Student Council Elections at a Time of Transition

By Maxime Garcia Diaz

— The AUC student body is gearing up to elect its student representatives for the 2015-2016 academic year. The deadline to hand in applications for the Student Council is this Friday, and the elections will take place on May 18th and 19th.

Interest in the Student Council’s activities and participation in the elections tends to be low, but this year’s election seems to promise more spark. Current board members are hopeful that their efforts to increase the Student Council’s transparency and visibility over the past year will pay off. It is expected that the current climate among Amsterdam students will help as well.

While manning the information stand during Monday’s, Apr. 13, lunch break, current Student Council (SC) chair Aqsa Hussain, was optimistic. “I think we’ll have a few lists of candidate parties,” she said. “Basically, anything will be better than last year’s turnout.” In the past, SC elections tended to garner 400 to 500 votes from the student body, but last year’s elections had a particularly low turnout: only 260 votes, which equaled 30 percent of the total student body. A possible reason could have been that last year’s elections were particularly devoid of tension: after Dana Hakman dropped out, there were only five candidates left for the five vacant Student Council positions.

Due to the UvA protests and the New University movement, student engagement with university politics is rising throughout the city, and AUC is no exception. “I think that because there are more parties now, you really have to set yourself apart from the other ones, find some key points and oppose each other,” said Stijn Gabriel, current SC secretary. “There will be more competition. I’m excited, I think these elections will be bigger. Last year people just didn’t care enough.”

Didn’t care enough, or didn’t know enough? “I didn’t even know what the Student Council was in my first year,” said third-year student Chloé Berger. “They were so invisible.” But this past semester the question ‘what does the Student Council do?’ was heard less frequently as the board posted regularly on its Facebook page and held Townhall Meetings at AUCafé. The SC increased its number of updates, from quarterly to monthly, and the size of the focus groups doubled.

This was a conscious decision to combat the low interest in previous years, which can also be attributed to the subject matter the SC deals with. “The AUC Student Association (AUCSA) works with students, but we don’t,” said Bram Jaarsma, current Head of External Communications within the SC. While AUCSA concerns itself with the social, extracurricular community of AUC, the Student Council is involved in all academic and administrative matters.

Current SC members have remarked on the frustrating bureaucratic nature of the work and the disproportionately little recognition in return. “It’s weird how you kind of hate it but it’s also really rewarding,” said Bram. “And at the same time it’s not rewarding at all.”

Compared to the AUCSA, there seems to be more bureaucracy and less glory in the Student Council; more power too perhaps, although opinions are split on that front. One candidate in this year’s elections, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “We want to politicize the Student Council, because right now, they don’t have any power.”

Officially, the Student Council only has a right to approval and a right to advise; it has no right to make any agreement binding. However, Maeva Dolle, who served as Head of Internal Communications on the 2013-2014 board, said that her board’s efforts strengthened the SC’s position. “Before, we weren’t taken seriously, but we met with a lawyer to clarify our rights,” she said. “Afterwards they took our advice and approval very seriously.”

Whatever rights the Student Council has, though, it can only function effectively if the students participate, and hopefully this year’s board has successfully raised enough awareness to result in active involvement.

The UvA protests over the past academic year also ignited more engagement among AUC students. In particular, after the eviction of the Bungehuis, when several AUC students spent time in jail, the board faced controversy as some students pressured them to break their silence on the issue and join other student representative institutions in declaring their solidarity. In this situation, Jaarsma, for one, saw the contrasts between being a public figure on the SC and a regular AUC student. “You take on a role that brings obligations with it,” he said. “But they don’t always completely align with you as a person. It leads to some cognitive dissonance, I’d say.” While the Bungehuis statement was a tricky situation for the SC to navigate, the connection to the student protests did draw more attention towards them. “The whole wave of student politics is definitely a good thing,” said Hussain, “but small things – we just got our proposal for a Student Life Officer accepted – also help people see what we’ve been doing with the governance structure, and such.”

After spring break, the candidates will have one week to campaign. Candidates run with four fellow students on their ‘list’ in an electoral system similar to Dutch parliamentary elections. Whoever runs, and whoever is elected to serve on the 2015-2016 Student Council, likely hopes to represent an engaged, involved and conscious student body.

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