Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Student Assembly members attend a meeting in the Willard Straight Memorial Room on September 28, 2023.

October 11, 2023

Student Assembly Offers Students Prizes as Incentives to Vote

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In an effort to improve voter engagement, the Student Assembly passed Resolution 26, a motion that allocates $750 to purchase and distribute prizes to a random selection of students who vote in the ongoing S.A. elections, in the Thursday, Oct. 5 meeting. Election polls for new S.A. members close on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at 11:59 p.m. 

Students who complete all eligible ballots for the Fall 2023 semester are automatically entered into the raffle to win prizes. All undergraduate students can vote for at least one position for the Fall 2023 S.A. election, according to an Oct. 5 S.A. press release written by S.A. President Patrick Kuehl ’24.

Prizes include four red Hydro Flask water bottles, two Bose Speakers and one Nintendo Switch, according to the press release.

Winners will be randomly chosen by the Office of Assemblies, according to the resolution, and results will be released the day following the announcement of the Fall 2023 election results.

The resolution aims to encourage active participation in the S.A. for the general student body, who have voted in low numbers in recent years. According to the resolution, only 15.6 percent of eligible undergraduate students voted in the previous Spring 2023 S.A. election. 

Prior Sun coverage of the Spring 2022 S.A. election explains that this issue is not new — there is a disconnect between S.A. proceedings and the students that vote for them, in part because some students feel apathetic about the election of S.A. members they do not know personally. 

“[For] many undergraduates at Cornell, [their] biggest connection to the S.A. is through peers who are directly involved, rather than through policy effects or personal involvement,” the article stated.

The S.A. initiative to distribute raffle prizes is part of the Election Committee’s effort to increase participation in elections and, by extension, civic engagement. 

“Student engagement and voting in Student Assembly elections is essential to the proper representation of various student constituencies on campus and their interests,” the resolution states. 

“Representatives are often elected by popularity rather than their dedication to student well being at our University — this Assembly will change that,” the press release said. “Members of the Student Assembly should be those chosen by their peers, not their friends or social circles; we hope that this change will help facilitate that process.”

Clyde Lederman ’26, an S.A. undesignated representative, voiced his support of the resolution.

“If you get people to vote once, that’ll keep them voting in the future,” Lederman said.

The S.A. also voted in favor of Resolution 28 to form a selective club special committee. Inspired by a recent article in The Atlantic about controversial club application processes, S.A. members outlined how selective club membership processes could be exclusionary to students.

The article examined the student-caused competitive club culture at Yale University has made extracurricular activities inaccessible to many students. The emergence of application cycles for clubs has hit first-generation, low-income students the hardest according to the article, as many have fewer resources available to cultivate a competitive resumé at an elite university. 

Lederman, a co-sponsor of the resolution, explained that selective clubs at Cornell have unintended effects. 

“[Selective club admissions processes] build a community on the basis of excluding one’s peers, creating socioeconomic barriers to the involvement of different students on campus and just creating a highly competitive atmosphere,” Lederman said.

In explaining why the committee is necessary now, S.A. Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Aissatou Barry ’24 added that certain student organizations have become egregious with their admissions processes, resulting in “acceptance rates of one percent and two percent, [making them] harder to get into than Cornell.” 

A 2017 Sun article specified that the most selective finance and consulting clubs typically have admission rates below Cornell’s acceptance rate. For instance, the Cornell Finance Club had a nine percent acceptance rate when the article was published. Their admissions process consists of a resumé review and multiple rounds of interviews. 

The resolution was amended to specify the committee will research the diversity of clubs with selective admissions processes to determine how diversity might be affected by selective admissions policies. 

The S.A. debated adding the specification that the special committee would focus solely on pre-professional organizations’ practices, instead of selective organizations altogether, but this amendment ultimately failed with unanimous dissent. 

Pre-professional organizations, such as pre-business or pre-law fraternities, equip students with the tools and networks to succeed in their respective fields after college. A 2017 Sun article explained that many pre-professional organizations have intensive admissions processes meant to imitate what job applications are like in real life. 

Kuehl outlined how Cornell Student and Campus Life is already looking into the exclusionary practices of finance clubs in particular. He added that it is “in [their] best interest as [the] Student Assembly, as representatives of the views of the students, to be involved in [the SCL research] process.”

The committee would not have enforcement power to alter the behavior of selective clubs on campus, but would instead focus on gathering data to inform subsequent steps, according to Lederman. 

“This is just the first [of] probably a hundred steps to [Student] Assembly taking some action [on the issue of selective club admissions processes],” said Lederman.

Kira Tretiak ’27 is a Sun contributor. She can be reached at [email protected].