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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Student Union elections: more info needed

Published: February 7, 2014
Section: Opinions

Elections for the Student Union are rapidly approaching. Or at least I think they are, because I’ve noticed “Vote For” posters of the candidates plastered around the dorms, and I’m sure they’re very timely. An effort has been made to get the word out about student representatives, and it is earnest enough to make me consider learning how to go about casting my vote.

My ignorance of the political process is not the candidates’ fault, of course, but some effort should be made to teach and encourage potential voters to actually vote. I have never been involved in student government beyond the student council in seventh grade, and I accept that I may not be representative of the student body as a whole—but many of us are still having problems with New LATTE, so maybe this election process could be a bit more intuitive.

Aside from my utter confusion, I’m not really sure why I should vote. Sure, there is always the spirit of the thing, and that is a wonderfully powerful impetus for some. On a more practical level, however, what does student government actually do? They claim to advocate for the interests of the student body to the faculty and administration. That’s a noble goal, and whatever steps they take should be rendered transparent to the entire student body. Yet how effective is the petitioning or conferencing or whatever it is that they actually do? How do student representatives get in touch with the people they are supposed to represent? Do they effect meaningful change on campus? An honest and thorough answer to that question can’t be conveyed in a simple poster just offering a name to vote for.

Getting back to the topic of posters, which are the start and end of my awareness and involvement with the Union, I have to wonder what the positions actually are and why the candidate is exactly qualified for this spot. Like rival chain restaurants next to one another or two different gas stations across the road, I’m not sure what makes one product any different from the other. Candidates that simply put a picture on a poster and tape it to a frequented spot on campus just to get their visibility up confuse me. That’s a business strategy that makes some sense but is nonetheless disorienting.

If I do vote, and that’s very tentative, I’ll probably end up picking the candidates I’m most familiar with, people I’ve talked to in the past or had classes with. I might consider someone with a particularly impressive haircut for an important position. I freely admit that this is a poor way of coming to a decision, but it’s not as if my method is any different from that of most voters in local and national elections.

There must be a way to overcome voter apathy at Brandeis that isn’t a pep rally or two-line comment in a weekly email that often gets lost between spam. Maybe a meeting or event, such as an ice cream social sponsored by the Student Union that also functions as a debate, would work well. Some sort of bribe to get voters to attend might be the best way to go because there’s nothing more quintessentially political.

Since I have absolutely no idea what the Student Union advocates for or against, I suggest that they figure out a way to get first-years like me more acquainted with how they represent the students. Like how they would be the ones who talk with whoever sets tuition rates and could gently suggest that enough is enough. There are so many things on campus worthy of addressing. What I would like to know is what power the Student Union holds and what falls within their sphere of influence to change. And of course, how to actually go and vote.