Maria Alejandra Gallegos-Chacon, the ASUO president-elect, thought that winning the 2018 election with her all-queer, all-student-of-color presidential slate was going to be an “uphill battle.” Her campaign manager made sure of that.
“I intentionally wanted to low-ball it,” said Tan Perkins, who managed Gallegos’ slate, Ducks Together. “I told our slate it would be an uphill battle.”
Perkins feared that the opposing slate, United UO, had an advantage.
Even when the 2018 ASUO regular election results finally did come out, Perkins told the campaign members that they shouldn’t get their hopes up and that they needed to wait to celebrate until the results were finalized. After Gallegos saw the finalized election results, she began crying — both with joy and disbelief.
“I called my mom,” Gallegos said, “and my mom started crying too.” Gallegos added that her younger cousin messaged her to congratulate her, and she was proud that he could see her in a leadership position.
“When I was his age, I really thought I was never going to college. Fuck, I didn’t even think that I was going to make it through high school,” Gallegos said. “So it’s really cool that the three of us and our slate members are widely diverse, but also this shows a pathway for younger students.”
Gallegos will take office as ASUO president on May 23, replacing current president Amy Schenk. Schenk endorsed Ducks Together midway through the election season.
After a contentious election involving multiple allegations of election rule violations, Ducks Together came out victorious in the 2018 ASUO regular election. Nearly all Ducks Together candidates won more than double the votes of their United UO competitors. Ducks Together is the first all-queer and all-person-of-color presidential slate to win in ASUO history, according to Gallegos.
Perkins felt shocked. “The only thing I can keep referring back to is hard work pays off. We were out there every day, all day. This is because we’re organizers at heart,” said Perkins. “It’s so gratifying to see it come to fruition.”
Now, Gallegos is the 2018-19 ASUO president. Ivan Chen is next year’s external vice president, and Imani Dorsey is next year’s internal vice president. When Dorsey saw the election results, she also started crying.
“I knew we were doing something big here and really ambitious, being at a predominantly white institution like this,” Dorsey said. “This hasn’t happened for us, and it finally did.”
Their platform emphasized “taking back student power,” and this is reflected in the campaign’s policy goals, such as ensuring that students have a say in proposed tuition changes, establishing student panels that help decide punishments for student conduct code violations and securing funding for student services such as Safe Ride and the student food pantry.
The slate is experienced. Gallegos, a junior, served as the senator representing history, English and foreign languages last year, and she is also the co-director of the UO Multicultural Center. Chen, a junior, works as the organizing manager at ASUO and has worked on several campaigns fighting hunger on campus. Dorsey is a sophomore and is the state affairs commissioner in the ASUO executive branch.
Despite their experience in ASUO, the members of Ducks Together believed that they would lose because their slate had so many students of color, Perkins said. They were also fearful that United UO had already established support with students by illegally campaigning early.
“I thought that we were just going to lose, because we’re at a white university and a white male ran and we’re so heavy people of color,” Perkins said. “I low-balled it because that’s internally what I thought this university was about.”
Perkins submitted eight grievances to the ASUO Election Board accusing United UO of violating various election rules, including campaigning before it was allowed, canvassing in university housing and soliciting votes by bribing students with leftover campaign food. Of the eight grievances, only three resulted in the ASUO Constitution Court penalizing United UO.
Jacob Faatz, the United UO presidential candidate, maintains United UO’s innocence.
Faatz said that it was frustrating that United UO lost.
“I just wanted to make sure that I ran the best campaign that we could,” Faatz said. United UO filed three grievances on April 11 against Ducks Together, but they were all dismissed.
In the hours before the election results were released, Gallegos, Dorsey, Chen and Perkins were so anxious that they all became physically ill.
“This isn’t a resume builder for us; this isn’t a joke,” Perkins said. “To win is not about us. It’s about our slate, and it’s about the people that you represent at the University of Oregon.”
Now, the members of Ducks Together say they’re glad that the election season is over.
But when they were still forming their slate in fall term, Chen and Dorsey said that it was a challenge convincing Gallegos to run as the Ducks Together candidate for ASUO president.
The Ducks Together presidential slate met through their mutual interests in ASUO, and eventually, the three slowly became good friends. It helped that they were all majoring in ethnic studies. Chen said that when he first reached out to Gallegos to ask if she would run as their campaign’s presidential candidate, she refused and said that she would be his chief of staff. But Chen kept trying because he believed she was the most qualified person for the job.
“When I was thinking about it, president is a big job,” Gallegos said, “and I thought I wouldn’t be good enough for the student body, to be honest, because I feel like I have a lot of experience community organizing and not as much governing. I also don’t like being in charge of people; I like people to have their own autonomy.”
During Ducks Together’s search for a presidential candidate, Gallegos realized that she was the one who had the experience scrutinizing the ASUO budget and connecting with UO administration during her stint as an ASUO senator.
By the middle of winter term, she finally agreed to be the presidential candidate; however, she still has some anxieties.
Gallegos said that the process has been humbling. “I just want to be able to look at my family and tell them I didn’t do anything to make them feel like they raised me wrong,” Gallegos said. “My dad said yesterday night, ‘Remember where you came from, regardless of what fancy title you get.”
This year’s ASUO has faced a continually decreasing budget surplus, the leftover money from university contracting that is used for funding student clubs, in addition to another year of tuition increases. These issues carried over from last year and will continue to carry over into next year, but Gallegos said she feels prepared to tackle them.
Few students feel well-informed about the functions and actions of ASUO. According to a 2017 Emerald survey, 83 percent of students do not feel well-informed, and less than 4 percent of the student body voted in last year’s election, when Schenk’s slate ran unopposed. This year, 8 percent of students cast ballots.
ASUO members influence the administration’s policy decisions. ASUO is split into three branches: executive, legislative and judicial, similar to the structure of the federal government. The ASUO Senate manages the $16 million dollar Incidental Fee budget, which is what students pay every term to fund student groups, free Lane Transit District tickets and free University of Oregon athletic tickets.
Now, Gallegos and her slate are focused on the future. Their first day in office, Gallegos wants to include more student voices, down to having students involved in the decorating process of the ASUO office. Gallegos suggest students bring their art to be displayed in the ASUO office.
“Students don’t like to come in because it’s intimidating, because it looks like an office space,” Gallegos said, “and it doesn’t look like a student center.”
Gallegos said that her campaign is not entirely radical but that there are some things she wants to change.
“We’re not trying to burn down the ASUO,” Gallegos said, “but I do want to rework a lot of things. I want to unpack some things. I do want to dismantle some things and restart them.”
She said she’s not afraid to have to work against the administration’s wishes to best serve students, either.
“I’m not here to get recommendation letters,” Gallegos said.