Show, don’t tell: On Student Senate’s recent poster campaign

When I was 13, I made a speech in front of my middle school. People liked the speech and it got me a position on the student council. Over the next year, I would discover just how much I dislike student government. Student governments face many obstacles that stop them from accomplishing anything much: they have little power, serve little purpose for the administrations they work for and they act like flypaper for inflated egos. Most of the time, student governments dwell in mediocrity, spinning their wheels and spending their budget on flashy things that improve little. And that’s fine.

I’m content with mediocrity; things could certainly be worse. As a first-year student, I’ve been impressed with some projects Student Senate has accomplished in the past. I love the library lobby, and I’m a big fan of extended open house hours. However, it’s rare that $50,000 in budget surplus allows you to renovate the library lobby, nor does Residence Life allow you to extend open house hours more than once every five years.

One week before spring break, Student Senate put up posters around campus, displaying projects they have carried out. The posters can be found outside the main entrance of the library, at the entrance of every dorm wing, in the library lobby and various other places. In the center of each, bold letters decry the project, and each reads at the bottom, “brought to you by Student Senate.”

I’m fine with a little pride. Bragging is alright sometimes. Just make sure that when you do, you have something to be prideful about. It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for Student Senate. I can think of plenty of reasons to excuse their mediocrity. However, I’m not willing to excuse pride, particularly ungained pride.

Bragging is alright sometimes. Just make sure that when you do, you have something to be prideful about

Why bother writing about the posters? The posters move Student Senate from a point of showing to a position of telling, from attempting to effect change towards highlighting the little amount of change effected. Rather than being mediocre, Student Senate is verbalizing it. They’re pointing to it every time we walk into our dorm buildings or the library, or past a row of untouched scooters.

One poster found at the entrance of every dorm wing says that Student Senate has brought us “more open house hours.” This communicates that our Student Senate worked to extend the open house hours for us. By advertising this, those who worked to improve their constituents’ lives can expect to receive a benefit. In a political economy, this comes in the form of re-election. Except our Student Senate didn’t extend the open house hours. Five years ago Residence Life approved extending open house hours. No-one currently serving on Student Senate aided in that effort.

You won’t find a poster above the igloos our Student Senate put up in mid-February, yet they were brought to us by Student Senate. Perhaps it’s because they collapsed. Out of everything Student Senate is advertising, these igloos are entirely their own. Sure, Student Senate was allowed to put their plaque on the library’s lobby, but the igloos are 100 percent Student Senate. Yet they do not claim them.

What is Student Senate trying to accomplish with these posters? I see two possibilities. The first, that Student Senate is trying to distract from their mediocrity by filling in the cracks with the achievements of their predecessors. The second, that Student Senate is justifying their own existence. Why they would want to do either is beyond me. Regardless, the implications are disappointing. Student Senate has decided that putting their name on past accomplishments is better than working to accomplish more.

If our Student Senate wants us to realize the positive change they have effected, whatever reason they have for wanting such a thing, they shouldn’t point to the achievements of the past and expect our gratitude; it only reveals the mediocrity of their present.

I’m not asking for bigger initiatives, or anything fixed or changed. I’m asking us to be honest with ourselves. Student Senate’s goal, as stated on their site, is to “pursue positive change.” Are the posters compatible with that? I don’t think so. Let’s not dress mediocrity up as something that it isn’t.