Democracy Persists

Students Elect Cabinet Members Amid Pandemic

In previous election seasons, the once-white third- and fourth-floor hallways would be peppered with campaign posters, reminders to vote, and catchy slogans for candidates. Students’ shirts and jackets would be adorned with buttons and pins supporting their candidates for the respective elected office and their binders and phone cases covered with stickers bearing catchy but short slogans to get individuals to vote candidates into office.

Since the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent closing of the Parker building, that has not been the case.

Instead, for two weeks, hopeful students pledging their candidacy for various Student Government positions campaigned amid the pandemic to their fellow students electronically. Through Instagram accounts and viral TikTok trends, these candidates made their voices heard to persuade voters to elect them for the 2020-21 school year. On Friday, May 15, all of that campaigning ended once students sat down at their laptops, not to get on a Zoom call or watch a video, but to place their votes in a Google Form for whom they believed should have the power in Student Government come fall.

Roughly 132 students ran for a committee or Cabinet position this spring, with 14 of those students running for the main four positions of the Student Government Cabinet: President, Treasurer, Director of Committee Affairs (DCA), and Senate Heads. Juniors Carter Wagner, Alex Schapiro, and Daniel Mansueto managed to win their races for President, Treasurer, and DCA, respectively, while sophomores Tess Wayland, Eli Moog, Alex Carlin, and Jackson Antonow ran unopposed for the roles of Senate Heads.

Despite all of the technical changes with the election season and voting in general, Upper School history teacher and Student Government advisor Jeanne Barr felt that voting went well. “We had really good participation,” Barr said. “I would say the number of voters was pretty comparable to past years, so we did not experience a fall-off in voter participation.” Barr recorded a total of 231 eligible ballots cast this season, out of a possible total of 399, which she says is by no means a large decrease or increase from previous voting cycles.

Barr recorded a total of 231 eligible ballots cast this season, out of a possible total of 399, which she says is by no means a large decrease or increase.”

From a faculty perspective, Barr felt that the election process was different from that of previous years. “The visual excitement of our hallways in the height of the election season is always such a cool thing to watch,” Barr said. “That wasn’t different, there were still tons of kids seeking office, but what was really missing was that visceral experience.”

To Barr, the election process is more than just voting in new positions for the student body. “Part of the election is who’s going to be the next officer, but it’s also a life experience for every candidate, to give a speech, to stand at your booth, to pitch yourself, that’s a bucket list kind of thing that everybody should put themselves through and embrace that challenge,” Barr said. “I have tons of admiration for everyone who did that in these weird circumstances.”

After receiving the results of the election, President-elect Carter Wagner began brainstorming ideas to improve engagement in Student Government. “One thing I learned this year is that it’s really hard, no matter what, to get a lot of people engaged in Student Government,” Wagner said. “I think we see that there’s not always the great amount of engagement that we always want to see, and part of my platform was always bringing that back. But I think when you have digital Student Government, there’s even less incentive.”

As schools are deciding how to safely return in the fall semester, Barr feels that running Student Government should be addressed in addition to other concerns of safety. “We will have to cross this bridge because I don’t know what the plans are for the auditorium, I don’t know how we do this distance-based,” Barr said. “There are a lot of seats in there, and we don’t fill it when we’re in SG, so I could theoretically see using the balcony, but I don’t know. It’s too soon to say and I obviously won’t be the decision-maker on this.”

Regardless of the lack of clarity about the function of Student Government in the future, Wagner feels that there are still steps he can take before anything is decided. “I think the first thing that I want to do is work with the administration to make sure we have a designated Student Government time because I think that’s the best way to bring back continuity,” Wagner said. “One thing I can certainly do is be the liaison between the students and the administration, especially when we’re not in the same building when that link is even more severed.”

Newly-appointed Executive Advisor and junior Ava Ori, who will be acting as the liaison between the President and the student body, also has some ideas to take advantage of in this time of uncertainty. “My plans would be, at the moment, to capitalize on the fact that the administration doesn’t really know what is going to happen next year, there’s a lot of decision-making that’s happening right now and trying to get Student Government in on as many of those decisions and conversations as possible, looking toward next year,” Ori said.

Despite the uncertainty of the fall semester, Barr is insistent that Student Government will not be taking a year off. “I know this: Student Government will continue, and we will do everything that we can through all the media at our disposal to try to gauge what is the student experience, how can students help students to improve that experience, how can students’ voice be amplified in different ways,” Barr said. “More than anything, within these past two weeks, we proved our relevance to the school. I think the election got the students in the Upper School and the 8th grade to come together.”

In typical Plenary sessions of Student Government, the student body votes on proposals introduced by individual students who hope to enact change within the Parker community. While Parker was adjusting to remote learning, Cabinet was unable to pass proposals due to a lack of quorum, the minimum number of members of Student Government required at each meeting to make the meeting valid. For Plenary, the quorum is two-thirds of the student body, or roughly 263 students minimum. 

This setback has not deterred Wagner, who believes there are steps to take to increase engagement and pass more proposals. “If we are to pass any proposals or resolutions, the plan is to get a higher attendance in general, and if we can do that, then we will be able to vote,” Wagner said. “Also, I think this forces us to do something that I was talking about in my platform, which is to focus on external proposals, proposals that are really going to enact change and get people involved and excited.”

Ori has a similar mindset to Wagner, as she too believes that external proposals will be introduced more frequently than in the past. “I think the type of proposals that we’re going to see is going to be hugely different because we’re not going to focus on the little things as much, I assume,” Ori said. “I think it’s going to be bigger decisions that come our way related to not being at school or changing the way we run things.”

Overall, Wagner is determined to make sure that Student Government runs smoothly in the fall. “I’ll be working my butt off to make sure that as many people as possible are going to come,” Wagner said. “With that said, at a certain point, there’s going to have to be a change in direction. We can’t just expect everyone to be at Plenary and also move forward and make Student Government as efficient as possible in that situation.”