FOR TWO CONSECUTIVE elections, held just two weeks apart, the students of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) chose to abstain from voting any of the candidates who ran for Student Council (SC) President, in what appears to be either a searing indictment of the state of politics and discourse in the College or an unfunny joke that just cost the CAS four great student leaders.
Karl Marx, in his book “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” wrote that “[Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Although he never believed that history repeated itself, in this passage, Marx affirmed what Hegel had originally suggested: that there are significant events in our history that often reemerge in different forms, sometimes even with a hint of irony or absurdity.
The repeated prevalence of “abstain” as the ultimate victor in our recent elections seems to resonate with this notion, casting an extremely critical light on the state of our mini democracy in the CAS. What began as an exchange of personal barbs between two warring factions has evolved into a fight for a better SC leadership.
There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to dissecting and interpreting the results of the previous two elections. First, that the overwhelming number of abstentions is a resounding message sent by the student body, that they yearn for genuine representation and meaningful change within the SC. Second, that the rise in the number of “abstain” votes is a means to just “shake up” the system that is seen as too often rigid and unbothered in its flow, that there are certain sectors that just want to sow disorder in what is otherwise a habitually smooth-sailing process.
The first point of view outlines the need for genuine student empowerment and active participation in shaping the future of CAS. For those who subscribe to this notion, the record number of abstentions should serve as a sort of “wake-up call” to the student body, the political parties, and to the SC to get its act together. They believe that no candidate who ran in the two separate elections for SC President was truly qualified for the job and that none of them represented the values they hold dear as Bedan voters.
For the second school of thought, those who opted to abstain saw the act of abstaining as a means to challenge the existing system and to bring attention to its flaws. For this viewpoint, the quality of the candidates themselves does not matter, as whomever ran would have never received their support anyway. They might be inclined to believe that a “vacuum of leadership” was a necessary phenomenon to bring to attention the many grievances they share over the policies being implemented in the campus, as the SC election was the only vehicle to express their dismay. In other words, the abstentions were a “protest” of sorts, coursed through a legitimate and valid process, and in the guise of “discontent.”
While both perspectives stress the overwhelming need for immediate change and improvement in the ways things are done in the College and in the University at large, they attempt to approach the issue from distinct angles. Whether it is just to simply advocate for genuine student leadership or to lodge a strong protest over the way things are going, both schools of thought further the idea that the vacancy in the SC presidency may finally be a catalyst for transformation.
Regardless of which school of thought resonates with students, it is becoming clear that urgent action is needed to address the concerns of the CAS community. There is, at the moment, not just a vacuum of leadership, but also an absence of an environment of open communication, transparency, and accountability. For far too long, the student body has been the “outsiders looking in,” with limited opportunities to have their voices heard, primarily during SC elections only. There is now a pent-up demand for meaningful student engagement and an assurance that all our voices are not merely heard but are actually valued in the decision-making process.
And so, as we move forward with the forthcoming convention of a student assembly, the penultimate means through which we can resolve this debacle once and for all, we must come to an agreement that a resounding message has been sent loud and clear by the “abstain” forces. But as entertaining as this entire fiasco has been, one “abstain” win is a tragedy, another one is a farce already, a “stain” on our conduct and maturity as voters. That said, no longer should we accept the proliferation of a vacuum, and we should now slowly begin to fill that void by convening some of the College’s best and brightest collection of student leaders to carve us a path out of this mess. Together, let us turn this moment into a catalyst for positive change and forge a brighter, stronger, progressive, and more vibrant future for the CAS and its fledgling student democracy.
Cartoon by Rizian Balleta