Content Warning: mentions of sexual assault, rape/rape culture, racism, hate crimes, sexism/sexism culture, topics of mental health.
Campaign posters are finally being taken down after last Thursday’s Student Government Association (SGA) elections, but its candidates are still on my mind. I am glad that elections are over – it has been about a month since candidates had to turn in the necessary forms to put their names on the ballot. It has also been a month full of anxiety for me and a lot of other students. Throughout this process, I learned that the requirements to run for positions of power in SGA are lacking. Actually, there are gaping holes in candidacy requirements.
I happened to be one of the faces you saw as you walked by TVs and bulletin boards for the last two weeks and whose name was on your ballot. It came to my attention very quickly after talking to friends, acquaintances and strangers that a few of the candidates on the ballot for this year’s election and many elections past have been charged with and punished for crimes such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape or hate crimes, among other things, and were not barred from running for or holding positions of power in SGA.
According to the SGA Bylaws (Article XVI), the requirements to run for any elected position include a GPA of 2.0 or higher and a petition with (depending on the position) up to 50 student signatures. It is pretty easy to be both a sexually harassing, hate-crime-committing rapist and also be qualified for a position of power on SGA. These words are strong, but they are genuine.
St. Olaf students deserve a student government that positively contributes to the climate of St. Olaf, Minnesota and the world that we all deserve to safely inhabit. I am truly thankful for the efforts of the SGA teams and Student Senate members before us. However, while we have made progress in a lot of ways, we are not done. Our approach as a school and as a student government to issues of crime and violence must morph to fit the world around us.
The people who deserve a chance to represent the St. Olaf student body are not those who are the offenders, but those who were hurt the most by those offenders’ actions. This means treating survivors and groups of people who have been targets of violence with respect. We deserve a St. Olaf that is not complicit in the continuation of hateful, hurtful cultures. Actions like SGA introducing “It’s On Us” at St. Olaf or the administration renaming the Center for Art and Dance were positive steps for the way that people look at campus, but not quite for the way that students live on campus.
Being fair and respectful means that we accept the charges of a crime and therefore believe what was said and felt by the survivor. We are being fair and respectful to the people who live on this campus, who follow the college’s mission to “excel,” “explore” and “engage” in our values and futures by not having hurtful, hate-perpetuating people representing us, making rules and contributing to the community within SGA. These people have taken the ability to excel, explore and engage from others. There is no need to extend an olive branch to flagrant offenders on campus in terms of the election process. That is the kind of treatment that is fair to students. That is what is respectful.
Being a branch coordinator means much more than leading the committee, managing a budget or choosing and managing events. You have a seat on the Student Senate, you are part of the Executive Team and you are a figure on the St. Olaf campus. The same goes for all elected or appointed positions within SGA – they mean more than their title. These positions are neither easy nor simple.
I do not condone the extra punishment of crime-committers, simply the empowerment of survivors and other students who don’t deserve to see oppressors and offenders in positions of power, but rather deserve a chance to run for SGA offices themselves.
Currently, a friend of mine is drafting legislation to submit to our Student Senate to limit the availability of SGA office positions to students who have not committed serious, flagrant or repeated offenses on campus. We hope to remove all oppressors from the ballots by the next SGA election. We refuse to let them take positions of power. No more.
Kjersa Anderson ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Morris, Minn. She majors in history.