With ASSU election season upon us, now is a good time to take a quick look at last year’s outcomes. In 2010, the Stanford Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) endorsed twelve candidates in the ASSU Undergraduate Senate race; ten were elected. The Queer Coalition endorsed ten students; seven were elected. The success rates of candidates endorsed by these two organizations — 70 percent for the Queer Coalition, 83 percent for SOCC and 86 percent for candidates holding endorsements from both organizations — is both astonishing, compared to the 43 percent success rate in the general field, and troubling. The fact that these two interest groups hold so much sway in ASSU election outcomes is perhaps the best proof that Stanford student government has become intensely politicized, with opaque interest groups, meaningless coalitions and buzz-word laden empty rhetoric.
Start with the interest groups. They represent the idea that the interests of colored, queer, Jewish, first-generation, low-income, or environmentally conscious Stanford students are somehow separate and different from the general interests of the student body. For one, this seems flawed considering the stated goal of most of these interest groups is to strengthen community as a whole. How is voting in a block of similarly self-identified students advancing this cause? Second, if an ASSU senator actively advances a pro-colored, queer, or Jewish agenda, they risk failing their more important duty, representing the interests of the entire student body. The ASSU Election Commission makes matters worse, adding legitimacy to the endorsement system by making them centrally available on the official website. Banning endorsements altogether is obviously extreme, but the Election Commission has no reasonable interest in recognizing them.
On to the coalitions and buzz-words. Last year 12 senate candidates ran as a part of the Stanford United Now (SUN) coalition with a platform centered on promoting “student government that enacts pragmatic change on the issues important to all students.” Will all those opposed to pragmatic change or those who don’t care about issues that students care about please stand up? It’s barely a stretch to assume every member of SUN was also for promoting wellness, mental health, special fee reform and diversity. And don’t forget they were all green, too. While a platform comprised of tackling these buzz-word issues sounds admirable, it is nearly universal, and consequently meaningless.
The ASSU Senate itself is a glorified “Ways and Means committee,” holding the key to the special fee chest, coupled with event planning and sponsorship responsibilities. So what actionable steps can ASSU senators take to “promote diversity”? They could seek to make funding for minority student communities easier or harder to access. So tell us specifically which you intend to do. They could also plan or sponsor more events celebrating the diversity of the Stanford community. Tell us, in exact terms, what events you envision. “Special fees”? We’ll take a wild guess and go ahead and say most candidates this year will be pro-reform. But do you plan on making funds more accessible or less accessible? Do you want the process to be more direct — decided by the student population — or less direct — a greater role for the appropriations committee? And what do you plan on doing with the refund loophole? We could close it or make the groups that people request refunds for suffer the consequences of students voting with their feet.
And finally “wellness” and “mental-health.” How exactly do you plan to reduce the stress of a 10-week quarter system at one of the most competitive universities in the world? The Stanford student body is already the proud owner of the most expensive pre-school classroom imaginable, the ASSU Wellness Room. We probably don’t need another one or a playground for that matter, but if you want to build either, tell us. Or let us know exactly what promoting “wellness” means for the average Stanford student.
We understand that most campaigns in the “real world” are won and lost on vague and idealistic promises, but this is exactly why Stanford student government should not try to emulate California state government. Those we elect to ASSU Senate will be dealing with small detailed changes and specific events, which (sorry to say) will not change the world. And yet we as students allow candidates who avoid anything vaguely resembling a detail in favor of sweeping, general, fluffy campaigns to win.
The take home message is three fold. For the ASSU Election Commission: there is a legitimate, community building interest in refusing to recognize endorsements by any group or person. For those seeking elected office: rhetoric is cheap, especially buzz-words like “diversity,” “special fee reform” and “wellness.” Tell us what you actually plan to do, and do it by using words that have actual meaning. Finally, for everyone: don’t vote as a block. And more importantly, demand from candidates an actionable platform that differentiates them from others. Everyone wants a more cohesive, diverse, inclusive Stanford community. Let’s decide for ourselves who can deliver.