Is Covenant College a Healthy Democracy?

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Election season both at Covenant and across the country has come and gone, along with the important opportunity to take up the mantle of service by voting and running in this election cycle. Thanks to the enterprising activity of our current Student Senate, I was able to vote absentee via an online ballot and still participate in my lovely democracy on Lookout Mountain, even as I study abroad in England. However, I was startled to see the continuation of a disturbing trend in Covenant elections.

Since my first senate election cycle in fall of 2016, there has always been at least one major Senate position which was uncontested. This came to a head in the most recent election cycle, when four major Senate positions were uncontested: Student Body President, Vice President, CAB Director, and Communications Director. Before I go any further, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am very pleased with the capabilities of the men and women who ran for these positions. I just want to ask a simple question: Why were there so few of them?

Of course there are many answers that would all make some sense. Covenant students are very busy and rarely have time to add another extracurricular to their schedules. It might be that the barrier of getting the requisite signatures is just too high. The most reassuring answer would be that we have such confidence in the students running that there is no need to contest the election. I want this to be the case, and I think it could be, but this is not a complete answer.

But I do not think that these fully explain why students aren’t running for Senate. I believe that these uncontested elections indicate an unhealthy streak in the center of our little democracy on a mountain. While contested elections are by no means the sole indicator of a healthy democracy, they are integral to creating an environment which produces the best society with the best leaders.

Contested elections show that people who are not in office have a vision for a better future, a future that they want to create. They show that the citizens (or students) want to have a part in what happens to themselves and their community. They show that the people believe that government can be effective. Ultimately, contested elections demonstrate that a populus believes in its government and in their role in that government.

At a minimum, uncontested elections show ignorance about the ability to run or the responsibilities of a government. They show that there are only a few who want to try to take on the responsibilities, challenges, and risks of serving in a meaningful way. They show that the people do not really believe that the government can carry out meaningful change. Uncontested elections indicate a lack of trust in and a disillusionment with a core institution of the community.

So, considering the series of uncontested elections in the past few years, I want to ask Covenant—the students, Senate, faculty, and administration—to consider what these uncontested elections might reveal about Covenant. Are we all so busy that we don’t have time to serve in this capacity? Do we just lack the motivation or ambition to pursue influential roles? Do we distrust our Senate’s efficacy? Do we just think that Senate is too mysterious and beyond us regular students?

I desperately love my community at Covenant and my time away has reminded me of that regularly. My absence has also given me a picture of a world in which Covenant can’t just stay a lonely bubble on a hill. We need to send out our light, to strengthen that light, and to push one another and our community to be better every day. This means trying new things like running for Senate or getting to know your senator, or writing to the Board of Trustees, or learning who your representative is at the General Assembly of the PCA, or maybe just figuring out what it means to serve in other ways more suited to your own talents. In whatever way we serve, it is essential that we in some way help take up the mantle of service laid down by generations of students, faculty, and staff who have helped build this beautiful college.