Student electoral apathy disappointing

January 30, 2015

With the biannual tradition of Student Union elections commencing once again this past Wednesday, a typical shortcoming of the Brandeis student body rose to light once again. Despite canceled classes and being snowed in by over two feet of snow, only 746 students (less than any single undergraduate class) voted in the election for student union vice president. For a university so enraptured by current events and adamant about having their voices heard, Brandeis somehow fails to become engaged in one of the most accessible modes of political participation on campus: voting in student elections.

Offered the opportunity to effect change in their community, most students instead take the apathetic route, neglecting election ballots. In fact, in perhaps one of the most publicized and celebrated elections in recent years, “Mod Cat” garnered overwhelming support from the student body, winning the title of Student Union senator of the Foster Mods before meeting an unfortunate and tragic demise. Why is the student body so quick to rally around a humourous mascot, but fails to demonstrate the same support for a legitimate candidate?

The lack of voter participation is not a new problem. It is a habitual one. As reported in a Brandeis Hoot article from September 2011, not only did just 18 percent of students vote in that semester’s elections, but three of the five Judiciary seats were left vacant due to abstain votes. As a repetitive trend, other semesters have reflected similarly dismal turn-outs. While the specific individuals who have voted, abstained or altogether ignored Student Union elections have changed over the years with the changing composition of the student body, the same trends emerge year after year. Unfortunately, Brandeis students as a whole have not demonstrated active engagement in their representation, although they are essentially the most affected by their own inactivity.

When former Vice President Sofía Mühlmann ’16 resigned from her post over the winter break, few in the community seemed perturbed. When it came time to fill her seat, now-former Secretary Charlotte Franco ’15 stepped up and won the vice presidency. This now leaves a vacancy in the secretary position for the Student Union, one that will be up for election in the Union’s next round of elections, according to an email sent out by Union President Sneha Walia ’15 Thursday morning.

Looking at the makeup of this chain of events, it’s evident that the Student Union is often comprised of essentially the same group of select students who demonstrate continual commitment to the student body, while new candidates are rare and far between. Why do Brandeis students, who exhibit such strong opinions surrounding current events and controversies, not demonstrate the same passion or commitment when it comes to university affairs? With outcries over dining policies rampant and grievances over wait lines at the mailroom publicized widely on social media at the beginning of the semester, the dismal response to student elections is counterintuitive in nature.

Just last year, Hoot writer Shayna Korol ’17 revealed her brutally honest, although not uncommon, sentiments surrounding Student Union elections. In an opinions article published in The Hoot, she wrote, “If I do vote, and that’s very tentative, I’ll probably end up picking the candidates I’m most familiar with, people I’ve talked to in the past or had classes with. I might consider someone with a particularly impressive haircut for an important position.” Addressing dissatisfaction with the voter apathy prevalent at Brandeis, she acknowledged, “I freely admit that this is a poor way of coming to a decision, but it’s not as if my method is any different from that of most voters in local and national elections.”

Although the Student Union has accomplished much over the years, and we, as students, would not have the same amount of freedoms and services without the leadership of its members, student engagement is an issue that needs to be addressed.

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