Candidates for Undergraduate Student Government president, Meelod Wafajow (left) and Justas Klimavicius (right), take the stage during USG’s elections debate in the Student Activities Center Ballroom B on March 20. Student participation in USG is low considering USG’s $3.4 million budget. LUIS RUIZ/THE STATESMAN

If you are a full-time undergraduate student at Stony Brook, you pay a student activity fee of $99.50 each semester. Add up the fees from all the students and you get around $3.4 million, according to the USG homepage, which is given to the Undergraduate Student Government to manage. Like a real government with actual taxes, USG spends the money on the campus community as it sees fit.

So why aren’t more students involved?

Over the past year, Stony Brook Students have taken part in #MeToo and the March for Our Lives event, as well as, protested the immigration ban. But the same students will complain about how bad whichever artist playing at Brookfest is or how their clubs are underfunded. These aren’t inherently related, but if Stony Brook students have the ability to be political, why not flex voter strength on campus?

This is a self-criticism as well. Usually, I don’t think anything of the USG elections, except for how silly the party names sound. A few days into the voting, someone approaches me at the Starbucks in the library and gives a pitch I don’t listen to about why his friend should be a senator. He stands over my shoulder and guides me to the page on SOLAR and I mindlessly vote down a line. I’m sure this is how it goes for most people.

But this is not some high school government that has “will start selling breakfast waffles” as its major campaign promise. Thanks to the USG, the library is open 24 hours a day. USG brought free tampons to Stony Brook. A party one or two years ago (I don’t even remember) promised to change the course retake policy at Stony Brook so that the original grade is replaced. While this policy has not yet been changed, the audacity to run on such a platform shows how strong USG can be.

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USG decides how much funding each campus club receives. It implements the rules as to how that money can be spent. If you wanted to start a new organization on campus, USG has to approve it in order for it to get a piece of that $3.4 million. It would behoove students to vote for candidates sympathetic to the groups and causes they support.

USG members are paid for their office hours. Like any other government, some of the money that you pay ends up in the officials’ pockets. They are providing the community a service, and I think it is fair. This also makes running for a position feasible for students who might not be able to afford dedicating so many hours without pay. But it is up to us as students to help them earn that pay. 

Last year, I put a bit more thought into my voting choices. I had a friend running, so I voted for him. A group of friends and I discussed the positions of certain candidates and made our voting decisions based on that conversation. At least it’s a start.

We, as a campus community, have to put more effort into our government. We should not have to report that the number of attendees at the USG candidate debate was “only a little over a dozen.” We should not have uncontested candidates in four of the seven executive board positions. We should not go entire semesters without so much as looking at the minutes of USG meetings.

I have complained about fees before, but I am totally happy to pay the student activity fee. It supports events and clubs that I value and that have enriched the Stony Brook University community. It is time for us, as students, to take a larger part in this community. By running for office, voting for candidates we morally support and keeping track of our represented officials, we make the most of our student activity fee and our years at Stony Brook.

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