Whether you notice an influx of posters with familiar faces saying “Vote for me!” or you are one of those familiar faces yourself, the student government election at your college affects the entire student body.
Even if you’re interested in running for a position and representing your classmates, putting yourself out there can feel intimidating. Use the tips below to confront your fears and prepare a successful student government campaign.
Understand the Structure
For Christopher Collins-McNeil, a junior political science major at the State University of New York in Oswego, student government has played a significant role in his college experience from day one. “My freshman year, I was a student senator and the vice-chair of the involvement committee,” Collins-McNeil said.
The first step in starting a campaign is to figure out how your school’s student government is structured. In the case of Collins-McNeil’s school, SUNY Oswego, it is organized much as it is in the United States — a number of executive positions, a senate, and a court — but relies on a quasi-democratic system since students don’t directly vote for positions beyond those in the senate. Most students begin here — where they have to campaign heavily to win a position — and then feed into the higher executive and court positions by appointment only.
It helps to learn from others who have gone through the process; ask representatives how they got involved and how they rose in the ranks. Is there something they wish they knew when they first started out? This advice will help you know how to begin.
Know Who You’re Representing
Collins-McNeil points out that higher-ups in his organization tend to be upperclassmen who have served as members of the senate previously. In order to represent the student body at large, candidates must first petition to become a senator by obtaining 50 signatures from members of the residential population or 100 signatures from their classmates. They then turn these signatures into the Vice President for approval.
Most people don’t have 100 friends on speed dial, so if you want to dedicate your time to representing your community, it’s important you meet your classmates. By getting to know them, you’ll better understand what kinds of issues affect or concern the campus as a whole.
Also, students will feel more comfortable supporting you as their representative if they know who you are. Just make sure to be genuine in your interactions. No one likes to feel like they’re being played.
Another challenge for most students on the campaign trail is money. Chances are, you’re not going to have a super PAC backing your nomination, so this is where it pays to be creative. Students usually make cheap promotional tools, such as posters, t-shirts, or buttons, during campaign season. It’s best to keep things basic and avoid frills.
“The budget you have for campaigning is not a lot of money,” Collins-McNeil said. “I haven’t really seen anything spectacular.”
Since you’re not going to have a big budget to persuade people to vote for you, quick thinking and ingenuity can set you apart from the rest. Think of a great slogan or joke that will make your poster stand out from the rest. Make a catchy video on YouTube and send it out on social media. Create a website with your political platform and email the link to your friends. There are low-budget, effective ways to campaign when you think outside the box.
Fight Against Apathy
If you feel that one of the hardest aspects of running for office is simply finding classmates who care, you’re not alone. This is partly due to the challenge that Collins-McNeil calls “political and social apathy.” “This apathy is not isolated to my campus alone,” Collins-McNeil said. “But perhaps is more of a generational issue.”
According to the Washington D.C.-based Campus Vote Project — a nonprofit that aims to make it easier for students to vote — in 2010, more than 25 percent of college students reported that they didn’t register to vote because they didn’t know how or they simply missed the deadline.
Break Into the Group
Sometimes, candidates’ obstacles come from within the organization — in the form of nepotism. Often, higher positions are won by students who are involved with the student government from the beginning or are friends with other representatives. If someone develops an interest in student government as an upperclassman, it can be harder for them to break into the group.
So, what do you do if you don’t know anyone in the organization? For most freshman candidates, this is likely the case.
It’s probably in your best interest to acquaint yourself with people who are already in the organization. They’ll be able to give you guidance and show you the ropes.
Ultimately, many campus groups reward the students who have been there the longest because they’ve proven their dedication to the group. “It is just easier to hire people within your own circle or network because you already have a relationship with them,” Collins-McNeil said. “We use that to our advantage.”
Whether you get elected or not, running a campaign will put you in contact with a large group of students and make you think critically about how you can improve your campus.
Statistics. (2012, January 1). Campus Vote Project. Retrieved October 22, 2014, from Campus Vote Project