ASSOU President Torii Uyehara claims she has the best job on campus. Having been involved with on campus politics since 2012, Uyehara fell in love with “getting to engage with my peers (and) the sense of empowerment it gives you when you know your doing something for other people.” The Messenger sat down with Uyehara to talk about discrimination against students, apathy in voting, and Donald Trump.
Rogue Valley Messenger: What are some of the main issues you have been addressing this year?
Torii Uyehara: The biggest one right now is our housing campaign. We’ve actually been working on this for the past two years to end the discrimination against students in Ashland when they are trying to find places to rent from. I think we struggle a lot with the stigma that came from southern Oregon College, the party school in southern Oregon University.
We’ve been working with the housing and human services commission to develop language within our (Ashland’s) housing ordinances that create protective classes for students, including age, source of income, and ensuring identities that students hold are included.
RVM: ASSOU attempted a similar campaign in 2014. After receiving advice from Ashland City Council, the campaign was postponed for an entire year. What is different about this years campaign?
TU: The hiatus was because in ASSOU we see high turnover rates every year. Two years ago we were talking about student cooperatives and we weren’t talking about protecting students as an occupation rather than a protected class. I also think this time around there’s a lot more fire under it. A lot more of ASSOU has bought into it.
We’re coming back with a lot of statistics on how housing is affecting students. Getting students who have experience from housing discrimination and have lived through this problem really puts a lot of weight behind the campaign.
RVM: It is a well-known statistic that students are very apathetic when it comes to voting. In 2014, nationally only 17 percent of students turned out to vote all year. Is ASSOU doing to increase student turnout rates?
TU: I see the apathy is around students not buying into the system for a number of reasons. First and foremost, young voters are continuously told that our votes don’t matter or that we don’t know what we are doing when we are casting our vote. We are also working from within a system where we see that our legislators are continuing to not support legislation that is for students. We see that the system isn’t working for us. Students think that their vote doesn’t matter and it wont help them.
Still I think we are seeing changes in that. In the last election cycle in 2014 the Oregon Student Association registered 53,511 students to vote statewide. At SOU, we registered 2097 students to vote, that’s about a third of the campus.
Each year we also do a voting right timeline that is shown on campus. It shows when a demographic gained the ability to vote. For example, I am a Japanese-American woman and I wouldn’t have been able to vote until the 50s when Asian-Americans gained the right to citizenship. Knowing your history changes the narrative, it makes you realize that voting wasn’t always something that every community had.
RVM: For SOU students who do participate in voting, which national presidential candidate do you think the SOU community most likely to support? Please don’t say Trump…
TU: (laughs) Well all the voter registration work we do is nonpartisan. We know that one of the ways we gain access to students is that we say we are nonpartisan and we don’t tell students who to vote for, just that it is important that they do.
In general, however, from my experiences this campus is very progressive and inclusive in a lot of ways. So I think there’s an indication that Trump isn’t going to be our choice for candidate (laughs).
Published April 2, 2016. The Rogue Valley Messenger