New Council, Same Challenges

in Editorials | April 28, 2023

The blossoming of flowers and the arrival of warm, sunny days mark not just the start of spring but of the long-awaited election season, in which a number of admirable IV Formers toss their hats in the ring for various positions on Student Council, whether it be for President, the Vice President positions, or the representative roles. Each year, after platforms are released and speeches are delivered, the dining halls and house common rooms fill with excited chatter about each candidate’s ideas and suggestions for ways to improve life at Lawrenceville. While some students take a more optimistic view, believing the proposed ideas to be effective and implementable, most students are aware of the reality that, ultimately, very few of these candidates’ promises are actually kept. It is time for a much-needed shift in the student body’s expectations of Student Council as well as the authority that representatives of student government hold. 
Though every election season features a new batch of competitors eager to voice their innovative ideas to the rest of the community, there has been a noticeable pattern in recent years of the aspects of campus life that candidates choose to focus on. Contenders for the role of Vice President of Honor tend to push for greater leniency in the disciplinary process, Vice President of Academics candidates promise to increase grade transparency, Vice President of Social Life candidates aim to revamp Saturday night events, and so on. Despite this consistency in the improvements that candidates want to implement, Lawrenceville has yet to see measurable change over the last couple of years. 
In response to this lack of substantial improvement, Lawrentians complain and criticize. We fault our Student Council representatives for not being able to follow through on promises, or we fault ourselves for being the ones who voted these students into their respective positions. In these moments, we tend to forget that these individuals we think of as high and mighty fighters for the student cause are just like us. Just like us, they have major assignments due and sports games to attend with the additional burden of college applications weighing on their shoulders as V Formers. Rather than channeling our frustrations towards the school into condemning members of Student Council, it might be time for us to reconsider our expectations of student government and its role on campus. With such a shift, we would relieve some of the tremendous pressure that Student Council representatives face while taking on a more positive and appreciative attitude towards Lawrenceville life.
Not only are Lawrentians’ expectations of Student Council too lofty, they are also unrealistic. Students tend to believe that Student Council has the same abilities as the School's administration to plan events, change policies, and more, when in reality they do not have that power, let alone access to the proper oversight and resources to be able to make the drastic changes students so attentively hope for. If students were not given the idea that Student Council has the same, if not, greater power than the administration, we would not expect our peers to function like administrators. The role of Student Council is to serve as a bridge between the students and administration and to vouch for ideas on behalf of the entire student body. Often, however, as IV Formers run for roles on Student Council, they, too, find themselves caught in this misconception of these roles. In hopes of winning a position on Student Council, most students become carried away in making promises they can’t keep, not for lack of work ethic, but rather for lack of ability. The continuation of these promises every election season results in the cycle of ambitious goals that sound feasible and ideal in spirit, only to be shut down by the administration and regenerated by a candidate the next year.
These repetitive platforms and similarities in ideas also beg the question—why is it so challenging for many student initiatives to be implemented? While the School has made strides towards better including the student body in decisions regarding campus life through events like the town hall, the reality is that even representatives on Student Council have limited power in implementing changes. Every policy, even seemingly-trivial details like the theme of a school dance, has to be approved by faculty or a member of the administration. Without this stamp of approval, nothing can be accomplished on campus. The administration acts as a constant supervisor, trying to control any behavior that does not meet its standards. 
So should Student Council be given more power? While its main duty is to act as a bridge between the administration, faculty, and students, perhaps an increase in the authority of student government would benefit the School and all Lawrentians. Administration should trust that Student Council VPs and representatives have the ability to take on the responsibility of their roles, roles that they ran for and were elected into. Even if representatives are unable to effectively implement changes, future generations of student government should treat the lessons learned by past Student Council members as opportunities for improvement rather than criticism. By granting Student Council representatives more power in making decisions for the School, greater opportunity arises for positive, substantial improvement over the course of the next few years.