StuCo elections… Some thoughts

19Apr09

So recently Swarthmore College has been going through the process of electing a new Student Council President.  Some history: as I have been told two years ago there were candidates who were very out of touch with the IC/BCC communities to the point of being kind of offensive and generally a disaster.  There was some backlash from the IC/BCC communities demanding (and winning) anti-oppression training’s for StuCo.  The next year a member of the IC/BCC community ran with overwhelming support both in voting and campaigning from the IC/BCC . That’s the abbreviated history and only what I know.

So recently Swarthmore College has been going through the process of electing a new Student Council President.  Some history: as I have been told two years ago there were candidates who were very out of touch with the IC/BCC communities to the point of being kind of offensive and generally a disaster.  There was some backlash from the IC/BCC communities demanding (and winning) anti-oppression training’s for StuCo.  The next year a member of the IC/BCC community ran with overwhelming support both in voting and campaigning from the IC/BCC . That’s the abbreviated history and only what I know.

 

This year: before the elections (to my knowledge during the week prior to the election) one of the candidates began meeting with some leaders of the IC/BCC community to inquire as to what our “communities needed” and how he could be our voice, after the first two meetings and some helpful suggestions the whole being “the voice of the IC/BCC” thing stopped and it was more “our needs” focused.  When it comes to these meetings I found them kind of tokenizing, the whole find one POC to explain what the whole community needs is problematic.  That being said, at least he reached out.  My main issue had less to do with his tokenizing outreach program and more the complete lack of experience, which he himself admitted to.

 

The debate: at the debate it became abundantly clear that neither candidate had any experience with “our communities.”  Question after question from a member of different IC/BCC groups were answered with lackluster, uninformed and sometimes frustrating answers.  My favorite was the question of the candidates favorite event thrown by an IC/BCC group and why.  This one felt like it should have been easy, as someone who has been involved in planning so many events there had to be at least one.  One of the answers was a Ramen study break thrown by Han that the candidate just happened across and the other candidate referenced the parties we had in Paces and Olde Club and vaguely alluded to some important conversations she had with members of the various community.

 

After this highly disappointing debate many folks started a NOTA (None of the Above) campaign in hopes of finding a more diverse group of candidates to run that would better speak to the needs of our communities.  This campaign caused serious backlash from other parts of the Swarthmore community.  Much of this can be found in the comments section of this article: http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2009/4/15/stuco-debate/#c-61

 

My thoughts:  While I think there are some real critiques of the NOTA campaign (which I’m sure they recognize too, no campaign is perfect and mistakes are always made) the vitriol with which parts of the Swarthmore community lashed out was both shocking and disheartening.  Claims that religious (mainly Christian) groups on campus were “more marginalized” than IC/BCC communities was shocking and lacked a serious analysis of the world outside of Swarthmore’s campus.  [Side-note: Christian Supremacy, in the United States is real, own it].  In the same comment claims were made that athletes, musicians, religious folks and other various groups were not complaining so why should the IC/BCC?  Here’s the issue, that’s a tad fucking stupid.  This is why, first of all people of color, queer people, working class students, and women exist in all of those aforementioned groups, it is not as if there are no overlaps or even extreme overlaps.

 

Also, to compare the two in a game of oppression Olympics is kind of fucked up.  There is not historic oppression of athletes, musicians, and definitely not Christians in the United States.  I think many Swarthmore students believe that once we arrive on this campus all of our histories are erased, that we all got here and now that we are equality exists.  Many students on this campus specifically low-income and students of color are coming with long histories of oppression and marginalization.  For these reasons our experiences at Swarthmore are very different from those of white students.

 

I’m also just highly unimpressed with the whole “why didn’t you run your own candidate” argument.  For me the question was not whether or not the student council president is a person of color or not it mattered to me that they were invested in our communities.  For me, in an ideal world the StuCo president would be a person of color, they would also be queer and a woman and have radical progressive politics that took on a fierce new initiative to make StuCo accountable and the Board of Mangers transparent.  Of course, that candidate doesn’t exist, or at least not in any incarnation on this campus.  However, for me, one of the prerequisites for being my Student Council president vote is giving a shit and having serious involvement in the IC/BCC community, that’s my prerequisite because of the things I’m involved in and the communities that I care about.  I would assume that other constituencies have their own set of prerequisites.  For me, this is non-negotiable, and if I view that both the candidates are not meeting this prerequisite than it is my prerogative and in my best self-interest to vote for None of the Above, to say that this person is not representing me and my interests because they have not even done the necessary work to understand those needs, such as, for example, giving a shit to attend any of the amazing events our communities put on.

 

So that’s why I’m voting None of the Above.

 

And also… before I finish this post, a couple of things I would like to clarify, that this election has brought out in people.

 

1.     Reverse racism- not legitimate (get over yourself)

This is a direct message from one of the candidates:  In addition, you may or may not have heard that various persons have been upset with my reaching out to the IC/BCC communities. I’m not quite sure what they would rather have me do, but I have been repeatedly singled out because of my race. Today, the full pinnacle of hatred was reached when i was told “back off” and referred to as “whitey” in one of the forums, by a very brave and very anonymous individual.

I’m not saying these things for sympathy. I knew what I was getting into (kind of) when I decided that running for president was a good idea. We should all be mindful, however, of the full intensity of bigotry and hatred that exists on what purports to be one of the most open campuses in the country. I hope that none of us are afraid to stand against it.

2.     The IC/BCC community is not some marginal fringe group on the campus.  We represent over 30% of the campus, we exist in every class room, every group, every sports team and to treat us like some random annoyed group on campus.  Our voice, our concerns, are important and matter and have to be listened to.

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