Overcoming the Apathetic Majority

The fresh spring air. The beginning of Greek rush. The inordinate amount of emails and fliers invading every corner of virtual and physical space on this campus. It can only mean one thing: ASSU Election season is here. Every year, numerous articles, op-eds, and small-scale diatribes are penned bemoaning this annual rite of passage for Stanford’s would-be-politicos and kingmakers.

In some ways, you can’t help but agree a bit with the criticisms. Every platform sounds the same. The 30 freshmen running for Senate have no idea what they’re doing/what they’re talking about. The endorsing organizations are too political. I hate getting spammed eight times a day by these people. And the ASSU doesn’t do anything, anyway.

We have all heard these remarks. But I am here today to say that beyond all the justified critiques, election season matters, and in some very big ways to boot. If you are reading this, you are most likely a Stanford student. If that is the case, you most likely belong to a student group. That means the ASSU Election should matter to you. The Undergraduate Senate’s chief function is that of appropriation. At some point, whether the student group is supported by General Fees or Special Fees, the Senate has seen and modified your budget. This power, while understated, tangibly alters the day-to-day realities of student life on campus.

People kvetch that the ASSU is a do-nothing organization that it is too big, too bureaucratic, and too petty to ever get anything done. Given the lack of institutional memory on this campus, it becomes very easy to forget that the “ASSU” is actually the small set of people we elect every April. The apathetic political culture on this campus thusly enables individuals and organizations that are at best ambivalent about the mundane, bread and butter issues that really define our collegiate experience here on the Farm.

Why should a candidate who purports to be concerned about “green issues” work to extend hours for Arrillaga? Does a health and well being politico care about your hatred of Parking, Transportation & Services, and will a transparency candidate do anything to bridge the divide between ResEd and Housing? The ASSU “does nothing” largely because of those individuals we install into office.

Beyond appropriation and boring/concrete student issues, there is a role for the ASSU to help serve as an intermediary between the student body and the administration on campus-wide issues, like the ’09 budget cuts, Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES), and ROTC, among others. Once again, the administrative access afforded to student government leaders is a resource that often goes unnoticed, but which is so important in determining how the university views the ASSU — hopefully as “speaking on behalf of the campus” (or not depending on the circumstances). When you cast your vote, it is incumbent to ask whether that person is the kind of individual you want representing you to the administration.

With such massive turnovers each year in all levels of student government (sans the GSC), there are no checks on what our elected leaders do once they are in office. Grand campaign promises are inevitably met by either the bureaucratic realities of the University or a lack of agency on the part of the representative. We have no mechanism to “vote the bums out,” other than every April to “vote to keep them out.”

Most cynically, we “deserve” the representation that we have. But frankly, we deserve better. And that starts with asking tough questions of candidates, with paying attention to student government throughout the year, and at the very least, with making informed decisions when elections.stanford.edu goes live. Vote to have your voice heard. We will all be better for it.

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