By:  | 

A Vote for Change

As the end of the academic year quickly approaches, so does this time of year’s special onslaught of cookies and shoddily-made campaign posters: Election Season. And no, I do not refer to New York City’s upcoming fall mayoral election, though it is probably something we should all be aware of as students in this great city. I am talking about Yeshiva University student government elections, to take place this coming Thursday, April 25.

You may or may not have seen the ystud email announcing the election date and opening the field for declaration of candidacy (I hope you did, there were several such emails), and you may or may not have ignored them, briefly considered running but quickly dismissed the thought, or perhaps declared your own candidacy. More likely, though, you laughed it off wondering to yourself what exactly all these different acronyms stand for and what it is, precisely, that they do.

And the laughing doesn't stop there. Student elections have historically been a joke at Yeshiva, sometimes looking as if they could be occurring in the halls of a high school, what some might call a popularity contest. Most votes are garnered from friends of candidates—their many friends from camp and school and “just around” if they’re from the New York area, or a handful of old buddies and new acquaintances if they’re from out of town. The rest of the votes are decided by whose posters look nicest and whose munchkin doughnuts freshest.

The elections—really, though, the campaigns—lack any debate of the issues at stake in the elections or, perhaps more importantly, any serious attempt at figuring out who will make a better student governor in the coming year. And I don’t believe that the problem is the elections system—the system is fine, we just fail to take advantage of it. Last year’s YSU Presidential debate featured three strong candidates answering important questions. Less than 100 people showed up though. Past debates have turned into laughingstocks, for instance, when one YSU Presidential candidate arrived (and remained) garbed in a full Scooby-Doo costume.

I believe we do ourselves a significant disservice by treating student elections so flippantly, and that a serious introspection is in order.

The problem is that most students do not realize what is at stake in these elections. Many students seem to think that the elections are a joke for one simple reason—because they think student government itself is a joke; it does not really matter who student leaders are because they do not do much of anything anyway. This flawed perspective reflects a misconception of student government and student life at YU in general and is worth reconsidering.

Essentially, we don't always realize it but Student Life—the nitty gritty, everyday issues we deal with and opportunities we receive—is the stuff our experience at college is made of, and student leaders are the ones responsible for that experience. For one, student government controls tens of thousands of dollars in student and university money dedicated to university programing; whether this money is spent responsibly, efficiently, and to the greatest benefit of the student body depends on the student leaders in power.

But in a more immediate sense, student leaders determine the success of every program that occurs on campus—think Yom Haatzmaut celebrations, Yom Hashoa and Yom Hazikaron ceremonies, the Channukah concert, and any other large program you enjoyed this year; without competent student leadership those programs can (and have in the past) devolve into shambles. In a more banal but no less important vein, student government determine how much cholent there is on Thursday nights and how vibrant Shabbos culture is.

Clubs, the central focus of the governments—and of many students’ time on campus—are overseen by student leaders, and the amount of activity and life on campus depends on the competency of club heads but also the student governments in charge. Do you want to elect a stubborn president who will turn down innovative and fun club ideas? Or worse, one who simply does not have the time, interest, or abilities to carry out the tasks of his position?

The question of whether candidates truly want to serve the student body or if they just want to add to their ambitious resumes would certainly improve the electoral process, and such reforms are currently being discussed—making candidates more visible and transparent by requiring a certain amount of club experience, posting resumes online, and a platform for voters to learn more about candidates through videos, Q&A’s, and other materials. And both the student councils and the Office of Student Life could certainly improve their own processes, efficiency, and communication with students about campus life.

But more than anything else an educated and informed student body who actually care about the elections—and pay careful attention to who they want to lead this campus in the coming year— will lead to successful campaigns, elections, and student governments. Student leaders are our representatives to the university’s administration, consulted by administrators when they want to know what students think about the future of Jewish Studies or the new Curriculum or the morning programs—or any other ongoing debate at school.

The question, though, remains: Who will represent you at those meetings?

Who will you vote for?