Macalester student governance elections and popularity contests

Upon coming to Macalester, I was surprised that MCSG elections would take place a few weeks after I had arrived. It surprised me that we could have impartial elections when people barely remember each other’s names. As a new student, I decided to leave that aside and focus on other things, believing that it was a special circumstance that had us vote for the class of 2016 representatives that early.

Elections happened; I saw an email with a list of candidates, only one of which I had met (through a common class). I ended up voting for that person, not believing that he/she would be a good candidate, but because I only knew him/her and no other candidate. I left that aside and felt happy that the person I knew won, and wished them good luck. But it never went out of my mind. With the election of the chairs of the program board and the Financial Affairs committee, I intended to go out and ask people about why they voted the way they did.

I got some interesting answers. One friend told me that a friend of his told him that a certain candidate was good so he voted. Another did not vote, and some just chose randomly to feel that they fulfilled a duty. However, the best of all was a friend whose response to me was, what does MCSG do anyways? They have no power at all in this college, it does not matter who wins the elections.

I went back in memories to my high school. Upon every student council election, we organized a candidate fair, where students mingled with candidates to talk about what they can bring to the school. In addition to that, we had to be present physically for the elections, listen to candidate’s speeches and have enough time to decide who deserved our vote. I am not trying to say we should apply the same rules. What I mean is that this has been done by 16-year-old kids, and a college that is all about democracy does not do this. This student council at my high school had a seat in the board, and had a vote on all matters that concern the school, which Macalester Student Government lacks.

I am aware that there is a student liaison for the board of trustees at Macalester. Do any of you know who that is? I do not, because this person is selected by a committee and not voted for by the students. Do they have any voting rights? Now here is the big problem, not only that we have a poor system of choosing our representatives, but those representatives have no power, and they do not fight for it. The student body is not represented in the Board of Trustees, and isn’t that against what Macalester is all about?

Last semester I took a wonderful class called Getting Elected: Modern Campaign Communication. This class is one of my best so far. But while we learn campaigning at Macalester and we go out to support campaigns such as Obama’s campaign or the Vote No campaign we do not have a proper example within our college.

We never see candidates giving a speech, writing an agenda or a proposal. All they do, as a current MCSG member told me, is write a small biography and make sure their name is popular enough, meaning that they enter a popularity contest.

This is not an attack on our Student Government. In fact, I am friends with a lot of MCSG members, and quite close to some of the class of 2016 representatives and I know they are doing their best. This is an identification of a problem that we all need to come together to solve. Students at Macalester should be role models of democracy, and should fight for their right to have a say in what happens in this college because they are the most important component of it. Let us not just sit in our dorms and houses thinking about classes, let’s think about how to make the best of our experience at Macalester and keep it more special than any other college in the state or even the country itself.