At one point, William Smith Congress and Hobart Student Government were distinct organizations. They had rich and interesting histories as they waxed and waned and as conflict and crisis changed them. For a long time, they met separately— oftentimes they diverged significantly in thought and action. They also used to elect representatives from residences, and be empowered to set wide swathes of social policy— which is to say that things change. Now, a first year student who finds their way into a meeting would be under the impression they were participating in one organization’s meeting. They would remain under this impression until the meeting hit some snag in the illusion of normalcy. Two ballots might be awkwardly passed out, each one branded with a different insignia.
Excluding the student trustees, there are sixteen elected positions in the two student governments. These positions are filled in annual elections that are rarely contested and regularly have no one running at all. As the coordinate system currently manifests in student government, there is an inflated number of positions to be filled by a population only so interested in this facet of campus life. The college’s website says our undergraduate enrollment is 1,660, so a little less than 1 percent of the student population is expected to be elected to some position within our student government. And currently, that is about the number of people interested in participating in student government, and consistently more positions than can be filled in competitive elections.
While I have boundless respect for the people who have devoted hours upon hours of their time to making an impact on their community through WSC and HSG, there is also no doubt in my mind that a system where almost everyone is elected by default creates problems. When you have twice as many positions to fill as necessary, it is basically impossible to winnow off the least interested and the apathetic.
Additionally, requiring students to choose which organization they will participate in in a system based on gender creates obvious problems. Any student who does not fit statically into the gender binary is likely to be made uncomfortable by this system.
When a system unnecessarily categorizes and excludes students, and when the system requires more participation than it has seen in recent years to be effective, change seems necessary. The student body should be allowed to vote in a referendum on merging the two governments into one. If the idea of student government means anything, the way the student body chooses to organize itself cannot be decided by anyone other than the students.