After 48 hours of polling, the ASSU Elections Commission announced the results of the 2012 ASSU election. Voters selected an ASSU Executive slate, 15 Undergraduate Senators, Graduate Student Council (GSC) representatives, and a class president slate for each undergraduate class, in addition to approving the vast majority of Special Fees requests. Robbie Zimbroff ’12 and William Wagstaff ’12 won the ASSU Executive, garnering an impressive 79.7 percent of the vote in the first round. As this Board endorsed the Zimbroff-Wagstaff slate last week, we are excited for their upcoming tenure and wish them the best of luck.
However, their victory comes on the heels of one of the most poisonous and vitriolic weeks in recent campus history. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, a student posted an image to Facebook purporting to show that current ASSU Vice President Stewart MacGregor-Dennis ’13 – running for ASSU President on a slate with Druthi Ghanta ’14 – used outsourced labor from oDesk.com. The image quickly went viral, and throughout Wednesday other students produced additional items criticizing MacGregor-Dennis. These ranged from relatively harmless – if a bit trite – memes on Facebook to a tasteless Twitter account mocking MacGregor-Dennis’ entrepreneurial zeal. Many of the anonymous comments on The Unofficial Stanford Blog and Stanford Daily were similarly distasteful. Thursday saw two anonymous emails reach the student body, one sharply critical of MacGregor-Dennis from “Senator Palpatine”, and another, sent from “firstname.lastname@example.org,” labelling the Palpatine email as “libelous [sic]” and purporting to unmask Palpatine. Many students expressed dismay at the callousness of their classmates: Deepa Kannappan, a former ASSU senator, wrote “I am incredibly disappointed in the Stanford community right now. This is a STUDENT GOVERNMENT election”.
Yet despite the drama, student turnout in the elections was at least at a five-year low. Among undergraduates, only 63 percent voted, compared to over 75 percent last year. Graduate student turnout was particularly dismal: Participation dropped nearly 30 percent from last year to just 13 percent, and more freshmen submitted ballots than the entire graduate student population combined.
The Editorial Board finds this past week profoundly worrying. While we heartily encourage open discussion and criticism of candidates for elected office – such is necessary for a healthy democratic system – the crassness that has been on full display on Facebook this week is completely inappropriate. Normally genial students, when protected from face-to-face contact by online media, demonstrated their capability for cruelty. The anonymous emails were particularly caustic, with “Palpatine” suggesting that MacGregor-Dennis suffered from anxiety disorder and “Justice” threatening a civil suit and abusing resident computer consultant network tools to attempt to identify Palpatine. Indeed, six weeks ago, we published an editorial about the threat of online flippancy, and these incidents are yet another example of the dangers of the depersonalization of online media. In the future, we urge particular caution with regards to anonymous online rhetoric, as anyone can post ad hominem attacks and otherwise rude content without fear of reproach.
Yet we are also concerned by the declining student interest in ASSU elections. We worry that the large drop in turnout indicates the presence of a large contingent of the student population that feels alienated by the ASSU leadership and its initiatives. This is not entirely surprising; this year’s ASSU spent a great deal of time on internal reforms, and earlier in the year the ASSU Executive received widespread criticism for the incorporation of the entrepreneurship-oriented E2.0 within the ASSU. Whether fair or not, in both cases many students felt that the ASSU was focusing on issues not relevant to them. Alienated students thus found an easy target for their disillusionment after the initial oDesk.com claims surfaced Wednesday morning.
The Editorial Board urges the student body to make this upcoming week a week of healing after the divisive and acidic rhetoric of the past week. Ultimately, each of us – candidates and voters alike – are also classmates, dormmates, and friends. Acrimonious online rhetoric – in search of some validating “likes” from similarly minded friends – does not change the fact that our online speech has the power to wound our peers and the Stanford atmosphere at large. And for those who are disillusioned with the state of the ASSU: Apathetically abstaining from participating in elections as voters and candidates only ensures that the status quo will live on.