Of the eight student government positions open for election this spring, half are uncontested, and the others have no more than two candidates. Every year it seems like the Collegian runs an op-ed bemoaning the lack of participation in student government elections. Most of the ire is placed on the student body, less than a quarter of which usually votes in these elections. But perhaps we should be looking at another culprit: student government itself. If so few people run and so few votes are cast, maybe students just aren’t really sure what these positions entail and how important they can be in creating school policy. These elected officials need to better communicate the importance of their jobs to potential candidates.
The fact that there is a communication problem on this campus is no secret, but our elected representatives should work harder to keep us informed about who they are and what they do. It often seems like the students who enter government their first year are the ones who stay throughout, perhaps because they are the only ones who know how student government works and what its purpose is. As much as we can lambast students for not going to the weekly, open student council meetings or voting in the elections, it seems like this is not merely laziness. It may signal a lack of connection with Student Council, one that cannot be solved by a few extra student-info emails. Student government officials have to signify more to the students than a name signed to yet another email or the stern faces at BFC hearings grilling them about why they deserve to use their own money. It is essential that our elected representatives do not feel as far away and uncommunicative as the notoriously silent higher echelons of Kenyon’s professional administration.
Back in February, we published a staff editorial about how Student Council could increase transparency by livestreaming meetings. But this is about more than transparency — it is about understanding what our representatives actually do and the powers they have. Livestreaming meetings would allow students to see their representatives in action through an easily accessible medium (which would also benefit off-campus students). Students would learn much more about the discussions then what is listed in the highly edited meeting minutes emailed out after each meeting, which few students even read.
Yes, students must also do more to engage with Student Council. But when so few are willing to run for a position, we must ask ourselves if this is occurring because students are complacent or uninterested, or if they simply do not know what their representatives do. Student Council should be more open about their proceedings. This will not only encourage student involvement, but ensure that we have a responsive council. Lack of opposition easily leads to complacency. Students need a voice — not just an annually elected social club.