This past week, the Middlebury student body went to the polls to elect the members of next year’s Student Government Association. For 24 hours from noon on Wednesday to noon on Thursday, students logged into a website where they ranked their preferred candidates in races for SGA President, the Student Co-Chair of Community Council, representatives for their Commons and Class, and two proposed amendments to the Honor Code. After the dust had settled on these hotly contested elections, 75.4% of the student body turned out to vote in the election, by far the highest rate in recent memory. After a year in which the issue of apathy and communication between the student body, the student government, and the College administration has been at the fore of campus conversation, this incredible turnout is an emphatic statement of how much Middkids care about what goes on in their community.
The campaigns for the SGA elections generated ample campus chatter on campus. It seemed like everywhere you went, students were asking each other: “Who are you going to vote for? What do you think of (insert your favorite candidate here)?” The buzz was partly generated by the number of candidates, 34 in total running for 15 positions, including four for President, and partly generated by who the candidates were. There were students who had been a part of the SGA since their first day at Middlebury and others who had never done anything in student government ever before. And as such, almost every social circle was brought into the election in some way, since they all had a stake not just in how the student government would affect them in the abstract, but a concrete interest in seeing a friend win a seat at the table.
My favorite moment during these elections, however, happened this past Monday evening, when the four presidential candidates and three candidates for Student Co-Chair of Community Council participated in a public debate in Crossroads Cafe. I was in charge of catering for the event and ordered refreshments for about 40-50 people, a good turnout for this kind of event in the past. Boy was I wrong! As the hour for the presidential debate creeped closer and closer, more and more students kept streaming into the space. By the time the debate began, more than 200 of us had managed to squeeze into the cafe. Every nook and cranny of the space was taken; some students leaned over railings on the second floor, others sat on the billiards table, still others stood on the stairs. And in front of that crowd, our four candidates made their case for why they should lead the SGA. They answered questions about their experience, their qualifications, and their stances on issues ranging from social life to environmental sustainability to surveillance cameras.
During the debate, I was in charge of walking around with a mike in the audience so that students could ask questions of the candidates. And as I stood amongst the crowd of students, I realized this was exactly what I imagined college would be like. If they had made a movie about the small residential liberal arts college experience, this scene would have made it into the script. In that moment, the feeling of the Middlebury community was palpable in the room and in that moment, I was so grateful to be a part of that community.