Few unifiers exist within an incoming class of over 3,000 first-years and hundreds of transfer students. Impressive scholastic ability, strong leadership and commitment to community surely make up this class, but what most strongly brings this community together are the endless opportunities these students will encounter during their time at Cornell. As the Student Assembly’s Director of Elections, as the President of Cornell Votes and as a student who has dedicated himself to the importance of our community’s civic participation, I specifically write to all of our first-year and transfer students: voting for your representatives in the Student Assembly is your first opportunity to become a civically engaged Cornellian and take part of the shared governance system Cornell prides itself upon.
The Student Assembly was born following the takeover of Willard Straight Hall in 1969, and just recently marked its 40th anniversary as the undergraduate contribution to shared governance. Throughout its relatively short history, the SA has continuously fought on behalf of student issues and although many of these issues have been solved (a moment of appreciation for the most recent success of free printing), Cornell remains a place in which we, as students, must always strive to reach a more perfect university. Nine first-years and two transfer students have offered themselves to you, the newest members of our community, to be your advocates, your problem solvers and your representatives in the Student Assembly. The opportunity lies explicitly in front of you: this is your chance to pick who serves as your voice in one of Cornell’s most direct methods of improving students’ lives.
While many individuals on our campus fight for more equitable access to voting in local, state and national elections, we have already taken the steps to make voting in the SA elections as easy as possible. Voting is a five-minute process on your phone or computer; a link has already been sent to every eligible voter. The fact that there are no polling sites, no long lines, no age requirements and no physical ballots have made voting in SA elections a quick, open and pain-free process. This opportunity to vote presents itself to you in its simplest yet most effective form: direct election of your representatives. You can vote right now (from Sept. 28 to Sept. 30, 2021) and choose who you wish to be your voice in the SA.
Beyond voting in these SA elections, I encourage all of you, our first-year and transfer students, to consider your own involvement in our shared governance. There are over twenty committees that need both elected and unelected students to help tackle issues from climate change to on-campus dining. Over 15 positions will be open for the SA in the spring; if you missed the opportunity to run this semester, the next one is right around the corner. The impact you can make as either an elected or unelected official is immeasurable on our campus; just ask those of us who have never even run for the SA about the positive changes we have helped with during our time at Cornell.
Ultimately, I leave you all with the message I try to impart on every student once they have entered our community: vote, vote and vote again. This is your first opportunity to become civically engaged on campus and I encourage all of you to take advantage of it.
Patrick J. Mehler is the Director of Elections for the Student Assembly and a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He is also a biweekly opinion columnist. Comments may be sent to [email protected]. Student Assembly Viewpoint runs every other Thursday this semester.