Recently, an article titled “Why Don’t Students Run for Campus Positions?” was published on The Meredith Herald’s website. The author expressed frustration that people were not running for positions and how it has negatively impacted campus boards. Although it is understandably frustrating to have a small board, not once did the author ask students why they weren’t running for campus positions. To have more student leaders, we need to ask: why aren’t students running for campus positions?
There is a lack of empathy and understanding for students who don’t run for positions. This attitude towards the student body is extremely similar to the administration’s attitude to marginalized students who are advocating for a better Meredith. Rather than seeking to improve the process, the burden and blame are placed onto students to create an inclusive environment for all students. It makes it seem as though students are lazy or have no logical reason to not run for campus positions, and neither is true. It also makes it seem like Student Government and event positions are the only ones where students can make a difference on campus. Additionally, it is an extreme privilege to be continuously listened to and treated well throughout one’s term—a privilege that is not afforded to numerous students who run for positions.
Serving on multiple campus positions requires a time commitment and emotional capacity that not everyone can maintain. Just because someone can serve in multiple positions does not mean everyone else can, nor is it their fault. My previous Student Government Association (SGA) position was serving as a class representative for the Senate. I applied for the position mostly because I learned about it from the campus-wide email after elections were over. Although I was excited to serve, I did not realize just how demanding being a Senator was going to be. In addition to the two-hour time commitment every other week, I had two other positions (with one of them having assigned homework), and I was in class and at work from early in the morning until 5:30 p.m. The 30-minute “break” I had in between was most often the only time to myself I had that day.
Oftentimes, I didn’t sleep much because of the toll my responsibilities took on me. The more students advocate for the student body, the more it has learned of the percentage of people that are students and employees. The demand for SGA representative positions does not allow much room for students to work, go to school and serve.
I recently applied for and accepted the position of the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Chair. I originally did not run for the position because of the negative experiences I had on other DEI-based boards at Meredith. However, once I learned the position would be part of SGA and work with the new DEI Coordinator, I ultimately decided to apply. There were five other applicants besides me applying for the same position which leads me to another point: just because students are not running for the same positions does not mean they are not running for them at all. Students choose positions based on their interests and this position was the best chance to achieve some positive change for marginalized students on campus.
During the interview, I learned that not only is the DEI Chair required to attend all SGA meetings every Tuesday from 5:30-7:30 p.m., but they are also required to have their own board meetings during the week. Being that this is a new position, there will likely be additional meetings to lay the foundation for the future of this position. This is essentially a part-time job with no compensation. I’m not asking for compensation but instead trying to display how demanding SGA executive positions are.
The article also criticized the process of applying for positions after filing week closes and students can no longer run. The argument was that those who choose the applicant choose their friends and therefore the process is rigged. However, this ignores that this already happens during elections. Those who want to focus on diversity and inclusion and give detailed explanations of how they will achieve that often lose to those who are popular among the class, regardless if those candidates break numerous campaign rules. This attitude of applicants also dismisses the accomplishments of those who are chosen to serve. I would like to think I was chosen because I was the most qualified candidate for the position.
Numerous of my friends are student leaders who have held campus-wide positions, and I’ve seen how they are treated. I have seen the emails from their classmates aggressively asking for information that was provided in an earlier email. I have seen staff members put more responsibilities on student leaders than their position called for because their original support dwindled as time went on. My friends are not alone in their experiences and I’m sure other student leaders have shared their frustrations with their friends. It takes a special group of people to do the job effectively while also displaying a positive attitude regardless of the way they’re treated.
Finally, the idea that students not running for positions is “unjust” discounts the true problems on campus. It is unjust that students who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) do not have resources on campus to guarantee their success at a predominantly white institution (PWI). It is unjust that Meredith continues to violate the American Disabilities Act (ADA) with little to no consequences. It is unjust that two religion professors were met with hostility when they asked for a small prayer room for religions other than Christianity. It is unjust that Meredith’s admission policy for transgender and gender-nonconforming people is similar to “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Just because one perceives something to be unfair does not mean it is unjust. What is unjust is the way Meredith as an institution and its leaders treat their marginalized communities. Additionally, it is unjust that all work to improve campus life for marginalized communities is placed on student leaders who are part of those communities, not that organizations don’t have enough people to be on their boards.
Students are not running for positions because “they just don’t want to.” They’re not running because these positions are similar to having a second job, the way our current student leaders are treated and interactions with students who are a danger to marginalized communities. We need to re-evaluate the way we treat our student leaders and make sure they are given respect.
By Charlie Hatch, Contributor