Two Women Lead University Of Wyoming's Student Government

Jun 8, 2020

President Riley Talamantes and Vice President Courtney Titus.
Credit Courtesy

The University of Wyoming's student government, also known as ASUW, has historically been male-dominated. This year, two women were elected to President and Vice President. That may be for the first time ever. But there's no way to know, since ASUW records don't always account for gender. Wyoming Public Radio's Maggie Mullen spoke with President Riley Talamantes and Vice President Courtney Titus about what it was like to be one of the few, if only, two-women tickets to win the election.

Riley Talamantes: I think it made it a little bit more exciting to win the election. I was also really excited that out of the six tickets that were running half of them were also all-female. And I think it just kind of showcases at least this year and maybe in the past years of ASUW, I think we've been a little bit more empowering in the way that we want people to keep returning and and I think one thing that we kind of amplified in our campaign is that we really do want students to have a voice regardless of their identity. And so I think that that's something that kind of spearheaded our way up in two are the positions that we have now.

Courtney Titus: I was just really proud to be running against two other all-female tickets as well, because in and of itself, you know, that was a rarity to have six tickets. But for half of them to be all non male identifying was awesome. Proud to be next to them. I wish that we could have had an in person debate because I think that would have been really symbolic and just really cemented in just how unique it was to have all these female identifying folks up there.

Maggie Mullen: What was it like to run a campaign during a pandemic? I understand that things really had to go completely virtual.

RT: Yeah, it was very interesting. So Courtney and I had to change up our strategy over spring break, because despite the fact we hadn't really heard anything from the university about coming back during that time, I think we all kind of had a hunch that was going to happen. So it was nice to have spring break to give us time to kind of strategize that way. But I think what we really wanted to still accomplish was to still be able to talk to various student organizations and other folks about what they really wanted from a ASUW, and our own platforms as well. So it was a really interesting experience to say the least. We definitely utilize our social media pages and listservs for other student organizations very heavily to get the word out. So I'm pretty grateful that we were able to still have those opportunities and that, you know, groups, we're still meeting during that time.

MM: What do you feel gets overlooked about student government? I mean, you have a pretty big pot of money that you get to make decisions on. But I mean, what gets overlooked about student government?

CT: The general student might not even know that you should have you exist. And then if they do, they're absolutely not sure what we do. They might just think that it's like, "oh, you know, politics. It's not for me, not interested in that. I don't need to pay attention. It's just, you know, local politics, not important." But we see that in just the general populace with our local politics as well, right. That's oftentimes the portion of politics that you can make the most impact and has the most impact on your day to day life. So I think It's sort of mirrored on the campus. We make a lot of decisions that can affect student life day to day. But yet because it's not something as big, as you know, a national election, students are ready to overlook it. For example, we make student fee recommendations to the Board of Trustees. And historically they take those recommendations and follow our guidelines. So for example, there was a proposed advising fee increase of $2 per credit hour last budget cycle, and we recommended to not follow through with that increase and the board did not increase student fees. So we have really important and informed input on these issues. And if ASUW isn't an informative member of this conversation, and students aren't participating in these conversations through ASUW, then their voices aren't going to be represented on these particular issues.

MM: And of course, similar to Wyoming's Legislature, ASUW faces similar challenges. Traditionally there's low voter turnout, there's little representation when it comes to women or students of color, but also it can be financially prohibitive for students to run for ASUW, can you talk a little bit about what that looks like?

RT: Mm hmm. So at least for the presidential and vice presidential ticket, I know Courtney and I spent a few hundred dollars just ourselves trying to run our campaign. And mind you this was when we bought stickers and buttons before we were all going to go online. So I think our kind of strategy--the online election was a little bit more accessible because we didn't have to buy as many supplies as we would have needed. But there is a socioeconomic barrier to participating in ASUW if you don't necessarily work in the executive branch. The executive branch has six directors, two chiefs, and then Courtney and I, and those are paid part-time student positions. So we can kind of see sometimes those people are a little bit more committed because they have the 15 hours a week budgeted to be able to do that.

Whereas in the ASUW Senate, the senators can participate for a scholarship at the end of the semester, but it's definitely not sufficient or adequate enough to really compensate them for the work that they do every week. I mean, when you're working in Senate, it's probably about a five hour commitment a week. And I think to some folks, that may not seem like a lot, but to someone who is a student who is taking 15 credit hours, who is working 20 to 25 hours a week, like that extra five weeks of time is something that is really imperative to them. And so one thing that Courtney and I really hope to accomplish this year, which also in one of our platforms was to find a way to adequately pay senators, whether that be through increasing their scholarship, giving them hourly or a stipend pay. I mean, obviously, we're not taking this very lightly just because I think paying senators is a very contentious issue already. But it's definitely one way in conversations that we have had with other folks on campus that this is a way to help lower the socioeconomic barrier that Senate poses.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Maggie Mullen, at mmullen5@uwyo.edu.