story Scott Currie | May Tay
On Feb. 6, Yale-NUS College welcomed its first ever Student Government, as eleven student representatives were elected after a month-long election process. In the elections, 254 students representing 78% of the student body voted, marking the end of an 18-month-long effort to create a Student Government.
A constitution drafted and ratified over the past semester set the basic framework for the Student Government. The elected body consists of eleven members with equal votes who are either representatives of their class, residential college, or representatives-at-large. According to the Yale-NUS Student Constitution document, the primary powers of the Student Government will lie in recognizing student organizations and organizing college-wide events.
College administrators celebrated the formation of the Student Government. President Pericles Lewis noted the importance of having students take ownership of more college-wide events through a Student Government. Dean of Students Kyle Farley said it is key that the elected body is seen as representing the voices of the students. Chris O’Connell, Manager of Student Life, concurred: “Having a conduit for student ideas and perspectives only strengthens the Yale-NUS community.”
Of the students who were interviewed, some were heartened by the fruitful conclusion to the elections. “The process made me see that … many of us still care about Student Government,” said Ami Firdaus ’17, who was elected as the Cendana College representative. Jolanda Nava ’17, who was part of the Elections Committee, saw the Student Government as a good long-term move that deals with the unsustainability of having individual students directly approach the administration for all issues.
Not everyone thinks this way. Timothy Lim ’17 is concerned that the Student Government will become “largely symbolic and ceremonial”, noting that while the Student Government is “broadly representative”, its powers are “minimal at best”. Others highlighted the poor turnout at Saturday’s election forum, where candidates made their speeches, as signs of a largely apathetic student body. “Generally, there’s a feeling of inertia and disinterest,” Tu Linh Nguyen ’17 said. Assistant Professor of Philosophy Andrew Bailey noted that “there exists already collective movement on things that [students] care about”, and wondered if the Student Government will become “an extra layer of bureaucracy” instead.
The journey toward an elected Student Government was hardly smooth sailing. One of the issues over the campaigning period of three weeks was the use of social media. Article X of the election guidelines states that “Campaigning together is not allowed”, yet there were incidents when several candidates appeared to be in breach in their use of social media. Due to the lack of specificity in the guidelines, it was unclear how violations in general would be determined or dealt with. The guidelines also did not address the involvement of non-candidates in campaigns. When interviewed, Nava said that the elections committee had tried to run the election in the “spirit of fairness and correctness” as far as possible.
The newly minted Student Government is the first successful outcome of multiple attempts in the past to foster its creation. These include the formation of interim student advisory boards such as the Dean of Students Advisory Committee and Elected Student Committee, which facilitated a Constitutional Convention in February 2014.
Moving forward, the Student Government will have to work closely with other groups consisting of student representatives. Elm College has formed its own residential college advisory council, while Saga College’s is in the works. Additionally, the Student Government will have to work with the Student Organization Review Board on funding for student organisations. The constitution does not allow the Student Government to allocate funding to student organisations.
The current constitution includes a sunset clause that mandates a review of the constitutional model. It will take effect in November 2015, after a two-semester term.
Yonatan Gazit | Chan Li Ting | Ying Tong Lai contributed reporting.