So, you want to run for office, but like most first-years, you have no idea where to start. Who could blame you? NSOP was only a week ago, and now you have to compete for hearts and minds you didn’t even know existed before Labor Day. It’s impractical at worst, mad at best.
But despite the madness of our first-year election system, winning here may mean winning as an incumbent for a long time. If you want to be a public servant on campus for as long as possible, your time to start is now. Though, I’ll tell you now that the AC-in-John-Jay idea won’t happen until all of us graduate—so here are some more tangible ideas you can spend your print quota on.
First of all, the four student government institutions have many long-standing projects that started before your Convocation. Build on those. There’s a good chance your idea was already proposed and enacted years ago. Take the time to read the mass of student council coverage, which tends to keep abreast of the updates that council members give. Build on those. If they’re still around, email council members and talk about what it was like getting to and occupying the stage. Build on those relationships. You’ll enter office a much more experienced council member than you would otherwise.
From there, you should read about the last couple of controversies your council had to deal with. You can use Spectator as your barometer here. In general, your party should probably have a game plan if voters ask you about free speech or Israel-Palestine, as your constituents will likely raise those questions as the year goes on. Club inclusivity also gained attention last semester, especially for CCSC, so you should also think about whether you want to push clubs to accept people who want to participate in student life, or respect club autonomy. While they may not have strong opinions about it now, they will by the time you’re up for re-election.
Speaking of clubs, I’ve rarely seen students campaign on Financial Transaction Forms (FTFs). Essentially, Columbia has a select group of vendors that student groups can use their Columbia-provided allocation of money on. However, the list isn’t exhaustive, and if a vendor isn’t on the list, groups can’t use their allocation to get goods from them. For example, Chipotle, Insomnia Cookies, and Domino’s Pizza are not vendors. Expanding the vendors list saves clubs a lot of paperwork when they want food from these places (trust me, you’ll see Chipotle and Insomnia a lot during your time here, as many clubs use these establishments to serve their members and the wider public). Students in clubs are your constituents too, and they’ll thank you for some foresight on this.
As a final note, understand what you’re campaigning for enough to know what sounds like a deliverable. Too often first-years come in with plans that sound great on paper, only to discover that Columbia’s bureaucracy rivals the most inefficient administrations. Student government work consists of four pillars: advocacy work, event planning, transparency, and finances. Your largest independent deliverables come from your financial work. The most important thing you can do is have a plan for how you’re going to use the allocation you get from student government, whether that goes into event planning or independent initiatives.
Despite my occasional cynicism, I want you to be able to come away knowing that you did well by 2022. Being your class’ most effective representative is what matters most. So get out there and rally those votes.
The author is the investigations editor of The Blue and White, the undergraduate magazine at Columbia University. If you see him on campus, feel free to talk to him about everything from campus journalism to campus politics and everything in between. Follow him at @ufonumanah on Twitter and visit his blog, The Jotting Jay.
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