Student Union elections are nearly upon us, but before the first campaign banner is unfurled and the first platform speech is given, something needs to be said about the quality of many SU campaign points each year.
As a fifth-year university student, I’ve spent a large portion of those five years criticizing Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates for talking about vague platform points without any real concrete promises. But I have to admit, it’s not as simple as pointing these candidates towards some hypothetical, clear solution to solve the problem. These are complicated issues.
But at this point, it’s obvious that campaigning on buzzwords and vague promises during election season without real plans to improve areas of campus life continues to happen all too often, and has grown tiresome, monotonous and overall useless to the voter base.
I’ll admit that I’m not totally sure how to improve the usual points harped on every year, like student engagement, representation or even the dreaded buzzword of sustainability. But neither do many of the candidates we’re continuously asked to vote for it would seem, and making weak claims to improve these areas is doing more harm than good.
Every year, candidates seek to solve the age-old problems plaguing the U of A student body for as long as anyone can remember. Not only are these campaign points uninspired, repetitive and inherently promising nothing to students, they’re also essentially the job description of these positions. It’s like walking into a job interview for a cook position at Boston Pizza and telling your potential employers that you’ll properly prepare food for customers. It’s what’s expected of you and shouldn’t have to be said.
These campaign points are useless. A lot of students couldn’t tell you what exactly their President or some of their Vice-Presidents have specifically done to make their lives on campus better in the past year, but they could all tell you what they hear about from these candidates every single year. And it’s these same issues. If a student already doesn’t vote, isn’t engaged in campus politics and doesn’t pay attention to their SU, it’s very likely their one interaction with the SU each year of their degree is a classroom talk featuring a different Presidential hopeful talking about these same points each year.
When student politicians campaign this year, they must make a commitment to promising real progress and improvements to campus life. They must identify areas of the U of A that aren’t desirable enough or of a high enough quality for students, and make promises about what exactly they’ll do to fix it.
If this all sounds obvious or overly simplistic, then you’re forgetting we currently have an SU President whose campaign posters boasted a bare-bones platform about improving student representation and student engagement, without any real weight behind those points.
Posters should be used to relay quick bullet points of information about what will be done to help solve these problem areas of student life. Don’t assume your voter base is so unintelligent to see a phrase like ‘Maximize student representation,’ and buy it as a legitimate plan.
Student apathy is only fuelled by these vague non-promises. To the average U of A student that doesn’t vote and doesn’t particularly involve themselves with decisions of students council, it could very easily seem like their Student Union is run by a never-ending train of politicians promising essentially the same thing. And if the same promises are made by different people ever year, it’s easy to tune out those candidates. It starts to seem like nothing can be done to fix these points if they’re an annual election issue.
The real problem is keeping students engaged throughout the year. Very few students are going to care about voting in a new President in March if they never heard from the last one outside of a few emails and Facebook posts in the six months of school beforehand. Most won’t read the executive’s blog posts, won’t attend students’ council or catch up on the minutes, won’t step foot very often in SUB and won’t read their emails. It’s difficult to figure out how these students will be reached, but if candidates need concrete goals of what they want to do in office to initially interest these students in the first place.
Once students are invested in a candidate, it should be easier for them to stay interested in what they do in office. But without a compelling campaign in the first place, many students will simply continue to tune out their student politicians.
An onslaught of the senses is forced on U of A students by campaigning candidates every year. Campus seems abuzz with excitement over who’s running for what, and who’s going to win. But if that excitement is truly ever going to be translated into a higher voter turnout, and real student engagement come the fall of the next year, candidates should start by campaigning on real promises this year.