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Senators reflect on Students of Color Coalition

With ASSU elections set to take place at the end of this week, many campus groups have already issued endorsements for candidates who best share their values. In recent years, no such group has been as influential or successful as the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC).

The last four Executive slates endorsed by SOCC were victorious, while all 12 senators supported by SOCC last year were elected. In 2011, 12 of 15 SOCC-endorsed Senate candidates attained ASSU office.

The Daily sat down with current and prospective senators to discuss the significance of a SOCC endorsement on their campaigns and on the ASSU as a whole.

 

Game-changing electoral impact

SOCC is a coalition of six student organizations: the Asian American Students’ Association (AASA), the Black Student Union (BSU), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), the Muslim Student Awareness Network (MSAN), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO).

This year, SOCC has endorsed Najla Gomez ’14 and Elizabeth Patiño ’14 for Executive, and Abby Dow ’16, Angela Zhang ’16, Annalis Breed ’16, Avery Haskell ’16, Brandon Caruso ’16, Eilaf Osman ’16, Hisham Al-Falih ’16, John-Lancaster Finley ’16, Natasha Patel ’16, Ryan Matsumoto ’16 and Zane Hellmann ’16 for Senate.

Senator Viraj Bindra ’15 sought a SOCC endorsement, unsuccessfully, last year. While Bindra was ultimately elected, he described a SOCC endorsement as an invaluable asset for prospective student government representatives due to SOCC’s extensive and motivated student network and vast campaign experience.

“It’s not absolutely necessary, but it would take a much stronger ground campaign and pursuit of other endorsements to get the same result,” Bindra noted.

“A SOCC candidate has a good few hundred [people in] backing,” noted a current SOCC-endorsed senator. “The numbers can’t really lie.”

Bindra asserted that the popular recognition of SOCC’s electoral value might lead to a diminished candidate pool, with prospective representatives dropping out or being electorally marginalized without a SOCC endorsement.

“It’s ridiculous that someone could win against someone else more qualified simply because of the SOCC vote,” Bindra said. “There’s a lot of potential for that to happen.”

“SOCC really weeded down the pool [last year],” the SOCC-endorsed senator recalled. “The toughest part was getting the SOCC endorsement.”

That senator noted that obtaining a SOCC endorsement may be as much a reflection of prior involvement with the coalition’s constituent groups — similar to many other endorsing bodies — as senatorial qualities or a superior platform.

“What SOCC is supposed to do is not only gauge them as just in [SOCC’s] interests, but also if they’re going to be a great senator,” the senator said. “As a whole, you have a better shot getting it if you have been involved with one of the SOCC groups.”

Senator Lauren Miller ’15 emphasized the value of the endorsement system as a whole, noting that endorsements offer students the chance to become more politically active and influential in student government.

“It makes a lot of students more politically active than they otherwise would be,” she said. “There are definitely flaws — when people just vote down the emailed lists.”

Miller emphasized that the onus is on other student groups to exert similar influence on the ASSU through mobilizing their own members.

“There’s definitely more groups that could be more active,” she noted.

“Endorsements are a really positive way of candidates being able to tell people what they stand for in a few words,” Bindra added. “The main issue is the lack of balance and the lack of diversity in the process.”

The SOCC-endorsed senator described SOCC’s influence as a natural step for the group, given the coalition’s constituent communities’ inability to effectively mobilize against severe cuts to community center funding in 2008.

“SOCC doesn’t want history to repeat itself,” the senator observed. “That was a really difficult time.”

Caruso said that he sought the SOCC endorsement because of similar values.

“It just really helped that I understood their issues, understood their history and understood what they are currently dealing with,” Caruso said. “I think they saw the candidates they did give the endorsement to… would work for the SOCC issues because those SOCC issues were genuinely important to those candidates.”

 

Diminished influence on ASSU agenda

As this year’s senators approach the end of their term, they noted that SOCC’s influence on the Senate’s agenda may be diminished compared to previous years.

“Just based on my initial experience with endorsing organizations, I would have thought they would have a much more obvious presence in Senate,” Bindra commented.

As the Senate grappled with and eventually rejected a contentious measure on divestment, an email from former ASSU Executive Michael Cruz ’12 to the Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER) mailing list claimed that the decision showed that “SOCC has lost its radical core.”

Miller disputed the concept that SOCC endorsements influenced senators one way or the other on such issues.

“Senators stayed true to their own personal beliefs and opinions,” she recalled, a perspective echoed by the SOCC-endorsed senator. “They weighed the considerations very seriously, and ultimately had to make a personal decision.”

“Most of the substantial issues we’ve done haven’t been a result of endorsements,” Bindra confirmed.

Bindra pointed to the selection of Senate leadership as one area where SOCC’s influence may have been felt.

“It can definitely create a majority that is unfavorable to [the non-SOCC-endorsed minority],” the SOCC-endorsed senator conceded, pointing to the frequency with which SOCC-endorsed candidates campaign together before taking office.

While SOCC-endorsed candidates sign a document pledging to maintain values put forward in their SOCC interview, Miller said that the commitment once in office is entirely determined by the individual senator.

“Endorsements can be really effective if you work with them throughout the year,” she said. “[SOCC] got me to know a lot of the people we’d be serving with before we started. I went in with strong bonds with people… which was great.”

She also pointed to SOCC’s value in tempering the ambitions of prospective senators and guiding them towards potentially more fruitful legislative areas.

“You just don’t know the full realities of the ASSU until you get in there,” Miller conceded. “We had a lot of broad sweeping agendas, which were really idealistic and great, but once we got into Senate, reality sunk in.”

 

Justine Moore contributed to this report.

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