Student Senate is the only organization on Lehigh’s campus that exists to represent the undergraduate population as a whole, while also serving as a body to address concerns, fund clubs, propose initiatives and give input on behalf of students.
Although the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council also have a say in forming policies, they represent a subset of the student population. Senate however, is the undergraduate representative body, meaning all undergraduate students have a stake in its decisions.
Last year, only 914 students voted in senator elections. As of noon on Wednesday, 745 students had voted for senators in the current election. With an undergraduate population of 5,054 students, less than 15 percent of students have cast their votes. If the final number of voters is the same as last year’s 914, that would bring the total up to 18 percent of the campus voting on who should represent them.
Students are placed in one of five constituencies when running for a senator position, and when voting for a senator. Members of Greek chapters vote in the sorority or fraternity constituencies regardless of whether they live on or off campus. For non-Greeks, constituencies are determined by residence — either on or off campus.
But is this an accurate way to reflect our campus?
Student Senate president Anna D’Ginto, ‘16, said nine spots are given to every constituency, including one comprised of first-year students who vote in the fall. There are a total of 45 senators, plus five executive board members. These constituencies are divided this way because they represent the relative proportions of all groups to the undergraduate student population, D’Ginto said. She feels the current constituencies are effective to ensure all campus voices are represented equally. If the group division was based on something like class years, for example, it could bring a lot of the same particular kind of people, she said.
Some constituencies also have more candidates than others. For example, D’Ginto said Senate often has trouble filling up off-campus seats and fills them up after the voting when they become at-large seats and are not restricted by a specific constituency.
Dividing the campus representation so there is a variety of voices and not one specific group that dominates Senate makes sense, but are these the best categories to place people in?
People define themselves as more than just Greek or non-Greek on this campus. Students can define themselves by their academic college, their class year, their membership in different clubs or organizations, or as an athlete or non-athlete, among other identifiers. So is a reorganization of the constituency system in order?
D’Ginto said the current constituency system was adopted several years ago and some people have raised a concern that the current constituencies might not be the most effective. Although D’Ginto believes it’s an effective system, she said future senators could review election policies and Senate structure and change the system.
But constituencies can’t be changed, people should be allowed to choose which constituency they want to vote for if they fall into two or more categories. For example, a member of a fraternity who lives off campus might feel more aligned with the off-campus constituency than the fraternity one.
Based upon the 150-word descriptions each candidate has to submit to run for Senate — sometimes used to reflect one’s platform — a person could choose which constituency’s candidates would better reflect their stance on the issues they care about.
With this in mind, senatorial candidates should strive to provide insight into what they think regarding certain policies or issues the student body cares about. Although some candidates do address that in their descriptions, others don’t really talk about any issues. As student representatives, they should know what they stand for and let their constituency know as well.
Student Senate is an influential voice for the undergraduate population and although they try to learn what students want through surveys and when non-senators come to their meetings — we should have a clear understanding of what our representatives stand for as we vote for them.
And the 4,309 students who haven’t voted already should take it upon themselves to vote, because even if we believe the constituencies may not be reflective of our campus, only by voting on new representatives who share our beliefs will change that.