It was recently revealed that two ASUCR senators, Albert Yum and Esther Hwang, failed to fulfill their responsibilities at a United States Students Association (USSA) conference earlier this quarter. The senators were not present at the majority of the workshops held at the conference, and, what’s more, they missed their opportunity to lobby for UCR. Now that the dust has settled and all parties have been given a chance to relay their side of the story, it is time to take a hard look at what this controversy means for ASUCR and the UCR student body going forward.
At ASUCR’s April 18 meeting, Hwang and Yum were asked to defend their actions, a task for which neither of them seemed particularly well-equipped. Hwang, who missed UCR’s lobbying appointment because she had planned a social trip to New York for the same day, noted that the Legislative Conference (Leg Con) itself was very disorganized and that it was difficult to plan around its hectic and oft-changing schedule. One must wonder, then, why she attempted to organize an excursion to New York during the conference in the first place.
Yum, meanwhile, claimed that he has long been wary of the USSA conference and that there are more important things for ASUCR to be concerned with than the issues addressed there. Needless to say, his testimony, which students present at the meeting took as an admission that he did not think the conference was worth his time, did not help his case.
It is exceedingly clear that Hwang and Yum have very little excuse for their actions, and it is more than a little disconcerting that they seem to be so set on dodging accountability. Both senators signed a contract swearing that they would attend all events at the conference and report what they learned back to the UCR community. It now appears that the former of these requirements was not completed, and there is no indication as to when or if the latter will be met.
Hwang and Yum, who were supposed to be setting an example as leaders at the conference, let down the students they were there to represent. Since the controversy, Hwang has stepped down as campus organizing director and decided not to pursue another term as an ASUCR senator. Both senators face a $500 fine (a portion of the money it cost UCR to send them to the conference) for their actions. But the Leg Con controversy should not end with a simple condemnation of the senators responsible for this particular malfeasance.
There are many reports that Hwang and Yum were not the only ASUCR representatives at LegCon who failed to live up to students’ expectations. There were others, apparently, who missed workshops and, ergo, violated the contract they signed prior to attending the conference. While this revelation does not lessen the gravity of Hwang and Yum’s actions, it does force us to question whether or not this problem might be bigger than it seems.
The UCR student body pays for senators to attend Leg Con and conferences like it—they are there to benefit our community. The mere possibility that multiple members of ASUCR might not be taking one or some of these conferences seriously is enough to warrant a review of how our student government goes about planning their involvement with them. We need to think twice about what conferences are worth attending, who should be allowed to attend, what their expectations are going to be and how these expectations will be enforced. For their part, ASUCR has vowed that they will reexamine, in the very least, their participation in Leg Con, which some senators have discussed not even attending next year.
It should be noted, however, that ensuring that an incident of this nature does not happen again is going to take more than a harsh censuring of ASUCR. There also needs to be a greater level of engagement between ASUCR and the students they represent.
After the public forum portion of the April 18 meeting was concluded and angry students had said what they came to say, the vast majority of them left. Very few stuck around to listen as ASUCR senators dealt with the primary issues facing the student government that week. It is ironic, to say the least, that students should be so very concerned about the way in which senators are representing them but then show little to no interest in their regular work.
There is no excuse for the way in which some senators behaved at Leg Con, but the student body can’t just castigate its leaders every time something goes wrong and then expect the system to right itself. It is our responsibility to remain engaged with ASUCR throughout the year, both because we are passionate about the future of our university and because we never want anything like this to happen again.