The Morning After Guild Elections

Posted March 20, 2014 from Jamaica

On March 19, 2014 The Guild of Students had its elections on the UWI, Mona Campus. As one would imagine the election process is an intricate and involved one it began with nomination of candidates, verification of their eligibility, a campaign period, public debates and of course election day. New rules were instituted to govern elections this year; chief among them was a GPA requirement. Candidates were now required to have a GPA of 2.0 in order for them to persist past nomination. Other requirements had been instituted before; the first and most far reaching being the stipulation that students who run for student government be fully paid up members of the community. This means that fees should be paid in time to facilitate nomination and election. Students can also have a formal payment plan with the Bursary and still be qualified to run as candidates. Even before these two requirements student candidates had a limit on the amount of money they could spend in any given campaign. Over time students have found creative ways to campaign, but they have also found creative ways to escape the limits.

The Administration of the Process The Guild of Students each year asks a member of The University Community to serve as Returning Officer, for the last five years (perhaps more) Mr. Jason McKenzie, Student Services and Development Manager (SSDM) of Irvine Hall has served as Returning Officer, the Electoral Office of Jamaica manage and administer the voting process on the day of elections. I have no doubt that the process is a free and fair one.

The Debates The debate is an important part of the process and typically students turn up and listen intently to the debates and ask questions related to the manifesto of the candidates. On a campus as big as Mona this is important because it gives the average student voter the opportunity to hear the candidate. Speechmaking is important to the process. In my observation of the Guild elections over the years I have noticed how the students emulate, speak like, and parody our political leaders.

My sense of the debates is that it also gives the population the chance to ‘perform’ politics. The general behaviour of the population in the venue is one of total lack of respect, defiance sometimes bordering on mayhem. In the past Campus Security and Police have had to be stationed at the venue to remove disruptive students and to intervene where necessary. I remember some years ago when a now sitting member of parliament (MP) attacked a candidate who had just debated. So there have been incidents of violence over the years and for that reason security at the debates is quite pronounced. I attended the debates this year and noticed just how few students turned up to listen of participate. Of course I must say that the day of the debate is rather inconvenient. At UWI Mona a student activity held on a Tuesday and which starts somewhere around 12 noon is not going to be well attended. This year was no exception. Typically, the presentation by the candidates for president draws the hugest crowd, this year was no exception but the crowd itself was less than the ones in the past. I am not sure whether the low turnout for the debates is indicative of a lack of support for the Guild elections process or just inconvenient timing.

Hall Chairperson and Deputy Hall Chairperson Over time the direct hall positions have taken a back seat in the election process. The position of hall chair and deputy tends to have just one candidate. As a matter of fact in some cases one of the positions will go uncontested, on Mary Seacole Hall this year both positions had one candidate. Some students believe that this is winning by default, and it perhaps is, but again it calls for a look at the issue of apathy in the student population and perhaps a comparison of trends in the youth population. I think two halls; Mary Seacole Hall and Taylor Hall toyed with the idea of a ‘no confidence’ vote. I applaud the students who thought of it, though I suspect it did not appear on the ballot, the idea that students are thinking through different ways they can engage the process is indeed a positive development. I hope it does not stop there, because it means that the need for strong conversations around constitutional reform and political participation. There is another conversation which began this year on the Guild Council, this is one concerned with the number of representatives from the halls of residence. The UWI is not now a residential campus. In fact only about 3,500 students live on campus so that more than ten thousand students live off campus, but student engagement seem not to be a priority of the institution so most of those students remain outside of campus mainstream, primarily because that mainstream is in fact hall life. This year the Guild took steps to reduce the number of hall representatives on the Council. I am not sure how the process was started and though it might be a positive step towards releasing the stranglehold the halls of residence have on the Guild I think the process did not follow the current constitutional arrangements. I hope it continues with wider student consultation and a genuine engagement.

Cultural and Entertainment Affairs Chairperson The Guild of Students has never elected a female to the position of CEAC. A number of prominent Jamaicans have held the position of CEAC, Arnold Bertram, Peter Phillips, Floyd Green, Kern Spencer and the founder of what was the Breakfast Club. There have been moments in the Guild’s history when the CEAC election was more important than the election of president. This for two reasons, firstly; the winner of the CEAC position is actually president in waiting, and secondly it is the position which engages the largest numbers of students on the Guild and is also assigned the largest amount of money. A number of incidents over the last five or six years have undermined the power of the CEAC; the tragic death of a popular CEAC, Roger Bent who ran for EAC and was a strong candidate who did a very good job as External Affairs Chairperson (EAC) he shifted significantly the focus of power from the EAC and subsequent to his tenure three (3) presidents entered the Guild through the EAC portfolio. One of the developments that I have noticed has to do with some interesting colour/class discussions which have developed around the candidates for CEAC. I think there are two tendencies in the CEAC position, the off-campus light-skin/brown candidate and perhaps his access to money and resources and his take on entertainment, this against the CEAC who is darker skinned, lives on campus and who I think views entertainment in another light. I note as well the following of both sets, there is a tendency in the followership or support base of both as well, I notice which candidate the student from Science and Technology tend to support or who enjoys greater support from the Faculty of Medicine. Of course the colour/class dynamics of the Faculties are also interesting and noteworthy. The Games Committee Chairperson (GCC) The position of GCC is a rather strange one, in its present arrangement it is hall concentrated, but because sports is so critical to campus life, its impact is quite far-reaching. Over the years a number of presidents have entered the Guild through the GCC position, Andrew Edwards the president of the infamous year of the “Benz Scandal”, was a GCC so too the current manager of the Guild, Jovaugn Neil the first and only president to come out of Preston Hall and this year’s Guild President, Terron Dewar had also served as GCC. I wonder if there is a relationship between the UWI Games and the ascension of the GCC to Guild president. I am not sure but I think it is worthy of a look at the very least. Four years ago the Guild elected its first female GCC; she was a student who lived on Mary Seacole Hall. I think the election itself was quite momentous, but I recognized that there was no Taylorite or Chancellorite contesting the position. Peta-Gaye Plummer a female footballer from Mary Seacole Hall from ran against Andrene Nelson a male track athlete from Preston Hall. Andrene was not the typical UWI male GCC candidate, I wonder sometimes if this was not so if the female GCC would have won. I noticed as well how utterly difficult it was for the female GCC during her tenure. She was hated and treated with disdain, harassed on occasion. I am sure that many will see this and raise questions of her competence, in my years at UWI I have yet to see a GCC who gets it right all the time, but never have I seen one judged as harshly.

Taylor Hall and Chancellor Hall The Guild really belongs to Chancellor Hall and Taylor Hall. I consider Taylor Hall to be an all-male hall, despite the presence of females on the hall. I remember the conversations which developed around a female student running for the hall chairperson position at Taylor Hall. The Taylorites insist that women are not capable of leading the hall, ‘no panty government’ they call it. They are firm in their belief that women cannot and are not allowed to lead at Taylor Hall, I remember the first time I heard it, I stood in shock and felt almost humiliated and totally awed by the sentiments and the ease with which it was expressed. This has not changed; I am not sure how to interpret this particular malady, some strong women have lived at Taylor Hall, including the current prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persaud-Bissasor.

Another new development for this recently concluded elections; a hall chairman won, this has not happened since Basil Waite or I think the president just after him, Bornette Donaldson, I think (I can be corrected). There was a time when the Guild belonged to Chancellor Hall, the Guild Presidents residence was on Chancellor Hall. This was a sure indicator that the Guild President must be male, must be Chancellorite. This changed when I was on the Guild, at that time Andrew Edwards a Taylorite, ran for and won the Guild Presidency and he refused to live on Chancellor. We all supported him and asked the campus to change what we felt was a dangerous practice. Edwards moved to the Guild flat instead and the CEAC, a Chancellorite would live in the flat on Chancellor Hall. I remember that Roderick Reid (now deceased) was elected to serve as CEAC after Andrew Okola was unable to complete his tenure. By doing this I believe that we broke the Chancellor stranglehold, but subsequently it became evident that control of the guild might have just changed hands between the two male halls.

This is interesting for many reasons, as we raise issues about equality at all levels of society I think we have to begin with a deconstruction of ideologies, cultures and belief systems that have created structures which make political leadership a male domain. The current debate in the parliament, consistently speaks to women’s empowerment because of the registration numbers in the student population at Mona. Women have outnumbered men in registration numbers since 1986, this has not meant a shift in male dominance in the student population. Politics in the world and Jamaica and on campus is first and foremost concerned with power, women relate to power in very different ways than men, and on campus I think it is clear that women are not liked when they appear too powerful, a point supported by Sherly Sandberg in her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead “Success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.” Patriarchy is alive and well in the University, how else would Chancellor still have a ‘panty tree’ and pooh songs? How else would Taylor Hall still manage to confidently declare ‘no panty government? And the much feared ‘big up’ for females from the male blocks, outlining the supposed sexual exploits of female residents?

Finally, what will the next academic year look like with a Chancellor Guild? I wish the new president well; I hope he is brave enough to be guided by his own values and to do what is right and not what is popular. I hope that this is the president who speaks to the gender imbalances on campus and helps the administration to investigate how create balance in the student population, how we get more males to matriculate and even out the male numbers in programmes such as Social Work, Teaching and Nursing, but generally in registration numbers. I hope this is the president who gets Chancellor Hall to think about the customs and traditions which undermine women’s positions on the campus. I have much respect for the institution of the Guild Council, there is immense potential for transformation through the Guild Council and I hope this is the year that the Council steps forward to lead the student population.

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