Verbum Ultimum: A Troubling Trend

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 4/14/16 5:37pm

This weekend, the Dartmouth undergraduate student body will have the chance to decide which of their peers will represent them in Student Assembly for the upcoming year. The two most talked-about races, for president and vice president, involve six and four candidates this year, with each vice presidential candidate aligning themselves with a presidential one. In the past, The Dartmouth’s editorial board has endorsed a candidate. Two year’s ago we abstained from doing so. As this year’s election approaches, we have chosen to do so again. Instead, we want to discuss some of the troubling trends in Student Assembly elections and the future of our student government.

Anyone who has witnessed a student election, from first grade through graduate school, would agree that they are in many ways solely popularity contests. Student voters focus less on issues that may impact their day-to-day lives and more on voting for their friends or people that come off as cool or popular. In reality, this exists in almost any election in some form or another, and is an issue we do not have a solution for in this one article. What is troubling, however, is the fact that in recent years, the popularity contests that are Student Assembly elections have yielded winners that seem to follow some specific, and disturbing, patterns including a lack of diversity and a lack of representation of various kinds of students.

First off, no woman has held the Student Assembly presidency since Frances Vernon ’10. This year’s ticket doesn’t feature a single woman running for the top office, nor did last year’s. In fact, since 1993 women have made up only 17 percent of the total candidates for president.

One could hardly call this representation when women currently make up half of the student body. This lack of representation extends beyond gender, however. Five of the past six Student Assembly presidents have been affiliated. In the past three administrations, four out of the six presidents and vice presidents were members of the same fraternity, Alpha Delta. With roughly 50 percent of Dartmouth students involved in Greek Letter organizations, once again a huge portion of the student body is going unrepresented. If past outcomes are to be used as an indicator for future outcomes, then it seems like the best way to get elected president of Student Assembly is to be a man affiliated with a Greek house. Shocker.

People may point to any number of reasons to explain these patterns. They could say that unaffiliated people or women just don’t run as often as affiliated people and men. Others might say that affiliated people are just better known on a campus at which the Greek system dominates social life. Still others would say that this pattern represents power being passed down within a group of people that comes from the traditionally popular factions of student life. Whatever the cause may be, it seems that the highest positions in Student Assembly, a body that is ostensibly supposed to represent all students, are more accessible to a very particular type of student.

Whether or not this trend will continue in the future remains to be seen. Like we noted above, there are no women running for president this year. As far as affiliation, two presidential candidates are unaffiliated, two are affiliated with fraternities, one is affiliated with a suspended gender-inclusive fraternity and the last was a part of a now derecognized fraternity. One vice presidential candidate is unaffiliated, two are members of sororities and the fourth is affiliated with a fraternity. So, although this year’s election may well continue the established trend of representatives who are Greek-affilated, it also presents the distinct possibility that an unaffiliated student will claim one of the positions.

We are frustrated with this lack of frustration. The candidates themselves are frustrated with Student Assembly. In an April 14 article, one candidate claimed that “Student Assembly is unequipped to tackle the problems facing Dartmouth today.” Another president and vice president pair cited a need for increased transparency and liability from a Student Assembly which has failed to provide both in the past. Still another pair state on their website that Student Assembly needs to focus more on specific goals rather than lofty ones like drafting a Bill of Rights.

All of these points and others made by the candidates drive home the fact that the majority of our community — including those running to join the organization — think that the way Student Assembly operates needs to change. Despite calls for change, the people in charge of this body for the last half decade have been similar in many regards. To be clear, we are absolutely not advising people to vote or not vote for candidates strictly based on whether or not they are affiliated or the gender with which they identify. We are simply asking that people consider that Student Assembly members should be representative of the students they represent, and that this election shouldn’t belong to certain students strictly based on their membership to particular social groups.

The editorial board consists of the editor-in-chief, the publisher, both executive editors and the editorial chair.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!