CONNOLLY: A to-do list
University students should work this year to decrease voter apathy, reduce the prevalence of sexual assault, and foster a healthier Greek climate
In the spirit of the new school year, I thought it would be appropriate to offer up a set of resolutions for the coming year, an “agenda” of sorts, which our student leaders might heed as they govern their organizations in the coming year. This university is a haven, in many ways, from the turmoil that plagues the outside world, but that is not to say that the institutions that govern student life at this University are perfect, or even close to it. Cracks in the surface do exist.
One problem frequently cited is the lack of “true” student self-governance, manifested in pathetically low student participation in elections — just 25 percent this past spring — as well as unopposed elections, which are taken to symbolize student apathy. Everyone and his mother has heard (and complained) about this, from former Viewpoint Writer William Henagan to the Cavalier Daily Managing Board, which blames inaction on behalf of student governance organizations, all the way to those token drunk guys in the Jefferson Literary & Debating Society kvetching on the Lawn at 3 in the morning. But what can we, as students, actually do to fix these? The answer is painstakingly obvious: run for offices and vote in elections. This paper has pointed out that there is a high correlation between contested races and high voter turnout, and so this appears to be a relatively easy fix. A simple and achievable aspiration would be contested races in school-wide elections for executive-level positions in Student Council, Honor Committee and the University Judiciary Committee, coupled with at least 50 percent voter turnout. This will put cries of “the end of student self-governance” to rest.
Another problem requiring attention is the continuous prevalence of sexual assault, at this university and at colleges and universities around the country. Fortunately, the University has taken numerous steps in the right direction, as of late. This fall, the University will launch “Not on Our Grounds,” a campaign to end sexual assault. In addition, Patricia Lampkin, Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer, plans to announce changes to the University’s strategies to combat sexual assault on September 12, at the next Board of Visitors meeting. And it’s not just the administration that has been working to address this issue. Student groups such as One in Four, One Less and Take Back the Night have strived for years to raise awareness, promote bystander intervention, and speak out against sexual assault. Recently, Student Council joined them. In April, Student Council passed the Sexual Misconduct Awareness, Recovery, and Tangible change (SMART) resolution, calling for increased sexual assault education, transparency from the University, a student body survey and greater resources for survivors.
It is difficult to set an appropriate goal for this delicate matter, since any sexual assault is, of course, one too many. But it is reasonable to hope and expect that the administration will continue its focus on sexual assault, that student groups will continue to speak out against sexual assault, and that Student Council will make its resolution a reality. Let’s keep the dialogue going. And let’s make sure there’s some deliberate action behind it.
A third and final goal concerns fraternities. To put it kindly, the last two years have not been friendly to fraternity pledging (alternatively, fraternity pledging has not been friendly to the last two years). In the spring of 2013, pledging was cut short due to a number of incidents, and just this past spring, two fraternities were kicked off of campus for incidents, although one has since been brought back on appeal. The merits of each case, and the role of the University in taking action against fraternities, is up for debate, and I will not address it in this column. But I will say this: every incident in which the University disciplines a fraternity, particularly for a hazing incident, is a black eye on the Greek system. In the current national climate, where fraternities seem to be in the public eye for their destructiveness instead of their immense positive effects on tens of thousands of young men, it is damaging for this University’s national brand and reputation to continually discipline fraternities. And so the final goal of this column is for the school year to pass without a major disciplinary incident involving fraternities.
This University will be a happier place if we win just one conference football game (0-8 in conference in 2013). But it would be happier still if we were to accomplish the goals that I have outlined above. Here’s to a great year.
John Connolly is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.