Student government leaders encourage involvement in politics

By Dorian Davis

It can be intimidating to campaign for a position, but former student body president Michael Wright believes that somewhere within the student government, there’s a seat waiting with your name on it.

For many, the thought of campaigning for a position is often associated with money, lies and scandals. However, Wright said there are certain policies and regulations that make the process as fair and safe as possible for everyone.

“We have spending limits that are outlined in the electoral code,” Wright said.

Those limits give student body presidential candidates a maximum budget of $300 and $75 for senatorial candidates to spend on their campaigns.

“The purpose behind that is to make sure that anyone has the opportunity to run and they aren’t constricted by their financial situation,” Wright said.

Students enrolled in many hours may not think they have the time to campaign, but Wright said certain candidates have used their creativity to capitalize on high-traffic areas, such as Facebook.

“Some candidates spend hours and others don’t spend more than 20 to 30 minutes making a Facebook group,” Wright said.

Houston junior Ben Aguinaga, student government senator and former student government presidential candidate, said he believes social-media websites like Facebook will have a significant impact on future elections.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the last thing a student will see [before the election] is a candidate’s Facebook page,” Aguinaga said.

Aguinaga, who lost the race for president to Houston senior Zach Rogers in a runoff election in April, said the most useful feature of Facebook is the ability to create event pages because users are reminded everyday and show up on their friend’s pages stating they had attended the event.

“Something you’ll see a lot of people do is create a core group of friends and ask them if they would like to donate their profile picture for a week,” Aguinaga said. “Whatever your campaign button slogan is can be their profile picture and that pops up.”

Those unfamiliar with the process of student government campaigns may remember the days of their high school student government when students attempted to ban homework and get a new soda machine, only to find their power never went beyond choosing the theme for prom.

Instead of a political government, Wright characterizes Baylor’s student government more as a student-run organization centralized to other campus organizations.

“I view student government as a service organization that focuses on two main things: advocating on behalf of the student body and allocating to the various student organizations to host campus wide events.”

In order to achieve his top priority of connecting and relating to students, Wright spent an average of 20-30 hours a week on student government initiatives. In addition to members of the student government, Wright often met with administrators such as Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president of student life and President Ken Starr to ensure students’ concerns and needs were addressed.

Looking back on his tenure, Wright said he is particularly proud of his work with Starr to create the President’s Scholarship Initiative, a program aimed at helping students combat rising tuition costs.

The idea was founded after issuing a survey to students on what issues they were most concerned with.

“We brought this concern to the senior level of the administration and worked to find a solution to this issue. We ultimately decided it under the leadership of Judge Starr and he began to implement the President’s Scholarship Initiative,” Wright said.

While the student body president is typically the most sought after, Wright emphasizes the importance of the other positions.

“We have 13 senators and three class officers elected per class and they run in three different races. We have class president, vice president and class secretary and treasury for each class.”

Having lost two student government presidential campaigns, Aguinaga said that he’s a stronger person because of it, referencing Abraham Lincoln’s failures in politics prior to becoming president.

“When I was a kid, I looked at Abraham Lincoln as a role model because he lost numerous races. He ran over 20 times for political positions, but he won when it mattered.”

Aguinaga says anyone can benefit from the experience of running for a position.

“These races in student government are such great character builders if you approach them the right way. They teach you not just mental and physical endurance, but they demand a personal attribute,” Aguinaga said.

If the idea of campaigning doesn’t grab students’ attention, then consider the number of non-elected positions throughout the student government, Aguinaga said.

“There are cabinet positions within the president and external vice presidential offices that really anyone can become a part of, and we also have student court,” he said.

The student court operates as the judicial branch of the student government, aimed at interpreting the student body constitution in disputes among students and organizations so that a solution can be resolved.

Regardless, Wright said he believes it’s important for students to find a campus organization they’re comfortable with.

“I would encourage them if they’re interested in student government to run for the position they feel called to. And beyond that, I would encourage every freshman to get involved in an organization,” he said.

“Take advantage of the leadership opportunities around campus and invest yourself in the people around you.”