In the spring of 2010, Olivier Delrieu-Schulze and I decided to run for President and Vice-President of the Graduate Student Association. Our goals in running were various, but one of the major reasons I chose to pursue office was a sense that the GSA can and should do more as an advocacy organization than it already is. The GSA is a remarkable opportunity for students to affect the way their money is spent. Running for office is a process that engages a number of different sensibilities, skills, and strengths.
One of the remarkable things I discovered while engaging with this formalized, bureaucratic process was that I constantly was thinking of ways that the rules and procedures are a very serious game. While we have specific policy points that deal with the content of the GSA’s activities, I couldn’t help but think about the rulesets that govern what can and can’t be done in the organization. For the most part, the GSA follows the sketch of a parliamentary democracy. Due to the limitations of the academic year, there are some important changes that had to be made to the parliamentary model. What is most interesting to me is the lack of engagement with the framework and ruleset itself — technically, the GSA was founded as a body completely independent of the university. The source of most of our problems during the campaign season may be attributed to an outdated ruleset that had to be hastily repaired.
I find the idea of student government compelling here and now because we can build a model of how the world could function. By thinking broadly about the culture and structure of organizations, as well as more specifically about issues that affect graduate students’ daily lives, such as financial support for conferences, racism on campus, and how best to nurture interdisciplinarity, the GSA is an incredible laboratory to work on building a better world.
Our collected papers, ephemera, and reflections are currently being compiled into an archival website. We don’t want to make these papers public until we’ve created a comprehensive archive, and the results have been made official.
The campaign process was arduous and difficult, with the results of the original polling contested by our opponents. Their complaints bounced the election to the hands of the Student-Wide Judiciary, which ruled that the election results be overturned due to evidence of bias on the part of the election committee. We appealed the decision, and while our appeal was granted, we were forced to re-run the election anyway. The second election results led to Olivier winning the presidency. I lost the vice-presidency.
Nevertheless, running for office was a crucial step in effecting a major change in the attitudes of graduate students toward their government. I remain active in the Senate, where I am pushing for increased engagement. I serve as the chair of the Social Justice committee and am working to advance our agenda in the legislature.
Campaign photos by Shasti O’Leary Soudant.