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Sense and Nonsense: Student Politics– Depressing, Isn’t It?

I have been looking for the Obama-factor this election cycle, a game-changer who will elevate student politics. Well, maybe next year.

 

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of fanatical campaigning, especially in the Senate race. And it pays; most students who will have won at the end of today picked the cheesiest slogans, knew how to garner the power endorsements and had the money and determination to plaster their faces everywhere, saturating campus with ads, stickers and buttons galore.

 

It is disillusioning to witness so many candidates who probably knew they were running for Senate before they knew what they stood for. Quotes in my Facebook News feed right now include people saying they “dislike politics as usual,” “want to work at ASSU if it means they get to be an ass” and, my personal favorite, “I just summarily defriended someone who Facebook chatted me with a link to some random op-ed about the ASSU executive campaign. Let that be a lesson to you all.”

 

Many students are more enthusiastic about the campaign of Senator Palpatine than any other candidate. This is because we see how campaigns are run and won and how senators bicker and cater to insiders once in office. There is no genuine incentive for them to think hard and honestly about what they should do.

 

These are, of course, broad generalizations; I hope and expect that at least a couple of the people who win are also the kind of people we would want to have in office. But we see more facades than people among our student politicians. There are probably many students out there who would be wonderful student representatives, but hate the idea of campaigning, especially once they get a glance of what Stanford Senate campaigning is like.

 

All the fanaticism creates a moment of glory for organizations like The Stanford Review, elevated to a couple weeks of prominence where they can feel that no matter how few students traditionally follow their content (sorry, Reviewers), they can have a serious impact on campus elections. To their credit, however, groups like The Review illustrate the substantive debate behind the craziness, a debate that should be characterizing our elections, not just underlying them.

 

The Review is the cornerstone of the politically conservative camp that competes with our campus community centers’ favorite candidates in ASSU elections. Amid the gimmicks of campus elections, both camps fail to recognize the legitimate concerns of the other that would help create a meaningful political discussion.

 

The conservative camp does not see much value in promoting a culturally vibrant and diverse campus (at least not if it takes any money to do it). Their biggest failure is a failure to understand community centers except in terms of what they do for students at large, as if the only role of community centers is to create a more culturally diverse and vibrant Stanford for everyone. In this narrow view, community centers are seen as promoters of diversity at the expense of equality. I have heard multiple people question why there is no “White Community Center” or “Men’s Community Center,” as if this illustrates some inequity. The answer should be obvious; there is no genuine demand because the “cultural” group defined as white male students (or any other group that does not seek a center) already finds a culturally comfortable environment. We fool ourselves if we think that every member of a community center would feel equally comfortable on campus without that community and show a total inability to empathize and recognize the demands from equality for ensuring that no student feels culturally alienated. Each student should have the guarantee of a community, minorities included.

 

On the other hand, the conservative camp has legitimate points about funding and fiscal restraint. Special fees keep increasing each year, as do student refund requests. This creates a disparity among students in carrying the burden for our student groups (some students can more reasonably afford to contribute, but this is not the only cause of the divide). Furthermore, student groups have little incentive to be moderate in their requests, so we need some central body to institute structural tools that encourage fiscal responsibility. While this does not mean the Senate should be dismissive of the needs and justifications of student groups (as some were this year), it does mean the Senate has an important role in overseeing funding. Furthermore, if we are wasting money on programs that are expensive and ineffective, good intentions are not enough to justify them.

 

These are the types of discussions we should be having–an election should be a time to learn, challenge ourselves and change our minds. Our current elections do little to help in this process.

 

Think you can give Aysha some uplifting news about campus elections? Send her your comments at abagchi@stanford.edu. No campaign plugs, please!

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