While the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) is important, it needs drastic improvement in regards to transparency and democracy. During my freshman year, I was mostly indifferent to the WSA, despite being friends with a handful of senators. I ran my roommates’ joke campaign at the beginning of the year, and I would regularly eat in the Summerfields dining hall (Summies) with my friends while they talked about what had happened at the most recent WSA session. I figured that the WSA was just a bunch of future politicians writing practice bills about nothing. Eventually, the excitement for the WSA rubbed off on me, so I decided to run in the spring. Because not enough people run to fill all of the seats, I had a very easy time getting elected, and I’ve been on the WSA for a semester now. While I have taken a leave of absence from the assembly to pursue a semester abroad, I intend to rejoin the WSA when I return.*
During my time on the WSA, I have come upon two major flaws, which are directly connected. The first is that WSA elections are rarely competitive, and everyone who runs gets on. As a result, voting is relatively unimportant. The second is how low voter turnout is. The class of 2022 had the highest voter turnout this past spring with a mere 26 percent turnout. Similarly, the overall turnout was 17 percent, while the Presidential/Vice Presidential election had only 11 percent turnout. The WSA impacts all of us—why, then, are so many students unwilling to vote? And why do fewer people tend to run than we have seats available?
Due to the low voter turnout and the lack of competition, it is easy to discount the voice of the WSA. It really is just a student group filled with the small handful of people who wanted to be in it. To join the WSA, you just need to have 25 people sign a petition, or be able to write a paragraph about why you should be appointed. While I have nothing against anyone on the WSA, and think that most of them are doing good work, there is no reason that we should have absolute control over the $850,000 Student Activities Fee that we all pay into if the student body is indifferent to us.
The only times people care about the WSA are when the Student Budget Committee (SBC) denies their funding request, Ben Garfield ’22 saves them money on textbooks, or the General Assembly writes a strongly worded email to Michael Roth. Does the WSA do other important things? Absolutely. But we don’t do a good enough job informing the student body about what those things are. And since the student body doesn’t care what student government does, there’s less pressure on individual senators to achieve things. It’s easy to sit back and coast, merely going to a few hours of meetings per week, and adding almost nothing. Because our elections are not competitive, an underachieving senator will have an incredibly easy time being re-elected, allowing them to ignore substantive problems.
The WSA needs to focus on making student government actively accessible. If someone really wanted to know something about the WSA, it would be relatively simple to find one of us and ask. But because we don’t do a good job at transparency, it’s hard to know what to ask. Our constitution and bylaws are almost four times as long as the constitution of the United States. That is absurd. The WSA should not be more difficult to understand than the US government. Our governing documents go into such excruciating detail that no one reads them unless they absolutely have to. We need to simplify our constitution to make it actually matter; because the constitution is reviewed and amended every year, the only people who read it are the ones who decide what it says. This spring, Con Review (the annual process of revising our constitution and bylaws) needs to cut down the constitution and by-laws to an easily digestible length. It also needs to be readily accessible.
We also need to emphasize the ways in which non-senators can contribute to the WSA, such as sponsoring legislation and impeaching senators with just 25 signatures. We need to reform the way our elections work, so write-ins are more viable (there is currently a 25 vote minimum for write-in candidates). We need to continue the important work that we’re currently doing, and put effort into effectively communicating exactly what that is to the student body at large. It’s important that students know what the WSA is actually achieving, and who specifically is doing it. People who sit on the WSA without accomplishing anything, as lovely as they may be, do not belong in a position that could be filled with someone who would actually accomplish things. As members of the WSA, we should be expected to do things that are actually important. We owe it to the student body to work towards transparency and competitive elections. We can’t just be an arbitrary student group with complete control of the entire budget for student groups, as well as the way in which the student body’s desires are expressed to the administration.
And as a student body, we owe it to ourselves to pay attention to the WSA and make sure that we’re happy with what and how much it is doing.
If you didn’t vote in the last election, vote in the next election.
If you thought about running for WSA in the past but decided not to, run for the WSA.
If you think that the WSA is important, vote in the next election.
If you think that the WSA is a joke, start working towards getting the signatures of 50 percent of the student body in order to recall the entire WSA, and run in the following election.
If you think that number is far too high considering our ridiculously low voter turnout, run for the WSA.
If you think that it’s important how our yearly budget of approximately $850,000 is spent, run for the WSA.
If you go to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., vote in your student government’s elections.
You all need to start caring about what the WSA does, and the WSA needs to make it much easier for you to care.
*The author is currently undergoing an impeachment process from the WSA because he is going abroad next semester. He plans to return in the fall.