By Zack Navarra
The students at Summit Shasta deserve a direct voice in who represents them in student government. Summit Shasta has started on its path to public student government elections, but they must allow a public popular vote in order to reach the final destination.
To understand where we are now, we need to look at where it all began. Executive Director of Shasta Wren Maletsky said, “I’m pretty sure that [Ms. Kircher] drew names out of a hat to determine who leadership was for student government. I definitely know when I was the Executive Director in [the 2017-18 school year] the names were drawn out of a hat to determine leadership for student government.” The system completely subverts any form of democracy and ignores candidates’ qualifications, thus depriving students of any true representation. This randomized election system can be summed up in one simple word: bad.
In the 2018-19 school year, a new system was formed, intending to build and improve upon the previous year. Shasta Dean of Culture and Instruction Adelaide Giornelli said, “We built on the application process that happened before. I built up what I hoped to be a more thorough application process where students had to present for what the world was. Students applied for different roles and had to get teacher recommendations and then I started treating it as if they were applying for a job.” While the new system is now based off of the qualifications of its candidates, it has yet again failed to provide the democracy that the student body deserves.
Ms. Giornelli added, “I looked through each one and assessed who had the clearest vision, who had provided the strongest references, and I checked with whoever they provided as a reference if they thought the student was capable of handling that role.” While this addresses qualifications, it begs the question: “Who is best equipped to decide what qualifies as a good leader: a teacher or the students who the leaders are supposed to represent?”
After election procedure was changed, students continued to feel like they were not being represented and advocated for change. “Based on student voice and a little bit of admin top-down decision, students advocated for elections I think in part because the junior class had been led by the same four people for a long period of time; I think there was a level of mistrust that I got the impression that students felt like teachers were just picking favorites when it was from a hat or from applications. So they wanted a sense of open and accountable elections, and I think it was on the desire for change,” Ms. Giornelli said. Students failed to achieve their goal of public student elections but were not left with nothing.
Students reached a compromise with adminstration to change the elections for the 2019-20 school year to a blind election.
The current system of blind elections, where students vote on proposals but not candidates, falls short of direct student voice. Ms. Giornelli said she created “a contract for what it means to be in student government based on interviews with students. [I] invented an application process that was similar to one we had used in the past, except this time it was like a student-facing proposal. I had a week to align everything and make sure I knew which student was aligned to which secret ballot and then send it out for [elections]. I then got to do the fun work of doing a ranked choice election which had the fun math of who ranked which one first and then, like, distributing the votes from different groups.”
Some students believe that this was a good compromise. Sophomore Student Government Officer Michael Co said, “I think it’s important for students to have a say in how leadership works and that wasn’t a thing before. It seems to be working out; our leadership is going fine right now.”
This is a nice step in the right direction, but it is only a step. By having the candidates be anonymous to the public, the system is still avoiding the direct will of the student body. Former freshman president and current Shasta senior Julian Caneda-Santos said, “At the end of the day, you do have to put the trust in the students. I think everyone at the school is capable of choosing a leader that they expect to run student government well.” A student can say they will do x, y and z. However, the ability to follow through on those promises varies from student to student. This is why it is important for students to know exactly who they are voting for, to judge for themselves whether or not someone is capable of following through on their promises.
Shasta senior Christopher Edrosolo said,“ I can see why they did it, to try and limit popularity, but I prefer if they didn’t replace names with letters.” To make the elections anonymous, students’ names were replaced with a letter such as candidate A.
Edrosolo added, “I want to know who I’m voting for because you know there is some reliability on the people you vote for like the people you know more and the people that you actually trust. I would vote for those people instead of some random person.” Trust is something that is important when considering who should lead a group a people. Is it possible for for an anonymous letter to inspire the same level of trust as an individual person can?
Shasta senior Andrew Frank said, “I feel like the way it is done now there is not enough student input that is done in a fair way. I think students should have direct input on the person rather than a text document. Personally, I didn’t even know who the student government was until very recently.” When students are not aware of who they are voting for, it becomes harder for them to recognize who is actually their representative. Most students do not directly participate in student government and do not get to see who is leading the meetings. Under an open election system everyone would know who was running for office and would know who would be representing them. This would allow for more student involvement because they know who their student government officers are.
The student body of Summit Shasta deserve to have open elections for their student government. At the end of the day, the student body is best equipped to pick officers that they believe are qualified and can be trusted to lead them.
FEATURED IMAGE (at the top of this post): Summit Shasta, located in Daly City, has been the site of debate regarding how best to elect student government representatives. PHOTO CREDIT: Zack Navarra