Lack of Engagement with WSC & HSG Elections

By Dan Bristol ’18

Managing Editor

Another William Smith Congress and Hobart Student Government election passed at the end of January with a worryingly small amount of fanfare. Not only did students pass through the two-day period in which the polls were open unaware of the election, but most positions were also uncontested.

Of the eight positions up for election across the two governments only one seat featured more than one candidate, and no one ran for William Smith Congress Treasurer.

The election for President of Hobart Student Government was alone in featuring multiple candidates, where three students ran for the office won by John Camara ’19. Ryan Skinner ’19, Jesse Maltese ’20, and Albright Dwarka ’21 were elected unopposed to HSG Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary respectively.

The lack of candidates continued into William Smith Congress where Sophie Ritter ‘20, Eva Catanzariti ‘20, and Allie Seminer  ‘20 won unopposed elections for President, Vice President, and Secretary respectively.

Following the election there was a push to hold a special election to fill the vacant seat, but after none of the three interested candidates returned their petitions the election was called off and incumbent Treasurer Dominique DeRubeis ’18 was asked to stay in the position.

In an interview DeRubeis noted that she was asked through a WhatsApp message whether she would continue on as the William Smith student responsible for overseeing all funding and requests for reimbursement for student organizations. “Given that I assumed my term in September, the constitution states that I was eligible to stay on for [Treasurer] until 2018,” said DeRubeis, who was elected through a special election in May 2017, as WSC’s justification to keep her in office beyond what would be her normal term. DeRubeis initially offered to stay in the position until a replacement was found to ensure the Budget Allocation Committee and club funding continued uninterrupted, but when the special election failed, her extended term became permanent.

Uncontested elections have been common in recent years for seats in both bodies, however this level of participation marks a low in the past four years where an entire administration of WSC was selected without challenge. In similar situations in recent elections write-in campaigns flourished, even successfully electing a write-in President, Mary Kubinski ’17, in the spring of 2016.

This year, however, there was no push for such a candidate to make these elections a true celebration of democracy and the student voice. While all the candidates are qualified and poised to be excellent servants of the student voice, the limited number of candidates weakens the ability for students to choose their representatives in a meaningful and democratic way.

There is a stark contrast between the emphasis placed on the Student Trustee elections and the Executive Boards of the student governing bodies. While similarly representatives of the student voice and members of the student governing bodies, Student Trustees enjoy a separate and more celebrated election than those of the members of the executive boards of governments of which they are a part.

The Student Trustee elections feature an intense campaign with candidates tabling in the week leading up to the election, and a candidates’ forum in the Café days in advance of the election.

Most students are unable to live their lives on campus without noticing the presence of the race for Student Trustee. The current race for Student Trustee features 10 candidates across Hobart and William Smith, while the members of the Executive Board of the government they are running to join ran almost fully unopposed. The same cannot be said for campaigns for the WSC and HSG executive boards. Part of that difference is due simple to the fact that one does not need to campaign if there is no opposition.

A larger contributor to the difference between Student Trustee elections is the differing value placed on the positions by the student body at large.

William Smith Congress and Hobart Student Government are the best representatives of the student voice to all other parts of the institution. While the Student Trustees represent our voice to the Board of Trustees, it is the Class Presidents, Senators (for Hobart), and Executive Board who carry our voices and desires everywhere on campus.

This level of support and engagement would benefit William Smith Congress and Hobart Student Government, but the elections fly by with little information and advertisement. “Student government representatives are elected by a small minority and on platforms that are, if anything, hardly substantive,” notes DeRubeis. “You’re given 250 words to introduce yourself and describe your involvement on campus. There’s not a lot of space for a ‘platform’ to be formed and that limits the number of students that feel passionate about one candidate over another.” A more active campaign process, similar to ones Student Trustee candidates run, would force greater engagement with the highest offices in our student governments.

However, students are content to direct our voices through whoever bothered to run. This is not to say that the recently elected officers are inadequate in any way, but the student voice is far too diverse to possibly be represented by the one person who ran for a position.

Not only did students fail to run for office, but they also failed to vote. Only 10% of the student body across both schools voted in the January election, according to Student Activities. 115 William Smith Students and 112 Hobart Students voted. While HWS students are admittedly poor voters in off-campus elections, showing a 13% lower voting rate than the average for other colleges and universities in 2016 according to the 2017 National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, the voting rate in on-campus election is still shockingly low compared to the 37% of eligible HWS students who voted in 2016.

Where most student politicians struggle to get elected in the first place, the new executive boards face a far greater challenge: engaging a student body unwilling to connect with William Smith Congress and Hobart Student Government. To their credit almost every candidate did something no other student did: they had the determination and drive to run for their respective office. Now, they must fight to increase the perceived value of these organizations, change executive board election procedures so they engage with a greater percent of the student body, and continue to be effective representatives of the student body. Students owe a debt to these students for running for office, and serving us as elected representatives to make sure we continue to have spaces to connect and empower students from both colleges, advocates for student voices, and oversee the funding of all student organizations.

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