Is our give-a-damn busted?

Digging into CWRU’s uncontested student elections

The Observer

For the average person, March Madness is equated to college basketball. But this year at Case Western Reserve University, it also represented the Undergraduate Student Government election process, which kicked off March 3 and ended March 28. Did you notice? Did you care?

While the number of votes varies by race, approximately 1550 undergraduate students submitted a ballot. But of the seven executive positions up for grabs, three—including the position of president—were uncontested. For as often as students seem to complain about CWRU and the student experience here, one would expect these races to be as crowded as Grad Night at the Jolly Scholar. Instead, they were as empty as the Case Club at 2 p.m.

USG is not alone in the fight to create fights for executive positions. After all, the Class Officer Collective elections, which occurred at the same time as the USG elections, had just one contested race—and that’s being generous. The aforementioned shooting match was only between two write-in candidates, who both violated COC’s campaign policies, and the incumbent.

Across the pond, none of the University Media Board’s executive committee positions were contested. Although UMB votes for its leaders internally, the apparent disinterest among board members to fill the organizations’ voids is disheartening. (Editor’s note: UMB is the umbrella organization under which The Observer falls.)

Other universities do not seem to have the problem CWRU currently faces. The most senior and visible leadership roles are warzones for ideas, policies and promises. But here, students seem to shy away from confrontation. And thus the cycle of caring is broken.

How can UMB, USG and COC expect the full buy-in of their constituents after exhibiting such relaxed and lackluster elections? Put simply, if their existing members don’t care enough about the organization to fight to lead it, then why should the average student care enough to join it?

And let’s not forget that the CWRU student culture does nothing to aid the situation. Spartan students tend to be scholars first and everything else second. It’s hard to convince a double major in Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry that his or her time in the USG office is comparable in importance to the time spent pursuing his or her academic career.

A culture shift needs to occur. Students who shy away from being a campus leader because it conflicts with their academic pursuits must come to realize the value in experiential learning. After all, these are the same students who fight for research opportunities because they provide hands-on experience but forgo leadership roles because they “don’t have the time.”

Running an organization is just as important and rewarding as conducting research in a laboratory. Rather than reinforce a principle of chemistry or biology, leadership roles teach students how to communicate, think strategically and problem solve. What employer or graduate program wouldn’t appreciate these skills alongside the ability to titrate?

More importantly, qualified students who keep their name off of a ballot are failing to contribute to the Case Western Reserve community. They are nothing more than warm bodies with a propensity to complain in hopes that someone else translates their words into actions.

It is hard to change the overall mentality of the undergraduate student body from the current culture, but that does not mean we should not try. The Office of Student Activities and Leadership has made some attempts, especially for first-year students. SAL hosts multiple programs and workshops with the purpose of coaxing out the inner-leaders of CWRU students.

One of the more impressive workshops helps students pinpoint their talents by using an online identification tool called StrengthQuest.

The tool aims to focus a student’s unique talents for the greater good as a campus leader. This is exactly what all students at CWRU should do: learn their skillset and find a way to leverage it for the betterment of our community.

We need more students to participate in activities where the word “leader” entails something more than a title to brag about on graduate or professional school applications.

And those who feel that their place isn’t at the head of an organization need to recognize their power and responsibility to ensure that elected leaders are truly serving the student body by participating in elections and forums created with this intent. Because while academics are invaluable, the ability to evoke change is insurmountable.