During the College Council (CC) elections last week, Papa Smurf received nine write-in votes for the class of 2021 representative – more votes than three of the students actually elected. In response, some students drafted a resolution that CC ultimately passed, outlined a “Blue New Deal” – which did not pass – and dressed up as Papa Smurf for the first CC meeting. Others expressed disapproval of such actions because it devalued CC’s purpose.
John Murphy ’21, who originally created a Facebook event titled “DEMAND Papa Smurf be seated at CC” in the College’s meme page as a joke, found that 126 people had marked themselves as “Going.” “When I realized how much traction it had, I worked with WAFFLES [Williams Anarchists for Fun and Lighthearted Entertaining Surprises] and the meme page to create the final draft of the resolution which CC ended up passing,” he said. “ I also was one of a few individuals who drafted the Nine-Step-Plan known as the ‘Blue New Deal,’ which did not pass a vote but forced numerous members of CC to stifle their laughter as I read it out loud at Tuesday’s meeting. I also dubbed myself and Onyeka Obi ’21 as co-presidents of Smurf SuperPAC Incorporated, a private sector organization based out of Carter House devoted to keeping Smurfs in office.”
“A Resolution on Blue Democracy” was co-authored by WAFFLES, Surf Club and Frosh Revue and co-sponsored by Porter Johnson ’21, Andrew Trunsky ’20, Solly Kasab ’21 and Lance Ledet ’21. It held that CC fulfill five requests: “Recognize Papa Smurf as a force for political leadership on the Williams campus; commend Papa Smurf for his ability to unite a diverse spectrum of students; designate the four Class of 2021 Representatives as ‘Papa Smurf Memorial Class of 2021 Representatives,’ a designation to be held until the year 2022; delineate an area of every meeting for the display of a ‘Papa Smurf Portrait,’ dutifully provided by sympathetic students; and hold a vote on Papa Smurf’s Nine-Step-Plan: A Blue New Deal.”
Porter Johnson ’21, who wore red tights to the first CC meeting and co-sponsored the resolution that passed, had expected a meme-like candidate to win the spot for the class of 2021 representative. “Given that there were no self-nominations for ’21 representatives, and given how few people I saw actually putting their name out there, I fully expected a meme to outright win a spot on College Council. What did surprise me, however, was how few votes were actually needed,” he said.
Other students were critical of the events. Abel Romero ’19, who formerly served as vice president for student affairs and class of 2019 representative, rejected the idea that Papa Smurf could be elected to CC. “To be elected, one must be a member of the student body here at Williams. I opposed the certification of the election of a former student during the Fall for this very reason, and I’m glad the committee acted responsibly this time around,” Romero said.
While beginning with a humorous tone, Murphy saw his actions as a larger commentary on CC. “I see CC as a self-aggrandizing body that determines which activities of student clubs and coalitions have ‘worth’ to this campus; I also believe that many who run for positions on CC do purely for their resumes,” he said. “I think at Williams and at large, we give too much power to the vote and to electoralism, and … the real capacity for change on this campus comes from individual and collective student action, not from ‘representatives.’”
Johnson expressed similar views about CC. “I believe that the election results, as well as the lack of self-nominations, are a sign that CC’s image has been taking a wrong turn in the past year – to the point where people are generally apathetic about wanting to be involved with it,” he said.
Emphasizing his hope for agency over student government at the College, Murphy cited several perceived injustices on campus that have not been addressed on CC election platforms. “I hope that this event, while comedic, is not seen as a mockery of grassroots activism but as a sign that we the students should have power and agency over the way that the college is run,” Murphy said. “There are many hypocrisies at this college that do not even appear on CC election platforms, such as why we can afford to build a new science center but not to keep the Health Center open over the summer, or that during the recession we closed two dining halls but somehow managed to maintain our naval-sized fleet of CSS vans. I hope that this mockery of CC represents a change of power collectively into student hands. Our concerns do not deserve to get lost under a stack of papers because aspiring bureaucrats want to play politics.”
Romero, however, disapproved of such actions. “I am disappointed and frustrated with the lack of participation in CC elections, but I was particularly disgusted with the introduction of the post-election resolution,” he said. “Instead of putting their time and effort into attempting to make College Council better, or improve student life on this campus, some self-important people decided to pull this joke as a blatant sign of disrespect for student governance. This is part of a broader trend, including a class representative who ran on a platform of abolishing CC, to engage in performative acts of self-aggrandizement instead of acting in the best interests of their fellow students. Unfortunately, my term on Council was beset with this type of behavior – I regret not being able to do more to stop it.”
For Romero, criticism of CC should not originate from disengaged students. “I would also add, however, that unless people want to run for CC and participate in elections (for actual candidates), they shouldn’t complain that it’s not being responsive to their concerns,” he said.
Recently elected CC co-Presidents Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí ’20, Ellie Sherman ’20 and Olivia Tse ’20 were also surprised by the election of Papa Smurf. “We were surprised of how much support this write-in option received during the election and has continued to receive since then,” they said. “That a fictional cartoon character has caught the attention of so many students demonstrates how frustrated students have become with how past Councils have taken themselves too seriously. We are glad that this happening has brought up so many more conversations about CC through campus. We also hope that the same support we are currently witnessing for this write-in option also appears in solidarity with students mobilizing for the support of black and queer professors, Asian American studies, affinity housing, need-blind admission for international students and compensation for JAs.”