With the end of the 2020-21 academic year in sight, the student body prepares for what is likely the most exciting Student Council presidential election in recent memory: a faceoff between incumbent Student Council President Bradley Berklich ’22 and Diversity and Social Justice Committee Chairperson Micah Smith ’22.
Given that the Student Council presidential election has been an uncontested race for the last two years, this year’s vote is turning heads. Berklich would be the second Student Council president in the last five years to hold the position for multiple terms; Smith would be the first openly transgender person in College history to hold the position.
Many are intrigued by the candidates’ widely differing leadership philosophies when it comes to the position, which is primarily responsible for presiding over Council meetings and enforcing the Council’s bylaws.
As the incumbent president, Berklich’s somewhat laissez-faire approach to the position has not changed much in the past year. “I’m still a very firm believer in that whoever’s running this open forum — in order to make it as inclusive as possible — should not push their own agenda,” he said. Rather, he explained, he aims to help his fellow Council officers achieve their goals.
In this spirit, Berklich’s campaign strategy has been to emphasize the work the Council has done collectively under his leadership. In his email to the student body, he specifically cited the Council’s extension of the Pass/D/Fail deadline and start of a Business and Finance Committee (BFC) bylaw review, the latter moving into the spotlight following the lack of appropriate funding for campus affinity groups in the past semester.
It was Smith, however, who, as chair of the Diversity and Social Justice Committee, pushed for a review of the BFC bylaws in August, following the College’s announcement that it would begin new, anti-racist initiatives. Likewise, they have advocated for the addition of a non-voting affinity group seat on the Council, not unlike the Kenyon Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (KSAAC); Berklich also cited this as a goal of his.
In line with their previous efforts, Smith’s campaign centers on calls for structural changes to the Council — ones that they feel will not only make the Council more effective, but also more inclusive. Although some of their ideas, such as a return to keeping all Council meeting minutes for the year in a single document, focus on the minutiae of the Council’s inner workings, others represent a larger overhaul. Perhaps the most significant of these is Smith’s intention to make Student Council positions paid jobs.
“Making these positions paid in some way … would definitely make it a bit more equitable, instead of just, ‘Oh, here’s some random kids who happen to have time,’” Smith said. “Because that immediately is less representative of the student body.”
Although both candidates emphasize their desire to lessen the gap between the student body and the Board of Trustees, each has different ideas about how to do so. Berklich, for one, has proposed adding a non-voting, student seat to the Board in hopes of giving students a direct channel to the Trustees.
“It’s my idea to leverage that greater involvement into more earned trust [between students and the Board],” he explained.
Representation has been at the forefront of Smith’s campaign, both in terms of his own identity politics and how he can effectively represent the student body. As he put it in his campaign email, “I am a KEEP Scholar and a first-generation and low-income student, a student worker as current co-manager of Unity House, an anthropology major, a Black student, a queer student, a transgender student, a poet, a person who continues to struggle with the Kenyon printer system, and more.” He added, “I know that some of these may seem like they don’t belong in an email that’s supposed to get you to vote for me, but all of these positions I hold inform my perspective on Kenyon, and therefore my perspective on Student Council.”
As Kenyon students head to the virtual polls this week, they will also cast their votes for a number of other Student Council races, including those for vice presidents of business and finance, student life and academic affairs, the senior, junior and sophomore class presidents, and several committee chairs. Voting closes Sunday, April 11 at 11:59 p.m. Students can access their ballots here and read the candidates’ statements here.