Uncompetitive SU elections signify apathy, failed outreach
Over the past two days, Wash. U. students turned out at the polls to elect Treasury representatives, Class Councils and the Student Union Executive Board. Following an ongoing trend, the Student Union Exec and Arts & Sciences Senate elections were uncompetitive. For the second semester in a row, only five candidates ran on the ballot for the six ArtSci Senate seats. SU had to give candidates two extra days to submit election packets because an SU Exec slate had not formed the night before campaigns were slated to begin. The apparent lack of interest in running for these positions indicates a recruitment problem and, more broadly, a disconnect between the student body and the student government.
While 1,690 students voted overall, only 1,227 voted in the presidential race for Exec. Whether this lack of interest is due to a popular perception of SU as an ineffective body, or perhaps due to a lack of publicity, this is a problem that can and should be fixed. Showing students that SU makes tangible decisions for their benefit, for example, could increase the stakes of elections and, in turn, their competitiveness.
Uncompetitive elections do not necessarily mean incompetent leadership. However, they do encourage complacency. Moreover, the lack of interest in serving in student government indicates something about the desirability of the positions. Serving in SU takes a substantial amount of time and energy, and it is clear that not many on campus are willing to make such a commitment.
The SU Exec election was not entirely devoid of competition, of course. Notably, Sean Dula conducted a write-in presidential campaign from abroad using the name Justice Slate. He garnered 18 percent of the presidential vote, impressive given that he announced his campaign the morning that polls opened. That he earned a respectable amount of the vote indicates a demand for alternative candidacy that was unfortunately not filled earlier.
There was a minimal amount of campaigning on the part of the Exec candidates, consisting mostly of publicity through Facebook and a minimally-attended debate, not that extensive campaigning was necessary given the nature of the “competition.” However, a lack of publicity further alienates the student body from SU. It’s not possible to force people to pay attention to SU, but greater publicity and openness could bridge this gap.
Washington University isn’t perfect, as we’ve all become keenly aware over the past week. Salient issues range from the logistical to the serious, from over-programming to making campus welcoming for all students. In the aftermath of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge incident, the need for a sense of community is greater than ever. SU’s mission is to be an advocate for the student body as a whole, and this is quite possibly one of the most crucial times to have a conversation about leadership and bringing the campus together. This is not to indict the incoming executive board or SU as a whole, but there is clearly a void that needs to be filled.