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Questioning Student Presidential Elections
Maddie Chai '17 Staff Writer
May 25, 2016

The elections for student body president have been a long-standing tradition at Deerfield, and this year, the Deerfield Student Council held a different type of election. When I heard that the election was going to include a debate, I was excited to hear the candidates’ opinions and their views on those of their opponents. However, “debate” is probably the wrong word to describe what took place. The candidates were merely asked questions, and some responded by completely avoiding the question altogether.

Valerie Ma
Valerie Ma

I’ll admit that since attendance was not required, I skipped the student body president election my freshman year. My sophomore year I went only because my friends were going, and because I had little homework, since it was sophomore spring. I had little interest in who the president was going to be, or what his or her ideas were, since I didn’t know what the president did or could do. All I knew was that the president would occasionally step onto the stage during school meetings and could put a big fat “President of the Student Body” on his or her college applications. But this year, I was excited to go, and as a rising senior, I wanted a competent president who would be able to ensure our grade a fun and transformative senior year.

The majority of the people I talked to before the debate already knew who they were going to vote for based on their perception of the candidates (I’ll admit, myself included). But this is the inherent problem of the whole system.

With the somewhat over-public community that we live in, we all know who everyone is, who has hooked up with whom, who said what, etc. This affects not only who we’re friends with, but who we choose to like and dislike without ever talking to that certain person (myself included, again).

This year, only two of the seven candidates were girls. This was not surprising however, as the majority of elections in the past have consisted of mostly boys with the occasional one or two girls who are willing to put themselves out there, and usually, get beaten because of some twisted preconception. All of my four years here, the student body president has been a boy. And this year, the Chair of the Student Council is also a boy, which leaves no girls in positions of power in the school.

Going into the election, most people made it clear that they already favored a certain candidate; their opinion then influenced their friends’ opinions. Thus a whole wave of communication can stem from an opinion that isn’t even yours in the first place. One of my friends received a text from someone telling her to vote for X candidate because X was her boyfriend. Is that really the way the system should work?

Additionally, the voting after the election was initially conducted through Facebook, which is a problem for multiple reasons. Many people at Deerfield don’t have a Facebook. Also, once social media sends out the vote, it leads to other forms of communication in which opinions are discussed. People tend to vote for the same person their friends vote for, and they are often good friends with the candidate for whom they vote.

The aftermath of the election is also flawed. You ask others who they voted for, either to your happiness or dismay. But when you ask the harder question, “Why?” the responses become more disappointing. One person I asked simply responded, “Because he’s X.”

It is hard to blame a candidate for causing people to completely disregard the ideas of true qualification and to vote for someone according to who they are, rather than what they will do.  Yet, I ask you to try to your best to break free from this vicious cycle of social inequality in which the student body president election has, unfortunately, become a popularity contest.

I have no perfect solution to this flawed system, since the social norms at Deerfield can perpetuate a vicious cycle of false rumors and mass opinion. Perhaps a better approach to the situation would be to keep the candidates undisclosed until the election, so that people go in and listen to the ideas of the candidates and are not influenced simply by their names and appearances.

At the election, a group of students in front of me were on their phones during one candidate’s speech but eager and listening during another’s. If you don’t have the courage and sense to have your own opinion, at least have the respect to listen to others. Don’t be afraid to be different from people that you think know better than you. Embrace your own opinion. If this happens, I believe Deerfield can become a better place.