Conflicts at University of Florida warn against exclusive system

Student Government elections are this week. The Florida presidential primary will be next month. Time is approaching for citizens and students to choose the systems of power that preside over them. And a new issue brought to light at the University of Florida offers the chance to reflect on how we should make our decisions here at the U.

A group of self-described political insiders on campus up in Gainesville have formed a movement, calling themselves “#NotMySystem.” In a publically released video and in forthcoming stories in UF’s Florida Alligator newspaper, they protest the dominant and exclusionary – even allegedly racist – collection of power in their student government.

The “system” they describe forces the ambitious to align with respectable, largely social Greek life organizations for positions of power and recognition with the Student Government and Florida Blue Key, UF’s oldest and most prestigious honor society. Those who hope for entry have to curtail their voice and principles, and broader student engagement and voter participation is discouraged.

Who gets to be in the “establishment?” This question has come up in our campus politics and in the national presidential race. All of the people running for president, including familial insiders like Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush, are determinedly trying to dodge the branding of the establishment, privileged conversations and access to money and status.

In our student government elections, the Empower U and One Team, One U tickets have called for bridging the gap between SG and the majority of students that are disaffected, nonvoting or uninvolved. On the other hand, the True to You ticket has spoken of building on the initiatives of the existing SG. At times, it can be personal.  In last week’s SG Debate, One Team, One U treasurer candidate Andrew Weinstock accused SG of “lying to 10,000 students for years now.”

This is not an attack on freedom of association. There is a good argument for passing on knowledge and expertise in power. Our school, furthermore, is much more diverse and less dominated by ancient student groups than UF, for which we should all be grateful. If anything, the most important so-called “umbrella” organizations espoused by True to You are made up of commuters and groups of color, as well as formal Greek Life. SG in particular airs the same complaints about outreach every single election season. I think our school does many things better than the stories I’ve heard from UF, and for that I’m proud.

Patrick Quinlan is a senior majoring in political science and international studies.