Student elections are right around the corner, and you may be thinking to yourself, “So what?”

The majority of senate seats are going to be uncontested, voting on the referendum questions doesn’t necessarily mean anything will come of them and with only a week until polls open, we’re not entirely sure what specific issues any presidential candidates want to make priorities.

But many of the candidates seem to agree on one thing, the lack of a tight-knit community atmosphere at USM that welcomes everyone. It’s often attributed to funding, the split campuses or how busy everyone is, but what we think the university needs is a little more effort from all sides––that is, from the voters and the candidates.
Data from last year’s election shows that a total of 580 students voted for a student body president and the most who voted for any referendum question was 479. That’s out of a total student population of more than 6,000. Compared to the figures from 2009, this is an improvement, with only 409 voting for president, and in 2008 only 345 voted.

Despite steadily dropping enrollment numbers, more students are pushing to become part of the community. We see this reflected in a rise in the number of student groups and in the number of students who voted, but we can do better.

Last year’s number of votes is not that high when we’re talking about the people in charge of the funding of student activities that comes out the pockets of every USM student. Last week we tried to encourage students to speak up and get involved. We don’t want USM students to be labeled as apathetic. While it’s easy to focus on the lack of bodies showing up at the polls and write a call to action to the average student, we’d also like to ask students who are already involved to make it their responsibility to increase student activism and general knowledge about how the university operates.

Students might ask themselves whether it even matters if they vote. And the answer is that it might not –– unless we all decide to make it matter. Students should be more involved, but this also means that student leaders should be an asset to the student body. What does this mean? What do we expect from the incoming candidates?
Student leaders should be a resource for the rest of the student body. This year, for instance, they have acted as liaisons between the student body and the administration to communicate what students want and expect during the Direction Package Advisory Board meetings while it determined the future direction of the university. This type of work and a commitment to understanding of the intricacies of university politics is essential for student leaders to make informed decisions.

Creating a community at USM is not a one-way street, and it’s difficult. We can’t only ask that students come out to more meetings, vote more in elections, or get involved. We should also expect that student leaders reach out to them and make themselves available publicly whether this means visiting classes, tabling or walking around the campus center introducing yourself. We can’t expect miraculous election turnout and involvement at USM without a little grassroots, man-on-the-ground action.

Our Opinion is written by the Free Press Editorial Board.


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