I still love Williams, and I still want to help foster an environment where everyone feels welcome.
If someone had told me a month ago I would run for president of College Council (CC) this year, I would have thought they were joking. Besides complaining about CC, I didn’t have any actual experience. I might have wondered, who would vote for me? What would people think of my candidacy? Yet, in the end, nearly two-thirds of the student population voted in the CC elections this year, reversing student apathy toward campus politics. We’ve started a campus-wide inquiry into how CC operates. My campaign, I believe, was a roaring success.
I decided I would run for CC president on a whim, submitting a self-nomination at the latest possible hour. The form was easy to fill out, and I refused to write a platform any longer than students would realistically read. Initially, most people didn’t take me seriously. But then again, a history of uncontested elections has eroded the credibility of the entire process. I think most candidates in the field aren’t taken seriously.
The purpose of my campaign was twofold. For one, I have many legitimate grievances with the current system and some compelling ideas on how to fix them. But I was also running to encourage more students to have a stake in the election process. I was hoping to inject interest, excitement and healthy debate into a process that has been hopelessly forgettable. I wanted to set a precedent for people who don’t have experience on CC to feel comfortable running in future elections. This will create a more diverse group of candidates that may be more reflective of the student body as a whole.
Growing up in southwest Ohio, I have grown sick of dirty campaign ads and wanted to make sure I kept mine on the lighter side. I was running a clean campaign. Unlike others, I shied away from the offensive. Interestingly, attacks against me only gave more legitimacy to my campaign. I had controversial information I could have deployed, but I made the decision to avoid divisiveness. I only wanted to help foster an environment where everyone feels welcome.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to win. I only captured about one-third of the vote. But my platform really resounded with a sizable group of students on campus. The system is broken and people are fed up with it. They want a candidate willing to step on a few toes and shake things up. Had I been elected, I would have done my best as CC president. I would have worked tirelessly to lessen the time commitment of CC and tried to clean up some of the murkiness in the bylaws.
I would like to use this opportunity to say that I don’t endorse accusations of a conspiracy within CC that tipped the election to Cohan and Vunnamadala. They ran a smart campaign. They put way more time and energy into the process than I did. In fact, I did little following the debate. I have other commitments on campus. Last week, I was busy catching up on school after helping the men’s swim team bring home its 13th consecutive NESCAC championship.
I do believe, however, that the surge in my opponents’ campaign during the last day of voting is instructive. It says, I think, that CC was genuinely uncertain about the possibility of an outsider running the show. A history of uncontested elections has fostered a dangerous collegial atmosphere within the organization, so that unspoken agreements determine who runs for each position. This oligarchic structure exudes a deep-rooted fear of change. I will not be the judge of the campaign tactics used by Cohan and Vunnamadala. That prerogative remains the responsibility of the student body. I will only point out that the correlation is interesting.
As of now I plan on moving on with my life. I may or may not run again for CC next year, but I just hope my example will encourage more students to take a risk. The College is a truly unique place; everyone on this campus has the leadership ability to make meaningful change. Whether this be in the form of CC elections or not, I hope my campaign has illustrated the limitless potential of student involvement. Through its generation of robust debate and newfound student interest, I consider my campaign a true victory. I only hope I inspired others to do the same.
Grant Johnson ’17 is from Cincinnati, Ohio. He lives in Tyler Annex. This op-ed was written and submitted prior to the Tuesday night decision by College Council to annul the election.