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The Times They Are a-Changin’

A commentary on the new student council plan

Change is everywhere. From the ebb and flow of the pounding tides of the Pacific, to the chaotic foot-traffic of a thriving metropolis, it can seem like change is the only constant in life. For some, change is terrifying; for others, comforting. But for all, it is inevitable. It is curious, really ‒ the only thing humanity can ever count on is not being able to count on anything at all.

Now that all the fancy philosophizing and pretentious prose is out of the way, we can talk about the fun stuff: politics! If you have been paying attention to the politics of our school recently, you will likely have noticed that several changes have occured to our student council during the last few weeks of school. If you have not been paying attention, no worries. After you read this article, you will know all about the student council and the upcoming changes to it ‒ whether you want to or not!

The most important thing you should know about our school’s student council (or, as many call it, STUCO) is that it has problems. Of course, having problems is not exactly a unique trait ‒ our council is about as rare as a blade of grass on that front ‒ but it is still crucial to note. Now, I am not going to list every single problem the student council has here, but there are three issues that are particularly pertinent. These key issues combine to create an ineffective representative body, almost as if the student council were some bootleg Voltron composed of insufficiency and unhappiness. 

“These key issues combine to create an ineffective representative body, almost as if the student council were some bootleg Voltron composed of insufficiency and unhappiness.”

The first misstep of our metaphorical Megazord of melancholy is the lack of specific roles and formal powers for each member. Sure, the 2021 AJA STUCO Information Packet & Nomination Application states that grade representatives are meant to “represent the interests of their grade” and “assist with the implementation and planning of grade wide [sic] programming,” but it does not give any more details about how this should happen, and it certainly does not grant the representatives any powers. This lack of specified roles ‒ which can be found not only with the grade representative position, but also with the cabinet members and co-presidents ‒ has the unfortunate consequence of causing the student council to neglect its duty of representing the student body. Without setting out clear methods for representation, this necessary function falls to the wayside.

The new plan for the student council takes some steps to remedy this issue. It mandates quarterly town hall meetings with the student body. It also creates three collaborative “Leadership Committees,” each comprising two of the three student council positions and an administrator. The committee composed of the co-presidents and grade representatives is tasked with representing and advocating for the student body; the committee composed of each grade’s cabinet member and grade representatives is tasked with creating grade-level events; and the committee composed of the cabinet members and co-presidents runs whole-school events.

However, in my opinion, the new plan does not do enough to rectify the lack of specified roles and powers. In the future, I would also like to see a third, independently elected representative president position, tasked with overseeing the representative functions of the student council. This would have six main benefits. First, it would maintain the benefits of a slate election, where students elect a predetermined pair of candidates, for the co-presidency. The two co-presidents would be safe in the knowledge that they can work well together when planning events. Second, it would more clearly separate the roles of representation and event organization. In the new model, the co-presidents are still tasked with both roles, which risks a situation where they backslide into neglecting representative responsibilities in favor of creating events. Adding a representative president would help avoid this scenario. Third, it would ensure that elected candidates are good at all their duties. Nobody can be perfect at everything, and people who may be great at planning events will not always be great at listening to suggestions, for instance. With an added representative president, they would no longer need to be perfect in order to perform their duties. Fourth, it would maintain a balance of work between positions. In both the current student council and the new plan, the co-presidents have many responsibilities. This may lead to them neglecting some of their duties. However, when these responsibilities are split, it lessens the workload and eliminates this issue. Fifth, it would ‘canonize’ the representative role of the student council by dedicating an entire position exclusively to fulfilling it, without drastically increasing the number of students on the council. And finally, it would alleviate concerns regarding the lack of representation for the student body as a whole, and not just individual grades. In the new structure, the vast majority of representatives are focused exclusively on their own grade; the co-presidents, who are already burdened with event planning, are the only position with representative duties to be elected by the whole school. A third president, elected by everybody, would be a welcome addition, ensuring the presence of an authority figure who would keep everyone in mind.

The second fault of our figurative fusion of forlornness is that the previous council plan does not guarantee equal representation. In past years, elections have essentially boiled down to popularity contests. I, myself, have been guilty of voting for my friends, even if I did not necessarily believe that they would provide the best representation for the entire student body. Those who are elected may not always act in the best interests of the students, and they will likely ‒ either intentionally or unintentionally ‒ disproportionately represent the students with whom they are closest.

The new plan does not do much to address the ‘popularity contest’ aspect of elections, other than a few changes to the election process which I discuss later in this article. However, it does introduce something that was sorely lacking in the previous council plan: a freshman cabinet member. This means that freshmen will finally have input in whole-school events, and they will be able to more effectively plan events for their own grade as well.

“As any kind-yet-slightly-disappointed teacher will tell you in their notes on a poorly-written essay, there is always room for growth.”

Again, while this change is great, it is not perfect. As any kind-yet-slightly-disappointed teacher will tell you in their notes on a poorly-written essay, there is always room for growth. In coming years, the council should institute term limits to ensure a built-in diversity of opinion from year to year and to give more students a chance to lead and develop skills. I would also like cabinet members to be elected within their grade, rather than by the whole school, as one of their roles is helping plan grade-level events. The prospect that the whole school will determine what activities my grade plans simply does not sit right with me, particularly when the freshman cabinet member is already being elected within their grade because the freshman elections take place at the beginning of the following year.

The final absurdity of our allegorical assemblage of anguish is the frankly pitiful election process. In past years, the campaign cycle was limited to placing a number of posters on the walls of the school and delivering a single speech. This created a severe dearth of information, meaning students did not know enough to elect the person or people who would be best for the job.

The new plan tackles this issue thoroughly. Rather than a speech, candidates are asked to answer four position-specific questions. Their answers are then posted prominently in the Student Commons so that students can peruse them at their own convenience. Then, during the week of elections, candidates participate in town hall-style debates, where students can ask specific questions to further gauge a candidate’s abilities and readiness. I think these changes have the potential to mitigate the prevalence of unqualified student council members.

The past few years have proven that our student council needs change. Hopefully, the changes that have been instituted this year will help our student council prove itself in the next few years. Even if the changes are not perfect, and they do not fix every problem, I believe they have the potential to improve the council significantly. So here’s to change, the only thing humanity can count on. And here’s to a slightly more efficient and sensible student council at AJA.

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