Examining the Level of Democracy at Staples: Students Unaware of Student Assembly’s Purpose


52% of the students polled do not believe the Student Assembly adequately provides for Staples students, and 48% were indifferent. | Graphic by Ross Gordon ’11

“Our purpose is to provide an outlet for student ideas, as well as finding a way for students to be involved in the school.”

This is how Eric Wessan ‘10, treasurer of the Student Assembly (SA), describes the SA’s true mission.

The Assembly, which is Staples’ functioning “Student Government,” is responsible for many student-led and funded activities and programs. According to Wessan, these items include the Clean up the Cafeteria initiative, the 5K Run in the Sun, and the upcoming Staples Talent Show in June.

Another event that coincides with the month of June is the appointment of a new SA executive board, which includes the offices of President, Vice President, and Treasurer.

The executive board candidates are not elected by the popular votes of every Staples student. Instead, the candidates campaign within the SA to garner support, and are then instated or rejected by a vote of the entire SA.

This process differs for the elected SA members who are not campaigning for positions of the Executive Board. The general SA elections occur at the beginning of every school year, and its winners are determined by the popular vote of the student body.

However, some students, such as Jon Morris ’12, disagree with the current method used to select the SA’s leaders.

“We’ve been brought up as American citizens to value the right to vote, and not allowing us to vote for our leaders strips us of our rights as Americans. Not to mention the fact that a “voice” that’s supposed to advocate for us but wasn’t elected by us can’t realistically represent us,” said Morris.

In contrast, Gertrude Denton, mathematics teacher and Student Assembly faculty advisor, ardently defends the SA’s selection method, as it produces the best possible leaders.

“I get concerned about name recognition. If we didn’t select the Board by ourselves then the concept of a popularity contest becomes a serious risk. The SA knows much more about the leadership ability, work capacity, and experience of each of its members much more than the average member of the student body could,” said Denton.

According to assembly member JJ Mathewson ’12, the election of the executive board represents a common case of “indirect democracy.”

“The way our Executive Board candidates will campaign in two or three weeks from now is no different than any other organization. The U.S. government, for example. You have to be elected to the general assembly before you can even consider running for the Board. You couldn’t be President of the United States unless you had been involved in politics beforehand.”

In addition to Mathewson’s sentiments, Denton emphasizes that all of the volunteer organizations she has worked for, including the Westport Young Women’s League, the YMCA Board of Executives, and the Westport Soccer Association all select their leaders in the same fashion as the SA.

However, certain students such as Zack Lerangis ’12 are indifferent regarding the situation of SA elections.

“The Student Assembly doesn’t really ask for the opinions of the student body anyway, so I don’t see how being able to vote for their leaders is all that important. Besides, I didn’t even know that there was a vote for the general assembly. It’s not as if [the SA] publicizes these events,” said Lerangis.

Lerangis’ opinions reflect the majority opinion in a recent Inklings poll of 100 Staples students in the cafeteria during a lunch wave. In the poll, 98% of respondents answered that they “did not care” about SA elections.

Another question included in the poll, “Does the SA adequately advocate for Staples students?” was met with a similar response, in which 48% responded “No,” and 52% responded “Indifferent.”

Helena Stein ’12 responded under the category of “Indifferent,” because she thinks that not enough information is provided to the student body about what the individual Executive Board candidates stand for.

“If I thought there was a candidate that campaigned well and I thought was worth voting for, I might care more about the elections. As it stands, I’m just not that informed,” Stein said.

Denton, however, believes that Staples students who aren’t on the SA can have their voices heard through other means.

“Any student is open to attend SA meetings, and there is an SA suggestion box in the library. I encourage any student who has interest in SA to run for the assembly next year,” Denton said.