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Where are our leaders?

Editorial Board | Thursday, February 2, 2012

You may remember freshman orientation, when administrators from Notre Dame tossed around figures about how many members of your class were sports captains, editors of publications or presidents of student government in high school. Suffice to say, the University likes to pride itself on recruiting leaders and churning them out even stronger than before.

To be sure, with 8,000 undergraduates at a top-flight research university, there certainly are a lot of leaders. But what happened Wednesday evening in the LaFortune Student Center, something that has been weeks coming, tells a different story — Notre Dame students may not quite be the leaders we imagine ourselves to be.

Student Senate rejected a recommendation by the Judicial Council to suspend next Wednesday’s student body presidential election. The measure was proposed because juniors Brett Rocheleau and Katie Rose were the only official ticket approved by the Judicial Council.

The fact that student government ultimately decided we should have a student body president election is a good thing. It is disturbing to even imagine the suspension of elections was a viable option in the first place. Even if there is only one official choice, the student body should always have a venue to express its support or disapproval in an election. Thankfully, the privilege of choice was upheld.

However, the issue remains that this measure even came to a vote in the first place. The fact only one official ticket stepped forward is alarming. Complete and utter indifference from the undergraduate student body is unacceptable. This is Notre Dame — a school comprised of students who are leaders on this campus, and will go on to be leaders in whatever field they choose.

In this case, however, we came up short.

Students often complain about student government’s perceived lack of action, but we are equally as guilty of such a charge. Here was the perfect opportunity to stand up, make our voice heard and do something — and we failed. What does it say about our student body when among thousands of us, only two are able to identify themselves as worthy of such a role? Last year five tickets ran. What happened in a year that all of a sudden, no one wanted to fight to represent the student body?

It is hard, therefore, to take much issue with what student government does (or is perceived not to do) when no one wants to upset the status quo. Students can complain all they want about how they view student government, but it is a two-way street. Student government was not created to do amazing things for students with no strings attached — it was created as a voice for our campus community to identify issues, solve problems and therefore advance our undergraduate lives. But when students don’t want to use this voice, their ideas cannot be realized. The student body as a whole is at fault for not rising to the challenge. Apathy is no excuse for dissatisfaction.

That isn’t to say student government and the Judicial Council should get out of this with a free pass. It is hard to call the student body to action with only one or two bland emails advertising informational meetings during the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, which most students probably relegated to their trash bin right away. Additionally, this process has been a long time coming. Even if both parties had the utmost faith in Rocheleau and Rose as leaders, it ultimately falls on their shoulders to make sure due process is followed — and it will not be. While they may have saved face by having the election, student government needs to realize that essentially promoting from within, without challenging other student leaders to step forward and identify themselves, cannot fly.

Wednesday will be like any other day at the University. Students will go to classes, practices and meetings as usual. The one difference is we will be voting to identify two of our peers to represent our student body. And as much as we are choosing them, these past few days and weeks we have made an even bigger statement — we don’t identify ourselves as worthy of tackling the challenge.