Student Union Assembly (SUA) candidates Bella Bullock, Chase Hayes and Simelia Rogers emailed over 7,000 students on May 11 asking for their vote in campus elections.
SUA president Davon Thomas compiled the email list by searching common names in the UC Santa Cruz campus directory. He then gave the list to Bullock, Hayes and Rogers, all of whom are currently involved with SUA. Thomas said his intent was to increase voter turnout.
“We don’t achieve voter turnout because of referendum and amendments, we do so because of candidates,” Thomas said in an email. “It’s on everyone to do their part; this was a condoned campaign strategy used to turn out the vote.”
Bullock is nearing the end of her second year as SUA vice president of student life (VPSL). She said this was the first year she considered using mass emails because she was concerned about limited campaign options available during COVID-19.
“I thought it would be a good idea to start sending out mass emails so that students knew about [the elections],” Bullock said. “[…] Being able to have a personal email from a candidate was going to give a more personal statement. […] We’ve had a decrease in the amount of voters this year. Usually it’s around 4,000 people that vote each year.”
Only 1,140 students have voted as of May 19, which equals 5.5 percent of the undergraduate population.
Many students and candidates deemed the mass emails unethical and a breach of student privacy. Some introduced concerns that undocumented students could be especially vulnerable to potential privacy breaches.
Several candidates who weren’t offered the mailing list also expressed the opinion that the only candidates who were offered the lists were SUA “insiders.”
“The SUA space has had a long history of being toxic, and also not being very welcoming to prospective students who are interested in doing it,” said Jimmy Gomez, SUA VPSL candidate.
Bullock, who is running against Gomez, also acknowledged problems with the culture of the SUA. She first joined the SUA as an intern in 2017 and said it was difficult being a new member.
“I remember it was [one of] the most humiliating thing[s] I did my freshman year. […] Humiliating as far as being a part of a space where I felt very ostracized […],” Bullock said. “I came in with my idea as an intern showing them an idea of a program I wanted to put on. […] People were laughing at me for my program, and I felt like I shouldn’t have presented at all because it was only going to get shot down.”
After backlash ensued in the wake of the mass emails, Bullock said she recognized the need for more clarity within SUA bylaws and campaign rules.
UCSC email addresses are public information, so all candidates had the ability to compile an email list by sifting through the campus directory. For a variety of reasons, most candidates chose not to use an email list compiled this way.
While all three candidates who sent emails were within their legal rights, there was disagreement about the ethics of the situation. Gomez said students expressed to him that the mass emailing was an abuse of the campus directory.
“I would not have done this, simply because I understand that being spammed multiple times regarding voting for certain individuals, but also not knowing how you got added to a Google group, raised a lot of concerns regarding whether you even want to be a part of that political campaign that a certain candidate is proposing to you,” Gomez said. “Because in these emails it basically said you subscribed to be a part of this group. And a lot of students did not subscribe.”
Student Privacy Resolution Struck Down at May 12 Meeting
At a May 12 SUA meeting, in response to the May 11 emails, SUA presidential candidate Jose Marquez Cuevas introduced a resolution related to student privacy concerns.
The resolution called for all votes cast up to that point for SUA VPSL candidate Bella Bullock, SUA VP of internal affairs candidate Chase Hayes and SUA presidential candidate Simelia Rogers to be nullified. It also stated any candidates who opposed the resolution would be disqualified from the campaign if it passed.
The resolution failed to pass by a 17-4 vote and was struck down indefinitely after current SUA members and candidates criticized its severity.
“In the email, there was no indication of how [Bullock, Hayes and Rogers] got their emails, [which] I think just heightens their fear and anxiety in terms of their own safety on campus,” Marquez Cuevas said, referring to undocumented students who expressed concern over the emails. “And I really want to address that just because I do feel it needs to be addressed, especially if we’re working with a lot of marginalized folks on campus. But I do acknowledge that my resolution is not perfect whatsoever.”
Marquez Cuevas said his intention was to bring attention to student privacy and highlight inequity in the campaign process. He plans to present an amended resolution at the May 19 SUA meeting.
“I know a part of the meeting there was kind of a notion of legality, saying that it doesn’t state anywhere in the bylaws that [sending mass emails is] prohibited,” Marquez Cuevas said. “And I do realize that, but again, if we are going to elect these individuals, I would really think that we’re going based off of ethics and making it a moral code to make sure that we are representing marginalized folks.”