Connie Tao

On the last day of the 2013 Student Government elections, a screenshot image of an email circulated Facebook. The subject line read, “Greeks in SG Elections ’13,” and the author — the president of the Interfraternity Council — listed candidates “that the executive board selected.” The message included no justifications for the endorsements, aside from the Greek organization to which the candidate belonged and his or her major. IFC sent the email to almost all fraternity members at the University. All but two of their endorsed candidates won.

Endorsing a candidate — that is, telling someone to cast his or her vote for your chosen candidate — is tricky territory. Newspapers have a longstanding tradition of endorsing candidates in elections through endorsement editorials, which has been the subject of much debate. On the one hand, our news media is supposed to offer a balanced, honest presentation of the facts, free from bias or agenda. On the other hand, the average American citizen probably doesn’t seek or receive enough information to cast an informed, educated vote. Media endorsements serve as the newspaper’s flimsy reconciliation to that dilemma, by announcing and justifying their opinion of the ideal candidate.

But that debate doesn’t quite extend to the IFC’s yearly endorsement. Offering a reasoned explanation for a particular vote is distinct from encouraging members to exercise their democratic rights, then casting their ballots for them.

This year, Connie Tao and Ryan Upchurch, candidates for student body president and vice president, campaigned to specifically reach students who didn’t normally vote in student body elections. That’s a significant demographic: Less than 15 percent of UT students voted in the SG election last week. Tao and Upchurch originally posted the email to their Facebook page. They claimed, “This may be within the rules, but no other candidate has the power to reach 14 percent of the student body in one message,” and characterized the lack of platform explanation as a request to follow blindly.

“You feel like your vote doesn’t really matter,” Tao said in the week following the election. “No matter how hard you try to push for a candidate, if they have a network that hits 14 percent of students and they all vote in a block, 90 percent of votes, you’re guaranteed to make that email the election results.”

Tao suggests amending UT’s election code to prevent against further instances of blind endorsements. For example, at UT-San Antonio, candidates can’t use university mail services (like listservs) to contact voters en masse.

But preventing organizations from endorsing candidates altogether is impossible and unnecessary. If one executive board is charged with directing the votes of thousands of students, they should at the very least explain their choices. Even better, the IFC could provide information to Greek students on all candidates’ platforms and trust them to make their own decisions.

In all likelihood, though, IFC will continue to operate as they have in years past, because empirically those endorsement emails have controlled elections.

UT students still have recourse, though: Vote. The students who don’t receive IFC emails vastly outnumber those who do, and the Greek community controls the elections because the rest of us let them.

Admittedly, this is not some life-or-death situation. Regardless of which students are elected to office, UT policy will remain largely the same. Our Student Government elections are certainly not some important microcosm of how politics operates outside our University’s bubble. However, if what starts here really does change the world, we should all be worried that the wealthiest organizations on campus control our elections while the majority of us passively observe.

San Luis is a women’s and gender studies and English senior from Buda.

Clockwise from top left: Horacio Villarreal and Ugeo Williams, Connie Tao and Ryan Upchurch, Maddie Fogel and Ryan Shingledecker, Alison Stoos and Chris Gilman. 

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Homeless individuals on campus, Student Activity Center couches, police call boxes, a bear pond and protection of “ginger” communities were just a few of the topics covered Monday at the Student Government executive alliance debate, hosted by the Dean of Students office and moderated by the Election Supervisory Board.  

The alliances include Chris Gilman and Alison Stoos; Ryan Shingledecker and Maddie Fogel; Connie Tao and Ryan Upchurch; and Horacio Villarreal and Ugeo Williams. The candidates for university-wide representatives also spoke about how they hoped to improve campus.

Gilman, radio-television-film junior, and English senior Stoos said the homeless population was the pressing issue on campus, suggesting to house them using the Student Government initiative of extended hours at the Perry-Castañeda Library. The alliance also said they would like to make changes to the turtle pond.

“The turtle pond on campus, why?” Gilman said. “What we want to do is make it a bear pond, put bears there and have on-sight security guards tranquilizing them all-day so they’re just sleeping. You can take pictures, put them on your iPhone, put them on Instagram.”

Shingledecker, an international relations and global studies senior, and English junior Fogel said their “voice box” initiative to hear suggestions and complaints from students will make Student Government more approachable for students to express concerns and solve tangible issues replacing the furniture on the second floor of the SAC.

“Student don’t feel valued,” Fogel said. “We go to a big school and feel that we’re not all known and that doesn’t love us back. That’s why only 7,000 people vote. You can’t just vote for someone flippantly as a joke.”

Tao, a radio-television-film, finance and business honors junior, and finance junior Upchurch said their campaign efforts to reach students in a creative and entertaining way is what students want out of Student Government. The alliance said they want to continue reaching out to disadvantaged students, including those with red hair.

“I want to engage a greater portion of the UT population,” Tao said. “Student Government needs to interact with those marginalized or forgotten. SG is so far removed from the whole of the student body and we are here to bring them together. For all the students that didn’t go to class today because of the wind, for all the ones that hooked up on ShingoFogel’s couches, who want their voice to be heard. This one’s for you.”

History senior Villarreal and Williams, a sociology and education senior, emphasized their campaign platform point to improve student services and safety around campus. The alliance spent much of the debate defending against rebuttals of the other candidates. The alliances said they want to improve incoming students’ campus mentors, increase the number of police call boxes and make students more aware of their use.

“Student services is a huge thing that we pay our money to fund,” Williams said. “We want to reach out to as many communities on campus as we can. We know we won’t be able to touch everyone but we want to.”

Elections will be held Wednesday and Thursday. Students can vote on utexasvote.org.

Connie Tao and Ryan Upchurch.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Connie Tao and Ryan Upchurch plan to improve Student Government meetings and help underrepresented students on campus. Tao is a radio-television-film, finance and business honors junior and Upchurch is a finance junior. 

Tao said they are campaigning to increase attendance at meetings through any means possible.

“We we’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that every meeting can actually happen because the reps show up: Chain reps to their chairs, give out free puppies, Mayan sacrifices, tell them there will be a test,” Tao said.

Upchurch said their campaign is aimed at assisting students disadvantaged by their hair color.

“I’m for increased representation of the ginger community’s interests,” Upchurch said. “Millions of gingers suffer from sunburn every year. We deserve to have sunscreen dispensers in every bathroom on campus.”

Tao said they aim to attract other minority groups as well.

“We’re doing this for the Asian girls that fear white guys with Asian fetishes, for the Jews that gave up keeping kosher, for the Harlem Shakers, for the Drag rats and for the girls that really should be working out, but [are] just so busy,” Tao said. “This one’s for you.”

Published on February 15, 2013 as "Meet the candidates".