As eager ASSU Senate candidates mill about dining halls, White Plaza and dorm meetings soliciting votes from their peers, the question of what makes a good senator is increasingly present in campus conversations. This year’s ASSU Senate has received especially harsh criticism for its ineffectiveness, and an uncharacteristically low number of candidates are currently seeking to become members of the 14th ASSU Senate. With these barriers in mind, then, this marks a particularly relevant time to reflect upon what makes an ideal senator.
Though 80 percent of the current ASSU Senate candidates are in the class of 2015, the ideal senator is not a freshman. Though freshmen are enthusiastic and dedicated to the idea of student government, many of them lack a comprehensive understanding of the ASSU Constitution and the purpose of the Senate, to say nothing of the intricacies of financial appropriations. This is not to say that all freshmen are unqualified; rather, it is a reflection of an emerging pattern in the ASSU Senate whereby senators spend the first quarter of their term getting up to speed instead of carrying out their platforms. The institutional memory that upperclassmen (both incumbents and students without prior ASSU experience) offer to the Senate is invaluable, as it helps to facilitate the transition and ensure that incoming Senators have a strong existing knowledge about how the ASSU functions.
Current freshmen running for Senate should not be precluded from doing so, but they should be diligent about ensuring that their understanding of the Senate’s structure and purpose is sound. Being realistic about what the Senate can and cannot accomplish is one of the most important characteristics of a senator, as that humility in turn informs the way the candidate views the scope of his or her responsibilities. Reflecting this viewpoint, one of the recommendations of the recent governing documents report was to mandate that a minimum of four senators be upperclassmen. A more heterogeneous mix of undergraduate senators, mixing both freshmen and upperclassmen, would create a stronger ASSU Senate.
Senate candidates should also realize that the ASSU should not be a vehicle for personal ambition. Any extracurricular pursuit that is motivated primarily by a desire to spruce up a resume, particularly student government, is not likely to result in a productive outcome for the senator or the students he or she claims to represent. In the context of student government, hubris and ego are extraordinarily destructive forces, impeding the extent to which senators can work together and create tangible legislative outcomes.
The ideal senator also has experience outside of student government that he or she can bring to the ASSU. This experience is broadly defined, and can include working as a resident assistant (RA), serving as the financial officer (FO) for a voluntary student organization, or leading a student start-up. A resident assistant, for example, understands how to work with different (and sometimes divergent) interests and individuals. Experience as a leader of a start-up or as an FO is especially relevant, as well, as these roles give the candidate crucial background in the minutiae of appropriations, which is what the ASSU Senate does writ large.
The core function of the ASSU is to connect students with various types of resources. Senate candidates may promise transparency, advocacy and accessibility, but many seem to drown in these buzzwords, losing sight of what the ASSU can and should do for students. The Editorial Board believes that restoring trust in the ASSU Senate means electing senators who are realistic, experienced, and humble. By looking past platitudes and searching for substance and diverse experiences, Stanford students can elect representatives who will produce impactful results.