One of the frequently asked questions on ASUM’s website is “How do I have my voice heard?” That’s a great question. As students whose job is to cover ASUM, we’ve seen the confusion students face when they need to lobby for club funding or place a public comment, the ways ASUM claims your voice will be heard.
ASUM’s website is clear that public comment occurs at the beginning of the meeting. But it isn’t so clear about what public comment actually is.
During lobbying, as many as 200 students advocate for their student group to get more funding, divvied up between July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. If you’ve ever witnessed student lobbying, it’s chaos. Some groups perform for the senators, like Circus Club, some send a single representative to read their budget and explain why they need funding, some bring food or candy for the senators. There are no standards or limits, and it leaves some student groups with a much less memorable lobbying experience.
The representatives who have to go on their own look around uncomfortably, trying to figure out whether they should keep talking while senators sporadically knock on the table in front of them and grill them about anything from group membership to where their club equipment is stored.
The information about public comments can be found, with the help of a little Command+F, on page 11 of the 43-page ASUM Bylaws document. “Public comment for the Constitutional Review Board proceeding shall occur before formal arguments for either side is made,” according to the bylaws. “The Constitutional Review Board Chair may place restrictions on public comment and must make public such restrictions within 24 hours of the Board’s convening.”
Even with a Command+F search, this information still isn’t what students need. It isn’t even relevant to how to make a public comment, still, because it only references the Constitutional Review Board, not the senate meeting.
It can be frustrating for students who want to make their voices heard without a clear explanation of how to do that, and with the public comment submission page buried on ASUM’s website. Most students on campus probably don’t know how ASUM works, where its office is, when the meetings are, but most still have to rely on public comment to be heard by their student representatives on campus. ASUM has a responsibility to make public comment understandable.
ASUM needs to refocus its attention on students. Students and their clubs suffer when they can’t be heard, or when they go onto the ASUM site to leave their comment and are given no instruction. That’s the only way that it can hear student voices, and it seems like they don’t even try.