At noon on Monday, voting links for the 2022 Student Assembly elections were sent out to the Cornell student body via email. In the election, there are a total of 16 positions being voted on with 4 contested races including those for President and Executive Vice President.
While the S.A. is the official governing body of undergraduate students at Cornell, many students say they do not understand the purpose of the assembly or what it does.
“Would I have voted if I didn’t know someone running? Probably not,” Hailey Choi ’24 said.
Choi, like many undergraduates at Cornell, said that her biggest connection to the S.A. is through peers who are directly involved, rather than through policy effects or personal involvement.
The S.A. primarily writes resolutions which recommend policy changes to the University administration and sets the undergraduate Student Activities Fee and its distribution. It also serves as a liaison between the student body and Cornell’s administration, with representatives holding the power to have their voices heard by university officials in meetings.
To encourage participation in the election, S.A. candidates have employed a number of campaigning strategies. S.A. presidential candidate and current Vice President of Finance Valeria Valencia ’23 said she’s used Instagram posts and covers of popular songs to reach voters.
“[I’ve been] trying to really put myself out there so people can get to know who I am as to my platform, my campaign and everything,” Valencia said.
Valencia is running against S.A. Students with Disabilities Representative Duncan Cady ’23, who emphasized the disconnect between students and S.A. policy in his campaign.
“There’s been a large disconnect, I believe, between the Student Assembly and the students we are trying to represent and serve, and right now, I’m trying to focus on initiatives that help show ways we can end that,” Cady said. “I’ve submitted more resolutions than any other representative… resolutions aimed at everyday student issues.”
Running for the position of Executive Vice President are Benjamin Luckow ’24 and Amari Lampert ’24, both of whom have described mental health initiatives as a driving point of their campaigns.
“My main thing is about mental health, and especially committee work,” Lampert, the current S.A. Womxn’s Issues Liaison at Large, said. “I’ve done a lot of work with both Cornell health and student advocacy work. A lot of [the work] comes down to funding and talking to administration.”
In her campaign priorities, some of Lampert’s expressed desires include eliminating gym membership fees and extending the pass/fail and drop deadlines for courses — things the S.A. can support with resolutions but not accomplish directly. Luckow, on the other hand, has focused almost exclusively on using the S.A. to raise awareness of campus issues.
“I have offered zero promises of resolutions — that was in my debate. I’m running on nothing,” Luckow, who currently serves as an S.A. Undesignated Representative at Large, said. “I think if we use our controversial vocal power as the voice of students and address the right things, we will start to see results.”
In preparation for his campaign, Luckow researched the campaign promises of previous S.A. executive candidates, and said he saw a pattern of broken promises that he hoped not to repeat.
“Most of the time… as soon as [they’re elected], they forget what they ran on. Everything they promised doesn’t exist,” Luckow said.
But while the candidates have all made their presences known through social media campaigning and spreading word around campus, many students remain disconnected from the S.A. and its elections.
“Truthfully, there’s a large, palpable disconnect between students and the Student Assembly.” Ehi Esemuze ’23 said. “Candidates promise to bridge the connection between the S.A. and the student body, and it never seems to happen.”
Paloma Galdo ’23 told The Sun that she does not feel informed enough to even speak on issues in student elections.
“I definitely see people promoting it on various social media platforms but I never really take any interest in looking into it any further mostly because I feel like our student body is not as powerful in demanding change as students would hope for,” Galdo said.
While the candidates remain mostly passionate about their campaigns and hopeful in the race, students find themselves mostly devoid of real reasons or incentives to place votes in the election.
“People need to have a ‘why’ — a reason that doesn’t just incentivize them to vote, like having a friend in the S.A., but truly makes them want to vote,” Esemuze said. “If a candidate could give students a ‘why’… they’d instantly have my vote.”
Candidates are aware of the problem, with many promising to increase community engagement during their terms.
“As president, I hope to bridge that gap between the community and the representatives. So we can all collaborate, work together and make this campus a better one for everyone,” Valencia said.
Responding to the perspective of those who feel disinterested or unserved by the S.A., Luckow called the S.A. ‘mid,’ a popular term used by young people to label something as average or of poor quality, in an interview with The Sun, among other social media posts and public statements.
“My point in saying the S.A. is ‘mid’ is to address what I think most people feel… And I feel like that can be traced to people taking it a little too seriously,” Luckow said. “I try to not take it too seriously.”
On Wednesday morning, the S.A. extended the voting deadline until Wednesday, May 4, at 4 p.m. Voting links can be found in student emails.
Eli Pallrand ’24 contributed reporting.
This article has been updated.