Going into freshman fall, I knew I wanted to make an impact. I found myself so in love with the idea of the Penn community and I hoped to be able to be a leader by taking advantage of whatever opportunity came up. At the time, I knew that I wanted to make this experience — our experience — the best it can be for every member of the Class of 2022. A few weeks later, I found myself collecting signatures to run for Class Board president.
Serving as Class Board president was one of the most challenging yet rewarding learning experiences I've had to date. As an elected member of Penn Student Government, I thought I would be able to make a significant, tangible difference in the life of each person that walks down Locust Walk day-in and day-out. I was fully ready to commit 150% of my time to this title; unfortunately, I found that, although this was a significant part of my Penn experience, it mattered less to others.
As much as we would like to believe that elections shouldn’t be popularity contests, they are. Throughout each election cycle, extroverted students with limitless connections flood social media with their campaign slogans, raps, videos, and “platforms” promising “inclusivity” and “transparency.” Elections are inherently biased towards those who have less intensive academic schedules, more friends to change their Facebook profile pictures to their banners, and name recognition. In reality, voters will cast their votes for the names they recognize, not the platforms that those names represent. This elections culture creates a heated race of Instagram followers, social clout, and who you know versus what you want to change.
Soon after the fight is done, votes are cast, elected student government officials take their “oath of office,” and the real work begins. After committing to fight for “inclusivity” and “transparency,” a small percentage of the total Penn population sit in a room and try to tackle some of the University’s biggest problems. In many cases, successful initiatives by the Undergraduate Assembly and Class Board have worked out, like the UA’s Thrive at Penn or Class Board’s Feb Club. In actuality, however, the driving forces of these initiatives are those few who truly committed to uphold their responsibilities and to fix the problems they promised to tackle during the election season.
Unfortunately, to some on elected PSG bodies, the title is just that — a title. I give major credit to those consistently fighting for what’s right and pushing for an ideal picture of what Penn's student government should be. Those who run, and run for the right reasons, truly deserve to sit in on the committees, reap the benefits, and make the difference they sought out in their elections. Those who treat the title as just a title and don’t respect the weight it carries should step down from their positions, or simply not run. This culture of convenience position-holding and title bearing slows down the growth and change that the elected branches of PSG can enforce.
Walking away from being class president is one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. I struggled with the idea that my passion and love for Penn, as well as my mental health, was deteriorating. I had trouble understanding how an opportunity this big, an experience so worthwhile, could cause me so much emotional and mental struggle. I saw what was originally 150% of my energy going into the amazing work we completed quickly take a massive downward turn. I felt like no matter how hard I tried, only a few other elected students considered this opportunity as meaningful as I did.
Overall, I lost track of my pursuit of happiness. I realized that I could still be Jonathan Scotto, and maybe a better version of him, without the title. I still want to be that person who you wave to on Locust, the dining halls, or in class. I still want to be that shoulder to cry on, or someone to laugh at your Overheard at Penn post. I am so proud and honored to have served a meaningful term, but the culture of the elected branches of PSG needs to change.
I hope for the day that the elected branches of PSG are run by committed, passionate, motivated people in their entirety; I hope that the new elected officials realize the weight of their positions and contributions; I hope that elections stop being about who has the most connections and become centered around real, tangible change.
In the end, voter turnout and voter standards have a great impact on what type of candidates get elected. I urge everyone to vote for those candidates who are true to their platform, are passionate about making a difference, and are willing to give student government their all. It’s time to make a choice of who you want to lead you. I hope you make sure that choice is a well-informed, confident one.
Voting officially ends on Thursday, April 4th at 5 p.m. and ballots can be cast here.
JONATHAN SCOTTO is a College freshman from Miami, Fla. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.