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The Daily Tar Heel

USSA Issue Re-emerges In Election

The USSA is the largest and oldest organization in the country that lobbies the national government for financial aid and minority rights for students.

While the USSA referendum made it on the ballot last February, there were not enough student votes to pass the measure, which would have increased student fees by $3 to generate the $75,000 needed to pay for membership.

UNC is connected with the USSA through the UNC Association of Student Governments, which granted the University membership as a subscriber.

But the University does not have national representation, which is the type of membership that appeared on last year's ballot.

Last spring's student body president candidate Erica Smiley, who pushed for the referendum, said there appears to be little concern from students as to whether the University has national representation.

"There are a lot of universities that have national representation, and it is an excellent organization to organize power and empowerment," said Smiley, who is active in USSA.

After Monday night's College Republicans' and Young Democrats' forum, student body president candidates expressed their views on whether they supported representation in USSA.

Student body president candidate Larry Harper, who supports representation, said that students should know about the issue but that it is not a pressing issue on campus. "It is a good opportunity for which students can lobby, petition, and make others aware of their rights," Harper said.

But many other candidates feel that the referendum issue is not as important and that there are other issues that concern the student body besides national representation in the USSA.

Student body president candidate Justin Young said there are other issues such as improving race relations, having off-campus Internet access and fighting tuition increases that must be taken care of first. "I think that we should definitely learn more about it," he said, "support the issues on campus, (and) once they are strengthened, then we will reach out nationally."

Student body president candidate Annie Peirce also said student government should not necessarily tackle the issue of USSA representation. "If student government took on USSA, then we would be spreading ourselves too thin and be doing a disservice to this University by not fulfilling the responsibility that we should be on this campus," Peirce said.

Emphasizing her disappointment in other candidates' lack of concern about the membership, student president candidate Dustyn Baker said students are only focused on campus issues. But she said the USSA focuses on campus issues by lobbying for financial aid and against tuition increases. "A lot of people claim they need financial aid -- USSA works on that with federal stipends," Baker said.

And while Baker said the USSA provides important services, the issue of national representation only recently regained strength.

Young Democrats member Michael Songer said the issue was introduced in the forum because presidential candidates should be aware of it, as they represent the student body.

"Young Democrats addressed membership at the forum because the University's presence in a national lobbying organization is an important issue," he said. "I think that USSA has the potential to bring resources to all universities. It is a separate organization that wouldn't affect student government."

Student body president candidate Warren Watts said that he also supports the idea of representation. "I don't see anything wrong with an organization that is designed to help us."

Student body president candidate Eric Johnson said USSA representation is a good idea because there are many issues in regards to student and tuition increase that are national in scale.

And some candidates said it is important for all students to be aware of the USSA and the possibility for UNC's representation.

Student body president candidate Charlie Trakas said he wants to do anything possible to promote the issue to the student body. "I am for advertising the USSA by the students," he said. "It is a decision for the entire student body and more attention should be given to it."

Despite the different positions that the candidates stated, Harper said the issue of USSA representation might not become a large part of the Feb. 13 election. "Just because something resurfaces doesn't mean that it is vitally important."

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