Thursday, February 02, 2006

My Story: Student Government

I've said before that Montreat College (called "Montreat-Anderson College" at the time I started attending) was a very small school, having a total enrollment of about 400 students at the time I was there. This meant that I had some rather unique opportunities that I likely would not have had if I had been at another school. At least one such opportunity was my involvement in the Student Government Association (SGA).

When I was in high school, running for student office was not an option for me. The school's rules dictated that a person interested in holding an office could not just run by themselves, but had to put together a "slate" of 5 people that ran together. This slate needed to include both men and women, had to have representation from more than one race, and needed to include students from more than one academic program (i.e, "Advanced" and "Honors" programs, or "Honors" and "Liberal Arts," for example). Not being a particularly social person, getting such a "slate" together was a virtual impossibility for me. So any student government experience would have to wait....

But when I entered college, I was quickly tapped to be a part of what was called the "Honor Court" as the Freshman class representative. Like many Christian colleges, Montreat had a set of rules that was called the "Honor Code." This consisted of things such as lying, cheating, plagiarism, and so on: "minor" infractions by some standards, but the Honor Code was meant to be a testament to our Christian ideals. When infractions of the Honor Code were believed to occur, the accused student would have their case brought to the Honor Court, to be heard by his/her peers.

Being on the Honor Court meant that we got to attend the larger SGA meetings, and so I became familiar with how certain aspects of how the school were run: student events, how student funds were spent, etc. I also saw a fair bit of controversy, as different factions of the student body would get into heated arguments about policies that they thought were unfair (and probably a few that actually were). Sometimes, scandal would strike the SGA directly, such as the time during my second year at the college when the Junior Class President left the school under accusation of stealing valuable items from another student. This left a gap that needed to be filled amidst a turbulent time.

Although I did attend Montreat College for the usual 4 years, I had earned enough college credits through special classes while I was in High School to be classified as a college Junior by my second year, and so I was eligible for the now-vacant office. I inquired about what I would need to do if I were interested in running, and was essentially told that the job was mine. Attempting to do things a little more properly than that, I called a Junior class meeting to discuss the matter, as well as to select a Vice-President (that office also being vacant, for reasons which elude me at present). A total of three people attended: myself, my friend who edited the Literary magazine, and one other. That third person said he wouldn't mind serving as Vice-President, and so he got the job. (Again, I stress how small our school was, although we still could have theoretically had some 50-70 students come if the entire class took an interest.)

One particular controversy that hit at about this time involved a radio station that came to our school for a promotional contest. They would give away a free trip to Florida for Spring Break. This was a "big deal" for a small conservative school like ours, for all the wrong reasons. There were a couple of people who strongly objected to such a "secular" prize being given away at our school to one of our students, as if to encourage drinking and the kind of debauchery often assumed to go on during Spring Breaks in Florida.

We debated the matter in SGA, and my editor friend argued against having such contests at the college in the future. Most of the SGA members treated this suggestion with hostility and were very rude (I think it's safe to say that the SGA was more liberal than the student body as a whole. Take that for whatever it's worth). I defended my friend's right to her opinion, and found myself on the wrong end of the other students' insults. It was an ugly meeting.

A couple of days later, I walked out of my dormitory building to find my friend's car plastered over with bumper stickers displaying the name of the radio station in question, and an empty bottle of wine on top of the car. I promptly took the stickers off of the car (thankfully, it was still early enough in the morning that there was a layer of dew all over the car, and the stickers had been very recently applied, so I was able to take the stickers off without damage to the car), and later told my friend what had happened. To the best of my recollection, the person who attempted to vandalize my friend's car was never caught.

It was only a few weeks after this incident that my editor friend passed away. About a month after that, the SGA Vice-President approached me. In addition to being on SGA, I had worked with her through my involvement in the drama department, and she suggested that I run for the office of SGA President. I expect that, out of my grief, I wasn't thinking terribly clearly at the time, because I actually applied and ran for the office.

I've already emphasized a few times that my college had a very small student body. It should therefore come as no surprise that, when election season comes around, there are many offices for which only one person is running. This does not (contrary to my experience becoming Junior Class President) mean that the office automatically goes to whoever runs. The SGA Constitution requires that a candidate much receive at least "50% plus 1" of the votes cast to win an election.

The person who was currently Student Body President at that time had actually lost his first attempt to run, despite running unopposed, to a write-in candidate (the previous President, who had specifically said he didn't want the job again). It was soon determined that the write-in candidate won illegally, as supporters were encouraging people to write in the candidate's name at the polls, which was clearly a violation of our constitution. So a second election was held for the office of SGA President (as well as for one or two other heretofore unfilled positions). The person who had run unopposed before ran, unopposed, again, and lost again, until it was determined that, unless the student casting the ballot specifically wrote "NO" next to the Presidential candidate's name (there was no box on the ballot for a "no" vote), no vote was considered to be cast one way or the other (remember, the candidate must win "50% plus 1" of the votes cast). Even after reinterpreting the ballots in this way, the candidate only won by a few votes.

Thankfully, my own election for SGA President was not so controversial. Although I also ran unopposed, I was elected by more than 90% of the votes cast.

My year as SGA President was an eventful one, although I really can't take credit for most of the progress that happened. This was the year that "Montreat-Anderson College" decided to change its name to "Montreat College" (making me the last-ever SGA President of "Montreat-Anderson"), and the budget crisis of that year dictated that a lot of things were cut that I would have just as soon preserved. I was heavily involved in streamlining our student judicial process, bringing "Honor Code" violations under the same system that more serious violations (such as physical assault and vandalism) were adjudicated under (and, frankly, I always thought that plagiarism should have been given more weight, anyway). And I'm happy to say that I left the SGA in good hands, as my Vice-President succeeded me as President, gaining about 98% of the vote in her election!

I actually attended Montreat College for one more year after my time as SGA President ended, but I really had no intention of keeping the office for another year. That third year was, by far, my busiest year of college. I was SGA President, edited the literary magazine, and participated in drama (any one of which should have been considered full-time endeavors!) all at the same time, and I was looking forward to a year as "just a student." As it turned out, I did end up becoming involved in further extra-curricular activities, being asked to serve as a Resident Assistant in my dorm for that final year.

But that's a story for another time....

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