My name is Paul Charbonneau, and aside from being the guy from whom you have trained your brain to ignore emails (check them out, they have been getting better), I am your ASOC President, or Student Body President if you prefer.
When I first found out I was to become the next ASOC President, I was terrified. I was terrified no one would take me seriously because I ran unopposed. I was terrified because we had one of the lowest turnout elections in recent history — although we saw a 283 percent increase in our most recent election — and had several spots vacant on our student government. I was concerned that as a cisgender straight white male I wouldn’t be able to relate to or understand the issues my diverse constituency faces each day on campus. I was worried people would question my credibility because I was only approaching my sophomore year and taking on these large campus responsibilities, and would be the first sophomore ever to take on this big job. I was worried I would not be able to dedicate the time that this job requires while I was committed to two varsity sports. I should not have felt any of these things. I shouldn’t have because I was one of the few thinking these things. I shouldn’t have worried because historically at Occidental College there has been an apathy for student government. But there shouldn’t be.
Odds are, unless you are the leader of a student service, club or organization that comes in to receive ASOC Senate funding or close to someone who serves on Senate you probably do not understand or care about what we do. For a student body where many people held student government positions in high school (even if that was just to look good on college applications), and on a campus where we have some of the most politically, socially engaged and active students in the nation, the fact that our own governance system has been neglected is puzzling.
It seems that some students who feel disenfranchised by the administration feel by extension disenfranchised by us. Whatever your feelings toward our administrative staff, being mad at us is equivalent to being upset with the person offering to give you a ride home (literally, we funded the new Bengal Bus app) when your ride doesn’t come to pick you up.
These attitudes in the past have led to students not engaging with their student government. Due to the work of the four branches of ASOC this year these attitudes have slowly been changing for the better, a trend that if it continues, will benefit everyone. Here’s why:
Every semester you pay $144 in student fees (which by the way is significantly less than our peer institutions) to fund Student Services and activities. If you want your club or service to take advantage of your taxes, you can request money from Associated Students of Occidental College Senate, Diversity and Equity Board, or Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund. (Yes it is a process to get funding and you won’t always get approved, but we are elected to be stewards of the student’s money and if that means making you turn in forms and attend meetings and defend your case, then that is what is going to happen.)
We have a number of projects to serve you including the new food trucks on campus every Monday and Thursday at lunch, tables in the quad for you to write letters to your hometown congressperson, an initiative to provide free feminine hygiene products around campus, discount theater tickets, a textbook reserve program in the library that can help you avoid buying a textbook for your courses (which I am currently working to expand), free copies of The New York Times outside the Cooler and Green Bean, opportunities for students to serve on committees, and co-sponsor almost every event on campus. Currently we have many projects in progress, like finding new ways for students to engage with our Board of Trustees, adding a framework for getting new Student Services and creating ways for students to be involved with the fundraising efforts of Institutional Advancement.
– There are office hours by appointment for two First-Year Senators, two Sophomore Senators, two Junior Senators, two Senior Senators, and one ASOC President to answer any and all questions and receive your feedback, just simply email us! You can literally ask us anything, we know tons about this school and can put you in touch with the right people.
No, we cannot put air conditioning in Pauley (I tried), we cannot make the Marketplace hours longer (I tried), we cannot get Beyoncé for Spring Fest (did not try this one) and we cannot put a pub on campus (I tried really hard) because all of these issues are indeed much more complex than they appear on the surface. But I can work on the tangible things. I can sit in eight hours of Board meetings three times a year to be a better resource for the students. I can sign a letter telling Donald Trump to not mess with our community. I can schedule meetings with over 10 different administrators to make sure they hear a student voice before they make decisions. I can lock myself in a cabin for three days writing a speech to appropriately welcome the new first-year class and their families. Maybe you’ll see my group for what we are. We don’t get paid. We care. We are elected officials who take over five hours of their time each week to try to serve all of you. Maybe you won’t care. Either way, we are still here to serve the 2,050 students that attend Occidental College. And we aren’t going anywhere.
Paul L. Charbonneau
President, Associated Students of Occidental College