Junior Danny Arbeiter first began his career in the Associated Students of Stanford University by learning everything he could during his time as a senate associate his freshman year. When it came time for the spring elections, he took the plunge and ran for a senate seat. He barely did any schoolwork while campaigning, but enjoyed taking the time to run into people with whom he had lost touch and learning about the issues that confronted fellow students. His efforts paid off and he won the election.
Today, new freshmen are looking to follow in Arbeiter’s footsteps in the senate.
Forty-one candidates qualified for a place on the ballot in this year’s election for senate, twenty-five of whom are freshmen. Perhaps surprisingly, eight of the current fifteen undergraduate senators are sophomores, having won election their freshman year. These include: Nkemjika Ugonabo, the deputy chair of the senate, Mondaire Jones, the chair of the advocacy committee, and Tomi Onatunde, the chair of the communications committee.
“The majority of candidates are freshmen, and the majority of senators are usually freshmen,” Arbeiter revealed. “I think this is just part of the typical Stanford extracurricular career cycle: freshmen year you get your footing and sample a lot of various different activates; sophomore year you devote a lot of time to a few core activities that you enjoy the most; junior year you go abroad or join a dorm staff; senior year you look for a job. Each of those is a huge time commitment, and in many cases are mutually exclusive, and I think being a Senator fits best into the sophomore year of most people’s four-year plan.”
Freshmen also enjoy certain structural advantages that give them a leg up on older competition. Perhaps more so than for other years, the Associated Students of Stanford University offers many opportunities for freshmen to get involved in student government. Nearly all freshman candidates for senate have spent the past year working as undergraduate senate associates, executive aides, members of frosh council, or members of dorm government.
Excited to spend their first year on campus and use all it has to offer, freshmen also tend to vote in higher numbers than other classes do. In the spirit of freshman camaraderie, they tend to stick together by dorms, and members of larger dorms like Branner and Roble tend to begin the campaign cycle with larger bases than do candidates in smaller housing.
Kimberley McKinson is one of the twenty-five freshmen running for senate this year. Currently an executive aide, she explains that she “enjoyed working in this post and wants to continue my involvement with student government. I also decided to run because there are various issues and problems which affect Stanford students which I believe I can have a positive impact on.” Fellow candidate and frosh council member Jonathan Kass agrees “it would put me in a position to really enact some change in our community.”
Concern exists that as freshmen, these candidates may not be familiar enough with campus issues to make a needed impact. Others present a contrast to that negative view. McKinson, for example, found problems in students’ ability to meet, such as “the financial resources available to student groups, as well as the issue of making spaces more easily available to student groups. A process that is less costly and more user-friendly needs to be implemented.” Kass uses his experience as a freshman in some of his platform issues, like “not wanting to jump into my classes blind without having seen a syllabus, which is why I want to fix syllabus.stanford.edu.” Kass has also researched solutions to some campus problems, including the high cost of course readers. “I emailed a professor and found out that by going through an outside printer instead of the bookstore, the cost for students can be reduced, in some cases, by around 65%,” he said.
Of the freshmen running for senate this year, among them could be the next deputy chair of the senate or committee chairs, as we have already seen. However, they must first survive campaign season. Arbiter explains, “I don’t think running as a freshman is much different from running any other year. Either way, campaigning is a lot of work.” Statistically, though, freshmen may have better odds than one might think.