desire to amplify student voices. The problem, however, is that these voices need no amplification. Students have been screaming their concerns at administrators for years, USG just seems to only care about what President Eisgruber and the University Board of Trustees have to say.

I am uninterested in forcing students to add yet another commitment to their ever-full schedules as a way of making USG more accessible. Breaking from the norm at this school, Isabella and I will meet you where you are, not where the administration is. We will come to your club meetings, not issue empty invitations for you to come to ours. We will hear your voice by seeking it out, and we will not back down until we are sure administrators have heard it too.

We will post public calendars and bring non-USG students with us to every meeting with administrators to foster transparency. We will create meeting schedules that athletes and other student representatives like residential college advisers and peer academic advisers can and want to attend. We will reserve 30 minutes after meetings for USG members to talk with classmates to ensure that we begin and end each week listening to those who elected us.

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Our current USG sometimes seems so scared of doing the “wrong thing” in the administration’s eyes that it does nothing at all. As an outsider, I feel no such pressure to bend my desires and goals to what the administration wants. I am not interested in optics. I am interested in bringing the opinions of the student body to the administration as they are, whether or not administrators or I agree with them.

This time next year, Princeton can be different. Isabella and I recognize that we are just two voices. Alone, we can’t come close to turning Princeton into the school we know it can be. That’s why we want to change USG from the inside. Our goal is to reinvent USG as an open, collaborative space in which all student ideas are taken seriously and given the time and space they deserve. As an outsider, I know it is impossible to look for a seat at the table if you aren’t already in the room. It’s time we open the door, pull up chairs, and get to doing work that students actually stand behind.

J.J. Scott is a junior from Norfolk, Virginia majoring in English. She can be reached at jjs8@princeton.edu.

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