Toward a more progressive student government with USG President Maegan Ragudo

At the start of 2021, the University Student Government (USG) embarked on what had been its first fully online elections, a historic feat matched by its historic results. Emerging on top in these elections was Maegan Ragudo. A former majority floor leader and active member of the legislature where she crafted resolutions that embodied the progressive ideas of her political party, Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat), she now leads the executive branch with a focus on addressing concerns in online learning.

In an interview with The LaSallian, Ragudo discusses her plans for her truncated term in office, as well as her views and exemplars in leadership.

You stated that the first issue you plan to tackle once you assume office is on undertaking a “curriculum shift” and opening other modalities of learning. Can you expound on that?

There is a need for a curriculum reassessment because online learning remains inaccessible and inadequate to the marginalized sectors of the student body. Even if we keep providing these students with the financial and technological support, the past USG surveys on online learning have revealed how the current learning environments remain unconducive due to poor internet coverage, loss of family income, and increasing external factors which has forced a considerable amount of students to opt for a leave of absence.

The policies surrounding other modalities of learning that we plan to spearhead will be heavily based on data from surveys and FGDs (focus group discussions). The goal here is to formulate an appropriate policy that is intuitive, progressive, and an active response to the harsh reality we’re in. By providing other modalities of learning, such as course packets in flash drives, we will lessen the need for students to go online and incur heavy data charges. In the long run, we must explore other hybrid setups that will foster a more holistic and compassionate learning for all.

You had been very vocal about suspending online classes; however, based on your answer to the recent Fast Talk, you had changed your stance on it. What made you reconsider your position, and how will this reflect your mandates on online learning as USG President?

The call for suspensions of online classes was warranted at the beginning of the pandemic because those suspensions would have afforded us enough time to grasp the situation and formulate the appropriate response and action, so no one from the Lasallian community gets left behind. It is important that we prioritize the welfare of the disenfranchised during crises because they are more vulnerable than others. While doing this, we ensure that the needs of the rest are addressed.

Perceptions on ongoing crises are not absolute since they are vulnerable to new factors. In our current case, DLSU has managed to make learning more accessible through our online platforms, but there is so much more to improve. Given the current context, having a suspension now would simply be detrimental to the livelihood of our professors and employees. More so, it would leave our students who need to graduate and work at a disadvantage.

Your term in office was shortened to two terms given that elections were pushed back. With less time to enact your mandates, do you think you can still deliver on some of your campaign promises, or do you plan to prioritize initiatives that can be accomplished in a shorter time frame?

Yes, I believe that I will be able to deliver on my campaign promises by prioritizing initiatives that matter the most. One of the things that I heavily considered before running for the presidency was the limit on time and resources. While it does pose a limitation to my administration, it also enables me to sort out my priorities accordingly, such as prioritizing our education recovery plan. Ultimately, my goal in the next two terms is to start the lobbying process for the policy proposals that we have so future generations will enjoy a flexible and healthy learning environment that continuously evolves and improves.

Your predecessor, Lance Dela Cruz, led and implemented many initiatives, most of which had your support from the legislature. Given how closely you have worked with him, how will you differentiate yourself?

I would personally champion a more grassroots, bottom-up approach. This is because it is more important now for the USG to make sure that students are heard. While there is merit in quantitative data and research, the policies that I will be forwarding will emphasize the reality that students face which, most of the time, gets underestimated. The challenge that I have now is to make an even greater impact, despite not having the luxury of time and resources to implement as many projects.

Are there any projects from your predecessor that you would want to build upon or revisit?

One of the things that I will be building upon is strengthening the USG’s overall data-gathering procedures. For us to have a more compelling case whenever we propose policies, it is important for data to be supplemented by actual accounts of students so [that] the University gets a better grasp of the situation. 

Another initiative would be to continue what Lance started, which is strengthening the USG’s advocacies through the Office of the Vice President for External Affairs. We are at a time where political participation is crucial to the future that we will set for the country, especially as we approach the 2022 National Elections.

You had previously mentioned that your leadership philosophy is to “forward the best interests of the student body” and “ignite the grassroots movement.” Can you elaborate on this more? And how does your governance approach differ from previous USG presidents?

Top leadership roles tend to view things from a macro perspective, which isn’t necessarily a negative thing. It enables leaders to choose the most optimal solution—at a given time—that is expected to benefit most, if not all. However, a leadership approach during a global crisis must be more compassionate, hands-on, and responsive to our evolving needs. 

As the biggest student alliance in DLSU, it is also our responsibility to equip our fellow students with the means to lobby and push for better learning arrangements—whether it is only for their class or for the entire university. This also includes mobilizing student participation in national affairs, especially as we deal with the ills of poor governance.

The grassroots movement highlights the importance of genuine student involvement in the decision-making process of the USG. To ignite the movement is an acknowledgement of its need.

In previous years, one political party had always dominated most of the seats in the USG during elections, but for this year, it seems to be more divided between Santugon and Tapat, particularly at the batch government level. Do you think this composition might allow for a more diverse kind of leadership, or would it make it more difficult to reach a consensus among student leaders?

The USG this year makes for a very interesting composition because of the diversity in leadership philosophy and praxis. It allows us to fulfill the essence of democracy, which is to facilitate healthy discourse and ensure our rights as students. Political partisanship is also an interesting challenge for everyone in the event that conflict does arise due to political differences. 

I just hope that partisan lines and ideologies do not divide the USG in making the best decisions for the student body. While partisanship is a democratic expression of our principles and beliefs, it must never be at the expense of the student body.

At the end of the day, conflict is inevitable, but it can always be mediated.  And when we do have to resolve conflicts, the interests of the student body remain superior.

One of your pillars for the Executive Board during the election campaign was for Championing a Progressive Student Movement. How would you define “progressive” to DLSU students?

The concept of progressiveness is grounded on what our idea of progress is and should be. The progressive student movement, particularly within DLSU, must be geared toward uplifting our rights and welfare as students, especially those disenfranchised by current circumstances. 

While the USG now is far more progressive than when it started, there is so much more left for us to do to truly embody a progressive student governance. Student leaders must always welcome change and the new ways we will evolve and progress from it for change is constant and it is something that we need to value when as progressive student leaders.

Outside of DLSU, you had interned under the office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros and helped promote causes such as SOGIE Equality and Safe Spaces, to name a few. What led you to champion these causes?

As a human rights activist, I have always wanted to be involved not only in the policymaking process, but also in the groundwork and mobilizing needed in getting legislation passed. What’s special about these causes is the fact that it needs to start with the youth. Proper education and training on what SOGIE Equality is and what safe spaces should be must begin within the four corners of our classrooms, particularly through early childhood education. These causes and policies further urge societies to foster a culture where children are free to grow in an environment devoid of social constructs and poor biases. Causes such as the ones promoted by the Office of Sen. Risa Hontiveros [are] a huge step towards a better future for all.

Which leaders do you look up to as personal role models? Do you try to emulate them through your work as a student leader?

I have always been in awe of AOC’s (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) grit and tenacity, along with Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, and Tsai Ing-Wen’s incredible handling of the pandemic. As we celebrated International Women’s Month, let it be known that femininity has power. 

As a progressive myself, it is my personal goal to embody the tenacity that women have when given leadership roles, especially with how AOC built her campaign from the ground up through grassroots and community-level engagement, which is something I would want to achieve as well through a bottom-up approach to USG governance. It is also important for us to emphasize how the pandemic only highlighted the need for societies to change how it treats women and start seeing their capacity for empathy and leadership as a strength. 

But as a Filipino student leader, it is also my responsibility to forward a brand of leadership that is devoid of Western influences and notions. It is crucial, for me at least, that I emulate and embody a leadership approach that is more central to our culture and struggles.

Frank Santiago

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