From February 27th to March 9th of this school year, undergraduate students have had the opportunity to participate in a referendum that would affect the entire population of students, faculty, and alumni at UCSD. The ICA, or the Intercollegiate Athletics, proposed a referendum earlier in the school year to allow UCSD’s sports teams to advance to Division 1 standing. The ICA’s proposed referendum would change the Student Activity Fee from $119.78 to $284.78, a $165 dollar increase per quarter. 29% of this increase, $47.85, would return to financial aid and would not affect those students who were already receiving aid. In the hopes of increasing student attendance at events, bigger alumni support, and general campus spirit, the referendum was most notably sported by UCSD athletics. Yet in the midst of budget cuts occurring in the University of California system, this referendum was met with a variety of opinions across the two week voting period.
Because of the highly polarizing views and general dialogue occurring on campus, we decided that the move to division 1 debate, would be an interesting topic for our final project. We could gauge the opinions of average students, politically-minded undergraduates, athletes, alumni, and faculty. There had already been words exchanged online between “pro” and “con” groups, so channeling it into a single space for open dialogue was the platform of our project. Using the popular site, WordPress.com, our group used the space to create open and candid conversations between students. Interested parties could post a thought, idea, or comment about a certain issue or article we posted. They could also reply to a fellow respondent’s comment and create an open debate.
We started this blog with the idea that we were going to describe some of the events occurring around campus, as well as recent articles posted about the activity fee. We utilized a number of social media outlets in order to maintain a large amount of readership. Posting a link to our site on both the “Pro” and “Con” websites, Facebook statuses, and common listservs, we were impressed with the amount of turnout we received. From the span of less than two weeks, our page was viewed over 726 times, with at least two comments everyday. We were able to reach a good number of students, by using our own facebook pages, talking with other campus organizations, and spreading the word about our blog to sports teams. Word spread fast around UCSD, and we got a large variety of comments from students.
The group dynamics in our network were more difficult to analyze because many comments were spread out on different posts, rather than people commenting back and forth to each other on one post. However, our blog contained one post that had four comments and three people engage in a small debate. The debate was about whether UCSD would have a chance to move up to Division I again and when it would be. One blogger stated that although it’s a lot of money to move up a division, it’s a good opportunity and that we don’t know when we will get the chance to move up and join the Big West again soon. Another rebutted with the fact that the Big West hasn’t announced when they will stop letting teams in and that he is against the referendum because UCSD should find a more sustainable way to come up with the money to fund athletics in Division I, rather than receiving a big portion from the students. Furthermore, the rebuttal was responded to with another point to add to the debate: whether there would be room in the Big West for UCSD in the future. Three students engaged in their own debate based on the issues we posted on our blog.
We found that most activity in our network was from students. One alumni from UCSD participated, while two other alumni from differing schools gave their opinions. We found that the alumni from differing schools had a strong interest in sports. One went to what he called a “sport obsessed school” while the other was a former swimmer at UC Davis that shared his experience when they moved up to Division I. Most comments were opinions against the referendum because of the increase in student fees. A few people noted that moving up to Division I wouldn’t benefit school culture and spirit for similar reasons including that some sport teams are doing well in Division II, but still only a few students attend those games. For that reason she didn’t believe more people would attend the games because UCSD was in a different division. Lastly, people commented to show that UCSD is a good, reputable school regardless of having sport teams, therefore they didn’t think that was a valid argument for UCSD to move up a division.
If we had more time to work on our blog, we would create an archive and give more effort to publicizing our site. Due to the shortness of the assignment, we had to rush to get the site online as well as to tell our peers about it. The issue was already trending on campus as well as on other mediums such as Facebook, but poaching active participants for our blog turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. As Facebook is a social media site that most college students already use, getting them to leave it would have required more time than we were allotted. However, the debate is ongoing even though the recent referendum failed. We could potentially make the site a resource for future debates and proposals. To begin with, we would start to compile all of the links and publications about the most recent Division 1 debate. We posted an article from a few years ago that had previously brought up the idea of UCSD moving to Division 1 status so it stands to reason that history will again repeat itself. While the fervor has died down because of the end of elections, it might be renewed quickly with more publicity and coverage. It would be helpful for those who actively participated in championing or decrying the transition to have our blog as a resource as well as a forum. As many of our commenters are politically active on campus, the blog will also serve as an archive of what they said. If our blog were to serve these purposes because we were extending the project, it would be easier for us to join the debate at a more opportune time. Due to our late start, we had to compete with more established forums. With more time, we could create more of a sense of community on our blog and entice more comments by asking more specific and open-ended questions instead of merely reporting news about events. Perhaps more publicity through non-digital means, such as chalk signs around campus, would make our blog more attractive and revive the issue.
One of the biggest difficulties with this project was the lack of time we had to set up blogs. We believe that our project topic was a strong one but the main issue was that we created our blog right at the climax and leading towards the resolution of the issue. It is for this reason that we believe that our blog did not get the amount of attention it had the potential for. Because this issue only lasted a certain amount of time, it was an issue limited by the restrictions of voting; starting this project earlier when the build up of the hype of the issue was occurring would have been ideal. In this sense we would have gotten more attention from links on our Facebook pages and spreading the conversation around to the people we are linked to that belong to the UC system. We, as a group, had agreed that with more time we would have been able to spread this issue not only to UCSD students but to students around all the UC’s to see if they have an opinion on the issue. As mentioned earlier, we would hope that a sense of community on the blog would lead people to want to discuss the issue, yet with the time given we believe that we did well with the resources we had.
The types of participation we observed on our blog were across the board. We all posted links to the blog on our Facebook accounts, so many people were able to access it and comment on whatever they wanted. The original problem we predicted would happen was that not many people from our social networks would comment on it or even read it because if they were not UCSD students–as many of our friends aren’t– it was not an issue that they had even heard about, let alone cared about. This gave us even more inspiration to post as many articles and polls from as many different sources as we could find in order to achieve mass appeal. We were able to find some articles from the past that were based on the same topic as we were posting about and these postings we found received a lot of comments. Since the articles we posted had a lot of opinions and a lot of research findings in them, it seemed that others had a lot to say about it as well and wanted to express their own opinions. We posted a video from the “Vote YES” campaign and that generated a lot of talk and debate among our commenters. In fact, the first comment on that post was a link to a “Vote NO” website. On most of the comments, we were able to trace the sources back to contributors of blogs like the one we had created and contributors and supporters of both sides of the referendum campaign. It seems that for the most part, specific groups were interested in public opinion revolving around the referendum and these groups are groups already involved with the referendum or student life as a whole at UCSD. The most interesting contributions to our blog came from students at other UC schools who were expressing their opinions based on experience at their own Division 1 school and what effects came out of a move from Division 2 at their school and how it might affect UCSD. These comments were useful and insightful and at the very least, gave us a different look at things that we otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
All in all, our attempt at creating a network around the issue of the transition to Division 1 by UCSD was successful. We inspired debate between the opposing sides and met our goal of creating a neutral ground for them to discuss their views. While the time allotted was brief, we feel that our blog comprehensively included posts from each side. The issue our network was based around is far from over and given a more lengthy window of opportunity, the blog might have grown as large as the more established groups on Facebook. We found that our existing networks in social media and real life were able to supplement the creation of our new network.