We like to think that the caliber of our students and intelligence inherent in any candidate means that this candidate is doing a good job to represent the average student as class president. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But consider this: If only about 55% of the student body votes (for actual, running candidates) in our presidential or senate elections, (which by the way is a pretty typical turnout nationwide), then the SO government actually represents only a slight majority of the students. How can anyone expect administrators, the campus press, or the students themselves to respect the student body president and the organization when so many students are left out? With that sort of skimpy turnout, SO president can be considered little more than another "special interest" group. "Many students don't vote because SGs [student governments] have a stigma associated with them. It is believed that SGs have little influence around their schools," says Chris Corone, assistant director career service at New Jersey City University.
To truly gain rightful respect as an effective government organization, our SO needs to represent the students across campus. To do this, they must work toward improving voter turnout. They must make it easier for students to run for office, and they should set up web and e-mail voting to get students to take voting seriously. The ultimate goal should be to reach a level of participation comparable to at least two thirds of our student population; only then will the SO truly "represent" the students it claims to. Having strong voter turnout is critical to truly being an effective Student Government. Another flaw of our SO government is that students view the organization itself as out of touch with what the students really want. There are ways to remedy this; after all, survey is more than just the name of Bronx Science's main publication! How can a student president champion issues for the common man/woman/student unless they really know what the students care about? The SO president's campaign must be based on more than their personal opinion. It must be more than "someone told me in class." The candidate may "think" they know what students want of the SO government, but the truth may be far different. How does the class president know what the students want? Unfortunately they rarely get reprimanded by school administrators and faculty if they don't have proof or accurately represent the student population's desires. Having hard data to support its claims gives a student government more credibility and legitimacy. Scientific surveys, polls, focus groups, phone calls, meetings with students should all be part of the SO government's arsenal of fact gathering. The SO government should be talking with students informally and socially, as well as officially through surveys, by speaking to student groups regularly, by mailing (e-mail or regular mail) scientific surveys. The last and seemingly biggest flaw with our current system of student government is that (just as in "real politics") SO presidents tend to not follow through with 'campaign promises'. While students are hardly expecting soda fountains in the halls of school and four hour lunches, it's important for our student government to work hard to actively achieve the realistic goals of the Bronx Science student community. As SO president, you've got to find the right balance between idealism and pragmatism. Can the class president single-handedly change the length of the school day to a more reasonable two hours? Can he or she get you pardoned from your physics test next Friday? Can they get you straight A's? Probably not. But that doesn't mean that its not still important to fight the good fight on issues that matter, issues in which the student government can make a tangible and measurable difference. It's important for the class president to find problems that they can solve in their term of office, ideally. It should be their goal to find three or so issues that they can "win" before their term is over-it may be fighting to overturn arbitrary rules of the school administration, getting the school bike racks, or getting students more libary hours during finals. Its important to find issues that are not so complex that they are impossible to accomplish. If the student government can "win" on these issues, then they set the stage for greater successes long-term on bigger issues that really matter to students and the entire institution. Russ Schumacher, student body president at Valparaiso University has a word of advice for aspiring class presidents, "Get things done that are possible to accomplish," says Russ "There are a few issues that past SGs at our school worked on for years only to be rejected by the administration. We've tried to move on to things that are more realistic. It's important to the students that you get things done. There's nothing that people hate more than to be approached at campaign time by someone running for a position when they think the SG hasn't 'done anything.'". Holly Hogan, Associated Students president at San Francisco State University agrees. "It can be difficult to get things done because there are a lot of hurdles and other bodies to go through. Our future class presidents have to remember that they can't always just go in and do whatever they want. Like the current United States government, we have Student Governments set up with a lot of safeguards to make sure that students don't abuse power. It can be frustrating when you're not a power-hungry person and simply want to do good for your school." When you're student body president, whether you like it or not, you're a 24-hour representative of your organization and your school as an elected official, if we want to remove the stigma of student elections and government, its time that we started to realize this.