This is a big year for elections—and not just on the national level. The current Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) elections include nearly twice as many candidates for freshman representative spots as last year, and the vote count is expected to reach 150 percent of last year’s total.
According to WSA Coordinator Bradley Spahn ’11, there are more students running both for freshmen representative and at-large representative than there have been in the past several years.
“Last year [the] at-large [election] wasn’t competitive, so it’s exciting to see really good elections in both categories,” Spahn said. “This year there is a genuine choice.”
Twenty-one students are running for eight freshmen representative spots, compared to last year’s 11 candidates. Six students are running for five at-large representative seats in the WSA, where as last year there were eight seats, but only seven candidates ran, said Spahn.
Students running attributed their increased interest to several factors. Freshman candidate Cordelia Blanchard ’12 felt that it was the freshman class’ eagerness to get involved in the University and contribute to actual change that lead to the increase in candidates.
“I think it’s really exciting and shows that people in [my] grade are really excited about Wes and to be here and want to have a positive impact on the community,” Blanchard said. “No matter who gets elected, they will do a good job. I think it says a lot about our grade.”
Another reason for the long list of freshmen candidates is the extensive efforts of the WSA to recruit new members during Freshman Orientation, and to raise awareness of the WSA.
“[WSA] President Mike Pernick gave a speech at freshman orientation which really showed how we value student government at Wesleyan,” Spahn said. “The frosh picked up that it is not like high school and [the WSA] really matters.”
During Orientation, eight senior members of the WSA went to the doors of all freshmen to introduce themselves and act as a face of the WSA. In addition, Spahn said, several informational sessions were held to describe and explain the purpose of the WSA.
Increased coverage of the WSA has allowed the student body to become more aware of the decisions and actions taken by the WSA. Spahn also noted the growing diversity of the WSA.
“A lot of different groups have been tapped into,” Spahn said. “There are a lot of international students running, a group that hasn’t been enfranchised now stepping up and getting a bigger voice.”
More students are voting as well. In 2007, 418 students voted in the at-large election and 300 in the freshmen elections. According to Spahn, as of Wednesday, 311 students had voted in the at-large election; this constitutes nearly three-fourths of the previous year’s total voters only half way through the election. The voting breakdown included 117 sophomores, 73 juniors, and 61 seniors.
“The turnout in my class this year is the lowest for whatever reason, but it’s great to see the underclassmen get involved,” Cesar Medina ’09 said. “They are starting to create a legacy of change.”
Freshmen candidate Will Levitt ’12 attributes the dramatic increase in participation to enthusiasm for the upcoming presidential election.
“The current ‘political fever’ surrounding this year’s national election may be why people are choosing to get more involved in politics here at Wesleyan,” Levitt said.
Blanchard also noted the inclusion of Obama quotations in the personal statements of some freshmen candidates, further demonstrating the pervasive influence of the presidential election.
“[The campaign] hits that West Wing nerve hard,” Medina said. “Also, Obama’s message of change and his call to service resonates with students.”
Apart from the contribution of national politics, the function of the WSA remains a fundamental reason for students to become involved in student government.
“I like that the WSA can have a positive impact on the community and has an important role with both administrators and students,” Blanchard said. “Not all student governments have that. I like the idea of creating positive change and implementing the ideas of others.”