Don’t hate, more involvement is great

Having fewer candidates doesn’t reflect student apathy; it’s a symptom of the vitriol directed at students

Tyler Hennick, Comm ’14

Running a campaign was the scariest thing I’ve done in my four years at Queen’s.

Just a month before the vote, I almost gave up on running the campaign that led to my election as the current Commerce Society (ComSoc) President. I knew that running would open me up to criticism, both to my face and behind my back. I also knew at the time that I’d have an opponent running against me.

If it wasn’t for the support of my friends, I would have quit. I was uplifted by their confidence in me and, ultimately, ComSoc had its first contested election in three years.

This year, executive elections across campus are unfortunately being characterized by a lack of candidates. Candidates in the Arts and Science (ASUS), Commerce (ComSoc), Computing (COMPSA) and ConEd (CESA) societies are only being faced with a vote of confidence from the students, as Nursing (NSS) candidates were in the Fall. Even the AMS election, which often sees three teams, only has two.

One thing most of us can agree on is that contested elections are better than uncontested elections. Providing students with the opportunity to choose not only allows representatives to better embody the diversity of the student body, but also pushes candidates to better develop their platforms and connect with more students in order to earn the respect and votes of their constituents. Furthermore, winning a contested election legitimizes candidates’ platforms in a formal way that allows them to pursue promises with the support of the students.

So why, at a school with such a strong student government system and culture, do we see so much apathy towards public leadership positions?

There are a lot of good reasons why even the most ambitious and passionate students don’t run in elections. Students can be put off by the large time commitment of the role itself or may even recognize and support a better leader that they would otherwise have to run against. They may also pursue other leadership opportunities through hired roles or outside of student government altogether.

These reasons are all completely legitimate and will persist, especially in smaller, tight-knit faculty societies. However, there are two key reasons why students don’t run that the Queen’s community can curb: a fear of criticism and fear of failure.

What we need to remember is that we’re all students and it’s cancerous to our student groups that some individuals believe that student politicians should endure the same cutthroat, political environment that many professional politicians do.

This manifests itself in the attacks that many student leaders face in elections. Any student watching #AMSVotes on Twitter will know that this AMS campaign period kicked off with nasty, public and typically anonymous comments made towards several candidates on both teams, as well as purely malicious acts by non-competing parties.

Fortunately this subsided as the campaign period progressed, but much of the damage was already done.

There’s value in understanding the personalities of the candidates, but slanderous and unsubstantiated hearsay only serves to demoralize candidates and develop a culture of fear. This is something that candidates in national elections have to handle, but that doesn’t mean it belongs on our campus. Remember, we vote for and elect “student politicians”, not “politicians who are students”; there’s a major distinction between the two.

The unfortunately ironic element of this is that it’s likely the students who are passionate about student governance who are attacking the candidates without recognizing the inherent harm: by critiquing candidates’ personalities, social circles and non-student government related activities, you discourage others from running in the future.

If you want more students to run for elected positions, support them — don’t bully them. Debate ideas and facts, not personalities and rumours. Be constructive, not destructive.

It takes incredible courage to put yourself in a situation where your peers and closest friends can watch you work hard for something, only to come up short. The emotional strain of investing your heart into something that may fail is incredibly scary.

Fear of failure can be curbed by a candidate’s attitude, but also through peer encouragement. It’s important that prospective candidates know they have friends to support them in and out of the campaign. Candidates who win will see major changes to their Queen’s careers, but candidates that don’t need to know that their friends will continue to support them in whatever endeavours they undertake.

To anyone reading this who is contemplating running in an election in the future, I offer you a selection of my favourite personal proverbs: “all success comes first from being vulnerable” and “no things come to those who wait”. If you are passionate about Queen’s, your faculty society or student governance, don’t let fear stop you from pursuing that.

Essentially, I ask everyone to approach elections with a beloved movie quote in mind: “be excellent to each other”. Be critical of platforms and make an informed decision based on the positive and negative attributes of candidates, but remember that there’s no place on this campus for the negativity we’ve seen over the past few years, especially directed towards individuals that are extremely passionate about Queen’s and about serving students.

If we shifted from negative to positive support, we would see more candidates, more productive debates, and, ultimately, the power for Queen’s students to choose leaders that reflect their interests and diversity.

I think that’s something we all want.

Tyler is the president of ComSoc.

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