For returning students, Student Senate elections are a regular feature of the first week of fall term. But this year, Senate Vice President junior Phil Bennett hopes tweaks to the process will lead to a more passionate, diversified group of senators.
Bennett, who served as a senator before being elected to the executive board, noted that the composition of Senate has been similar from year to year during his time at Knox. Senators, he said, are typically confident individuals who have often previously participated in student council or similar organizations at the high school level.
“We want to reach out to students who may or may not have that confidence,” Bennett said. “We just want a different kind of student this year on Senate and to be more representative of the student body.”
Applications for Senate are already available outside the Senate office in the basement of Seymour Union to any full-time, degree-seeking student currently taking at least 2.5 credits. There are six seats within each class, and Bennett encourages upperclassmen who have not run before to consider getting involved.
“If you’ve never been on Senate, that’s more of a reason that you need to be on Senate,” he said. “We need different voices. … We need new ideas. I think we just need to refresh ourselves.”
To facilitate this rejuvenation, the application window for senators has been lengthened by a week, with applications due at the end of the second week of the term rather than the first. The Senate executive board will use the extra time to hold informational meetings with interested students about what it means to be on Senate.
“I wanted to give first-years a chance to just think about running for Senate and have an opportunity to ask questions,” Bennett said.
Applicants are allowed to begin campaigning on Sept. 21, with voting beginning three days later. In order to encourage students to vote, Bennett plans to set up laptops in Seymour Gallery during mealtimes and potentially turn a computer in Founders Lab into a voting booth.
Typically, turnout for Senate elections hovers around 40 percent. In spring 2011, it spiked as high as 47 percent during executive board elections. Bennett hopes that, by getting executive board members more enthusiastic about the election, more people will be persuaded to run, increasing turnout as a result.
“In the past, we haven’t made a great effort to talk to our peers or our friends about voting or Senate,” Bennett said. “I think this year will be a year where we’re going to set a very high standard for ourselves.”