Although Student Union elections happen frequently, it is widely known that only a small portion of the student populace votes in them. In an article to the Jan. 26, 2016 issue of The Brandeis Hoot, Ryan Spencer wrote that “just 603 of approximately 3,570 students cast votes” in the January elections. That represents an overall turnout of under 17% of students. When it comes to non-campus politics, however, student interest and involvement increases substantially. In light of the hot domestic political climate, it is important that we as students not lose focus of what is happening at home, for the Student Union’s role in our university experience is far more substantial than some tend to believe.
The Student Union is a large body that deals with many aspects of our university lives. According to the Student Union website, the allocations board, a branch of the Union, manages and allocates $1.7 million for university clubs and organizations. The Union also includes a dispute resolving body, known as the Judiciary. In an article to the Feb. 26, 2016 issue of The Hoot, Jacob Edelman and I featured the Chief Justice to the Judiciary, Brian Levi Dorfman ’16, who discusses how there had not been any complaints to that body to that date.
The Union acts as liaisons through which students can have dialogue with the Board of Trustees, Sodexo and our other campus services. Its Senators and other elected representatives play integral roles on committees that advocate for the students. Still, voter turnout remains low.
When discussing the phenomenon of low student turnout among friends, I noticed a disturbing trend: many are apathetic about the Student Union, which some attribute to a general lack of knowledge about its functions. The Union is well aware of this problem, and although it has tried to address the problem, the Union has not had much success. Although the Union’s new website is streamlined and designed for accessibility, it is still not yet complete and lacks more recent information. The topic of the unfinished website even came up in the Student Union Debates on March 16.
Despite the fact that the Massachusetts primaries have come and gone, campus fervor in this domestic election season continues to trump that of our own campus politics. It is not wrong for students to be passionate about domestic politics; this should be actively supported. After all, America’s youth can benefit from the policies of some candidates up for election in November, but we cannot forget that our own Student Union also bears influence on our futures here at Brandeis. We can also benefit from political involvement at our own school, but yet, in the last election, only 17% of us did. This is something that must change.
Student interest in Student Union elections should match or at least be close to interest in domestic politics. The major difference between outside politics and interest in the Student Union is the reach of information. Although it has been working tirelessly to ramp up its presence on campus, the Union still struggles to maintain student interest. Significant changes in its outreach program will be needed to bring up voter turnout and increase awareness and appreciation for the Union and what it does.
The Union already maintains an email presence, but this can be hindered when students don’t check their email or ignore messages we deem unimportant. Email can remain the primary mode of communication, for there is no other feasible or quicker outreach method, but an increased presence outside of the digital domain would not hurt. An increased sponsorship and presence at events such as the activities fair and at The Stein’s trivia nights can bring the Union into more contact with a general student populace. Expanded modes of communication, such as physical newsletters or something similar, can help raise awareness for what the Union does. Inviting some students to observe Senate meetings and other Student Union activities will also make students more aware as to what the body does.
These suggestions are meant as building blocks for a greater plan of action that I implore next year’s Student Union and Executive Board take to increase their own awareness on campus. Voter turnout will not increase unless awareness of the situation increases to a level more close to that of domestic politics, which many students seem more interested in. The Student Union has a large influence on every student’s experience and life here at Brandeis. We need to make sure that we are aware and ready to vote for our advocates.