O n Friday of last week, Aidan McConnell was elected to the Undergraduate Assembly in a special election that drew over 600 voters. I am not here to contest that victory or to criticize the way that he conducted his campaign. What I do want to draw attention to is the overwhelming vitriol and hostility that erupted over this campaign. The Undergraduate Assembly at Penn has become a depoliticized institution that is designed to represent only the broadest, most benign interests of the Penn student body. I did not run on an overtly political platform, but even the vague characterization of a “social justice” candidate who may or may not have vague connections to Penn Students For Justice in Palestine was enough to bring about a smear campaign complete with fake posters and the sentiment that the UA is not the place for activist work.
At this point, I would like to make something clear: I support Students for Justice in Palestine and the work that they do. However, I did not in any way make this part of my campaign and I had no plans to incorporate Palestinian Justice into the UA. Those who are responsible for the posters that went up around campus, proclaiming my intentions to bring Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to Penn, were trying to incite enough fury to turn voters against me, and apparently they were successful. Even my competitor, not to his own fault, believed the posters to be m i ne. Throughout the campaign process, I spent most of my time trying to determine who was attacking me, and how I should appropriately address it.
Even more indicative of the problems with the political process of the Penn Undergraduate Assembly was the widespread propagation of the idea that the UA is not the place for activist work. I am disheartened by the personal attacks, but more importantly, I am disillusioned with the lack of desire for Penn’s undergraduate representation to reflect real ideas and convictions. I am very aware of the limitations of the Undergraduate Assembly and do not wish to criticize current UA members for the environment that they are elected into, but depoliticized student representation should not be the default. In 1999, The Harvard Undergraduate Council passed a bill endorsing a higher minimum wage for non-student employees. Last spring, Fossil Free Stanford successfully lobbied the ASSU Undergraduate Senate to pass a resolution supporting fossil fuel divestment. Members of Columbia’s student government have been active and vocal supporters of No Red Tape Columbia, a sexual assault survivor activist group. Students at Penn should be just as able to take a stand.
DEVAN SPEAR is a College sophomore. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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