When I came to Columbia, I laughed at the students who were campaigning for student council. I thought that we had left the days of try-hard, peppy enthusiasm behind us as we entered this mature world where we focused on studies. Looking at those eager students who vigorously campaigned before we even stepped foot onto campus, I was overcome with schadenfreude and perplexity, wondering out loud, “What did I get myself into?”
I soon learned that people competed for these positions in Columbia College Student Council and the Engineering Student Council because they do allow a certain amount of leadership and privileges the average plebeian student is not afforded. These students get invited to fancy events, like the John Jay Awards Dinner at Cipriani where they post smiling pictures with Deantini, or exclusive ice cream socials at PrezBo’s house. More officially, the privileges allow student council members to have dialogues with the Columbia administration, serve as a link between it and the students, and, perhaps more importantly, act as our representatives.
However, over the past four years, I’ve seen some great initiatives promised during the campaigns that were not met after elections. There have been some individuals who go above and beyond in their role on this council, and many, many, many who do not. I can’t tell you the number of times my friend on CCSC has asked me to come help him with a student council activity because the 16 other people in his CCSC group chat (elected and appointed council including) ghosted him.
Although CCSC attempts to be more accessible and transparent to a broad audience, it fails to do so with consistency: Sub-committee meetings and meeting minutes only have summaries of students talking to administrators—without transcripts. In fact, the CCSC livestreamer just resigned! Also, there are currently no documents on the CCSC website that track meeting attendance for spring 2019. From what I’ve heard, attendance is known to be continuously poor. It seemed to me that many people wanted this “elite” status on campus but were not willing to do the menial tasks associated with it.
So what does CCSC even do? Are members just glorified figureheads praised for giving out Insomnia cookies during finals? And is the yearly pettiness over election results just to see who gets to pass out those cookies?
Many students call on their own personal experiences in their arguments and present platforms with those experiences in mind. Students who run unopposed still must come to debates. Every year, the CCSC elections allow students—candidates and otherwise—to report violations on candidates. These can range anywhere from the petty (a student placed their campaign flyer over another person’s) to ridiculous claims of falsified endorsements and “bullying” campaign videos. Then, candidates take part in debates and prove why they are most qualified to lead in the position they are vying for. These violations—of which only some candidates are found guilty—display the true character of the candidates. Ironically, these students tout improving mental health as one of their campaign platforms but often seem to adopt a hyper-competitive, un-empathetic mentality that stresses out so many. It’s in these violations that the pinnacle shitshow of elections can be witnessed.
Perhaps that’s the reason why, alongside confusion over what this council does exactly, many positions in CCSC and ESC elections often go uncontested. Students may experience a malaise over petty politics, much like the American populace during the 2016 election, and therefore decide not to run.
Even when CCSC does make changes within our communities, such as the MetroCard subsidies that only went to a few select students chosen by lottery, the positions seem to remain largely performative by nature. Obviously certain positions on CCSC have a wider jurisdiction and larger presence on campus, therefore making them more impactful than others, but not all.
This creates an inexperienced and unfilled council that makes me unsure of what certain members have done. Yes, they may counter, “We set up the Tree Lighting,” but that doesn’t actually help me as a student. Sorry. So why is there so much pettiness in CCSC and what does it mean that our elected representatives partake in this behavior?
I can’t answer that definitively, but I can say that CCSC needs a makeover.
The author is a Columbia College senior who thought about running for CCSC but decided against it.
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