Where are the Seniors in Student Government?

Earlier this semester, Students’ Council (SC) ran elections for various positions within SC, Honor Council, and the Joint Student-Administration Alcohol Policy Panel (JSAAPP). Missing from the ballot were nominees for SC Senior Representative and JSAAPP Senior Representative.

Although these positions remained vacant in the first round of elections, Hunter Sentner ’16 was nominated for and elected SC Senior Representative in the second round. However, JSAAPP failed to find a nominee and is still in search of a Senior Representative. According to JSAAPP Co-Head Meg Palmer ‘17,  the alcohol policy requires that JSAAPP fill this position.

JSAAPP plans to appoint a Senior Representative if no one is nominated.

“To be honest, I didn’t even know that the election was open until I received the email in the second round when no one was running,” said Sentner.“I thought, ‘Well, someone needs to take this position; it’s very important.’”

Sentner had not previously held a SC position, though he said that most students with a SC leadership role have been involved with the student-run organization since their freshman or sophomore years.

“I didn’t realize I wanted to get involved until I was a senior,” said Sentner.“[My realization came] partly from growth and increased awareness of the political issues on campus that have been slightly polarizing among different groups, and also from wanting to get involved and help facilitate these processes.”

Although Sentner ran in part because of his experiences over the past four years, this does not seem to be the general trend on campus.

“You really want to be involved because you spend your first year here, and it was either great or it wasn’t,” said JSAAPP Co-Head Lauren Pronger ’18. “You want to fix it or you want to keep it the way it was. [But] as a senior, you don’t have as much of an investment because you’re not going to be there the next year.”

Many students find it more difficult to hold a leadership position as a senior due to the time commitment. In addition to coursework, sports, and extracurricular activities, seniors, unlike other students, have to write their theses.

Even for underclassmen, however, the time commitment can still be a problem. Brian Guggenheimer ‘16 currently serves as Honor Council librarian, and has served in various Honor Council positions since his freshman year. Guggenheimer resigned from his position as Co-Chair during his sophomore year, though, partly due to the number of hours the position required. (This Fall Break, the SC Co-Secretaries resigned, also due to the time commitment. However, the amount of work required of the SC Co-Secretaries will likely decrease as a result of this year’s plenary resolution to instate an Elections Coordinator).

Although the time commitment and other logistical issues—such as holding elections early in the year when students are still adjusting, as Sentner noted—may factor into a student’s decision not to run for student government, there are also other issues at play.

“The question as I see it is, ‘Why are people reluctant to assume student government positions at Haverford and why is it not a more popular and contested thing?’ ” Guggenheimer asked.

Guggenheimer added that leaving positions open in the first election is not specific to the senior class; for example, many juniors choose to study abroad, reducing the number of people who are able to represent their class. According to Claire Dinh ’16, SC Co-President, the number of students who decide to run varies from year to year.

Data from elections over the past four years reveals the pervasiveness of the issue. In the first round of elections in fall 2012, spring 2013, fall 2013, spring 2014, and spring 2015, respectively, there were no nominees for: Junior JSAAPP Representative; JSAAPP or Honor Council Co-Secretaries; JSAAPP Senior Class Representative; SC Co-Secretaries, Co-Treasurers, Officer of the Arts and a fourth representative for Honor Council; and Honor Council Sophomore Representative.

Guggenheimer attributes this lack of participation in student government to a few interrelated factors.

“[Student government] is a lot of work, but most of it is not really appreciated,” said Guggenheimer. “Because of that, it’s not very attractive to do that work unless you have some strong motivation to see something specific changed. And even then it often feels as though student government at Haverford is powerless to really make substantive changes to anything.”

Lack of recognition among students has also been an issue for JSAAPP, according to Palmer. She believes that there is a disconnect between what JSAAPP does on campus and how students perceive it, as reflected in the fact that JSAAPP does not have an office, is not grandfathered into the budget as Honor Council is, and did not have a seat at plenary this year.

For Guggenheimer, this is one of the key reasons why SC and JSAAPP might struggle to attract nominees more than Honor Council does: students are not aware of what these institutions do on campus. Honor Council, unlike SC and JSAAPP, holds trials, which require five non-Honor Council jurors to serve on each trial. This gives students the opportunity to learn more about the organization and determine if they would be interested in getting involved, he said.

Although there are various explanations for this year’s election results, Dinh believes that disengagement is not one of them.

“I don’t think people here are lazy or not motivated; I think that we find the things that we’re passionate about and, for some people, it’s student government, and for some people it’s not,” Dinh said.

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