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Our executive board candidates for Columbia College Student Council and Engineering Student Council are unopposed this year. Victory is guaranteed. They get to skip the torture of a three-week campaign. And that's a shame.

I say this for a few reasons. The first is pretty obvious: No campaign equals no accountability. These executive boards will assume power next year largely unquestioned. They will represent thousands of students who are unfamiliar with their personalities and policies. But how do we trust them when they've never had to prove their commitment or competence before voters?

My second concern is a little different: that they'll be taking office without the tremendously valuable experience that comes from actually competing in an election.

This comes from personal experience. I'll admit it—when I ran for CCSC executive board two years ago, I was a noob. I had no idea what I was doing or what I was getting into. But ferocious competition is a surprisingly effective education.

As I drafted a platform with the rest of my ticket, we had to weigh big questions. For example, if CCSC has an operating budget of close to half a million dollars, would we want to blow that on council-planned events? Or would we rather empower student groups? Would we want to rent a Ferris wheel costing $10,000 for a weekend, as one of our rivals proposed, or could we rather use that funding to fund a dozen small communities on campus for a year?

As we sought endorsements from clubs, we had to navigate complex intercampus politics. First of all, who were the major players? Then, how could we deliver a message that was inclusive to all identity groups, the mainstream and the marginalized? How could the council work with the administration and support student activists who are at odds with the administration?

And as we dormstormed, we had to answer criticism from ordinary students who were disappointed in the unresponsiveness and detachment of previous student councils. "Why should we vote for you this time?" "How will you be any different?" "Do you have a vision to actually involve students instead of just throwing around pretty-sounding buzzwords like ‘transparency' and ‘engagement'?"

These questions were not easy to tackle. But as underdog candidates, we knew we couldn't BS our way through. Every day for three weeks, we were meeting people on campus and learning as much as we could. Every night, we'd discuss Columbia to the point of exhaustion, battle-testing every one of our arguments and proposals. It was exhausting, but our survival as candidates depended on it.

In the end, our party, Better Columbia, lost narrowly. We cursed, we moped, we drunkenly swore we were done with Columbia. But in truth, that campaign was more important to my Columbia experience than any political science class I've taken or any club I've joined. It forced me to empathize with all the students around me. It made me understand the campus from a macro-level perspective. And it taught me how to fight for something I believe in.

Will the current crop of student council candidates, facing zero opposition, have the same incentive to learn and empathize with the people they are about to represent? Do they truly understand what the needs are of the sprawling, clashing, and constantly shifting communities and subcommunities that make up our campus? And most of all, will they take office knowing how to fight?

Without a real campaign, we have no way of knowing. But just because they are guaranteed victory doesn't mean we shouldn't do our best to demand real answers and real visions from them. We should ask that the Elections Board hold a series of town halls where students can ask them questions and challenge their knowledge. We should expect our campus journalists to grill them.

These next few weeks, let's not settle for platitudes and vague promises of a great upcoming year but demand that student council candidates prove to us that they are worth our vote. We'll all be better for it.

Wilfred Chan is a senior majoring in political science. He is the founder of the Student Wellness Project. Chan-neling Discourse runs alternate Tuesdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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