As SA vote continues, candidates campaign while students remain apathetic
At noon on Monday, voting links for the 2022 Student Assembly elections were sent to the Cornell student body via email. In the election, there are a total of 16 positions being voted on with 4 contested races, including those of President and Executive Vice President.
While the SA is the official governing body for undergraduate students at Cornell, many students say they don’t understand the purpose of the assembly or what it does.
“Would I have voted if I didn’t know someone running? Probably not,” said Hailey Choi ’24.
Choi, like many Cornell undergraduates, said his greatest connection to the SA is through directly involved peers, rather than political effects or personal involvement.
The SA primarily drafts resolutions that recommend policy changes to the University administration and sets the undergraduate student activity fee and its distribution. It also serves as a liaison between the student body and the Cornell administration, with representatives having the power to have their voices heard by university officials at meetings.
To encourage turnout in the election, South African candidates used a number of campaign strategies. South African presidential candidate and current vice president for finance, Valeria Valencia ’23, said she used Instagram posts and covers of popular songs to reach out to voters.
“[I’ve been] trying to really put myself out there so people know who I am when it comes to my platform and my campaign and everything,” Valencia said.
Valencia is running against SA disabled student representative Duncan Cady ’23, who has highlighted the disconnect between students and SA politics in his campaign.
“There’s been a big disconnect, I believe, between the Student Assembly and the students we’re trying to represent and serve, and right now I’m trying to focus on initiatives that help show how we can end this,” Cady said. “I have submitted more resolutions than any other representative…resolutions aimed at everyday student issues.”
The candidates for executive vice president are Benjamin Luckow ’24 and Amari Lampert ’24, both of whom have described mental health initiatives as a driving force behind their campaigns.
“My main focus is on mental health, and in particular committee work,” said Lampert, the SA’s current women’s issues liaison. “I have worked extensively with both Cornell health and student advocacy work. A lot of [the work] comes down to financing and discussion with the administration.
In his campaign priorities, some of Lampert’s expressed desires include eliminating gym membership fees and extending pass/fail and class drop deadlines — things the AS can support with resolutions. but not accomplish directly. Luckow, on the other hand, focused almost exclusively on using SA to raise awareness of campus issues.
“I didn’t offer any promise of resolutions – that was in my debate. I’m running on nothing,” said Luckow, who is currently an undesignated SA representative at large. “I think if we use our controversial vocal power as student voices and address the right things, we will begin to see results.”
In preparation for his campaign, Luckow researched the campaign promises of former SA executive candidates and said he saw a pattern of broken promises he hoped would not be repeated.
“Most of the time… as soon as [they’re elected], they forget what they ran on. Everything they promised doesn’t exist,” Luckow said.
But while the candidates have all made their presence known through social media campaigns and campus news broadcasts, many students remain disconnected from the SA and its elections.
“Really, there is a big, palpable disconnect between the students and the Student Assembly.” said Ehi Esemuze ’23. “Candidates promise to bridge the bond between the SA and the student body, and that never seems to happen.”
Paloma Galdo ’23 told The Sun that she didn’t feel informed enough to even talk about student election issues.
“I definitely see people promoting it on various social media platforms, but I’m never really interested in delving into it, mainly because I feel like our student body isn’t as powerful to demand changes that students expect,” Galdo said.
While candidates mostly remain passionate about their campaigns and hopeful in the race, students are mostly left with no real reasons or incentives to vote in the elections.
“People need to have a ‘why’ – a reason that not only makes them want to vote, like having a friend in SA, but actually makes them want to vote,” Esemuze said. “If a candidate could give students a ‘why’…they would instantly have my vote.”
The candidates are aware of the problem, and many of them promise to increase community engagement during their tenure.
“As president, I hope to bridge this gap between the community and the representatives. So we can all collaborate, work together and make this campus a better place for everyone,” Valencia said.
Responding to the perspective of those who feel disinterested or unserved by the SA, Luckow called the SA “average,” a popular term used by young people to label something as average or shoddy, in an interview with The Sun, among other media publications and public statements.
“My point in saying SA is ‘average’ is to respond to what I think most people feel…And I feel like that can be attributed to people taking it a bit too seriously. seriously,” Luckov said. “I try not to take it too seriously.”
SA voting remains open to all undergraduates until Wednesday, May 4 at 2 p.m. Voting links can be found in student emails.
Eli Pallrand ’24 contributed reporting.