Engaging Student Politics: The University is the place to begin with Civil Engagement

“School elections? Ugh, not again. I thought it was bad enough in high school!” a young first year student mutters to her friend as she enters the Gallagher Student Center. I have never really been a big fan of school elections either.

From my sophomore year of high school, I vividly remember the young and popular beauty queen, whose financially successful parents helped her invest in her campaign with everything from bright neon pink T-shirts, pens and buttons to bumper stickers and sunglasses. Sure enough, she won the election and became student body president that year amidst an onslaught of high school drama ranging from vandalizing posters to Facebook gossip. I came to college, specifically Xavier, to get away from this type of atmosphere. Yet, why do elections at a Jesuit institution for higher learning once again feel like a popularity contest? Will you or I just wear the T-shirt and vote because our friend is running in the election?

I will be the first one to admit that I did get caught up in this trap at one time. Though I don’t regret my decision, I should’ve been better informed on all the candidates’ platforms. When representatives for a platform come up to you on the green space, do you try and hide in hopes that they will just leave you alone on your walk to class? I will admit I have wanted to stay far away from school politics.

This is not an answer. Our university is going through a transition, and more than ever, we need mature class president who will promote Jesuit values and make sure our commitment to the common good and to the education of the whole person stays in place. We as a university community need candidates who are focused on the issues, not who can sabotage the other candidates or put up stickers in a residence hall.

The presidential candidates represent us, and they — not you or I — will be the ones having meetings with the Provost and monthly dinners with Father Graham. Being a student at a private and expensive Jesuit university is a privilege. Many will never have the opportunity you and I have. With this Jesuit education comes responsibility. This is a time when we should be striving to become ever more socially and politically conscious men and women for others. This occurs both inside and outside of the classroom whether we realize it or not. We must be willing to explore issues outside of ourselves and question the dominant narratives that have been preached to us throughout our lives.

That does not mean we must drop them, but rather that we must engage in critical conversation and be willing to have dialogue. I encourage you to take time to attend a lecture that isn’t for extra credit or to visit a professor not just because you missed class, but to learn about their research.

“Oh, I’m too busy,” you might say. I’ve made that excuse too many times before, and as a second- semester senior I find myself regretfully wishing I had done more. I encourage you to read each candidate’s platform and to hold whoever wins accountable.

Even if you are a senior and may be more ready than ever to leave this school, I hope you will want the leadership to be left in good hands. You and I are a part of a generation that is becoming more and more self-consumed.

This is made easier and easier with growing technological advances and better access to mobile devices. Do we use our iPhone every other minute to check out the stupid joke our friend made via Facebook or Twitter? Or do we possibly use our time to download a news app and learn about the current civil war in Syria, immigration reform efforts or the healthcare system? It’s the small steps we take to educate ourselves that will add up in the long haul. Or will we as a Xavier community and representatives of our generation continue thinking ignorance is bliss? We must wake up.

Whether we like to admit it or not, becoming socially and politically engaged students starts within our own community and student elections. I can’t make you login and vote or read a platform, but I encourage you to do so as a small step in the right direction and for the future of this university.

Brendan Kelly is a senior majoring in international studies. He is from Olney, Marylan.