After a low student-voter turnout in 2015, CLAS Elections at Brooklyn College are currently underway, but many students are still unaware of the election dates, the people running for positions and the significance of participating in the student government electoral process.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, or CLAS, a branch of student government that represents daytime students, holds elections once a year. Student voting has been and is taking place from April 18 through 20 online at Brooklyn WebCentral. The link to vote is directly on the top of the homepage after log-in.
“When students choose not to vote or participate politically, they’re actively undermining a system designed to provide them with representation,” said Jake Levin, CLAS speaker. “Student government has seats on every major college governance body and provides a voice for students at the highest level of college decision making.”
Last year, despite the number of 14,207 undergraduate daytime students, each member running for CLAS averaged about 309 votes each. In the 2015 election, only about 400 students out of the total undergraduate students casted a vote for student government representatives. That’s only about 3 percent of the undergraduate student body. According to most students, the reason for such a low voter turnout is not only the inevitable unavailability or lack of interest from students, but the lack of information and awareness.
“I’ve never participated in student elections, nor do I know when they’re going on. I’m sure I’d have to go looking for that,” said Mai Garti-Bar, an urban sustainability major. “Why should I do legwork for a government that is supposed to be accessible to me?”
To raise awareness of the elections, CLAS have been posting on social media and trying to advertise elsewhere, but with limitations it hasn’t been enough to engage and inform all students.
“We also have a lot of rules. Certain areas we can’t campaign in. We can’t use chalk, you know, writing on the ground and whiteboards,” said Florencia Salinas, chair of academic affairs and candidate who is running uncontested for CLAS president. “We wanted the ballot to be different. ITS was unable to do it, but we’re hoping to get the changes done for next year. Ideally, you would have a little blurb about yourself. So instead, we tried social media, the website and fliers.”
One difference this year that caught the eye of students was the poll for participatory budgeting. The newly implemented feature allows students to choose which issue or specific plan they wish to see their money go to, which comes directly out of the student activity fee.
Participatory budgeting allows students to have control over 10 percent of the budget for the school. During two Town Hall meetings, students are encouraged to voice their opinions on what infrastructure the school needs to improve the student body’s experience. From there, the students work with staff, administration and predominantly with student government to craft project proposals. These student proposals are what are on the participatory budget ballot for students to vote for. The initiative allows the budget to be influenced by those who fund it and are most affected by it.
“I voted. Honestly, I didn’t care at all, and then I just did it for my friend,” said Evangeline Vassiliou, a psychology major. “And I thought, wow, maybe we should start caring about voting because that’s where our money is going.”
Voting for participatory is not the only option on the ballot though. Students can also cast a ballot for student government candidates. The winning candidates will act as representatives and advocates for students on boards and committees.
“Assembly members are fellow students – the more representative of the student body our assembly is, the more we are able to do,” said Salinas. “I think low voter turnout is a combination of things. Lack of information is primary here. We need to find out the best ways to reach students. We have tried many approaches and will continue to try to do better.”
Student government doesn’t just affect budgeting, but also has an impact on campus life.They have played a critical role in the building of new bike racks and the installation of more ATMs, as well as implemented a new campus-wide recycling program and hosted events like Movie Night on the Quad and Unity Week.
Some directions the CLAS will be steering the focus toward this upcoming year are hinted at the participatory budget, as well as expressed by those running for the positions to do so.
“My goals for the coming year are to work on policies at the school as they relate to disability accommodations and sexual assault,” said Salinas. “Right now, sexual assault policy is, at best, vague. Title 9 mandates that reasonable actions be taken to prevent assault.”
One of the proposals on the ballot for participatory budget is the Access-A-Ride bus shelter. I first learned of the need for this last semester when SOFEDUP, a student club for those with disabilities, attended a Town Hall we held,” continued Salinas. “The number of proposals we received regarding accessibility outside of this specific project showed us that accessibility is an issue throughout the campus… I do not see these goals as mine alone but rather an extension of the Brooklyn College community. I’m running for president. I don’t want people to think that I’m pushing them to vote for me, I just want them to vote.”
The issue at hand is still getting students more involved in the election process, as more involvement naturally leads to more awareness in decisions or policies that the CLAS will be addressing.
“I got the email, but I don’t know much about it. If I knew more about it, I would vote,” said Shomari Townsend, a senior who will be graduating this spring. “I would be more interested and I mean, it’s up to the students to actually take the initiative and walk over there to see what’s going on.”
The most frequent suggestion according to students has been more campaigning, as well as face-time and interaction with students from the candidates.
“I only know the person who is running for the president’s position, I mean, I know of her,” said Jennifer Li, a philosophy and law major. “I feel like they try to do outreach, but there are more effective ways of doing outreach.”
Still students recognize the importance in voting for the members of their student government, and will have until April 20 to investigate, inform themselves and participate as the democratic process at Brooklyn College proceeds.
As according to student Susan Gerlovia, “We should have a say in what’s going on at school… and in voting, that’s kind of like your voice.”