By Emily Jovais ‘13, Alexa Kopelman ‘13SAS President, SAS Vice President
Opting-in: the short phrase that gets every SAS member’s blood pumping. Within SAS, the term “opt-in” is much like “Voldemort”—it is “that which must not be named.” Almost nothing frustrates SAS members as much as this hurdle that, in our opinion, prohibits students from being able to easily participate in an organization they are automatically a part of as students of Scripps College.
SAS elections determine who represents the student body to the Board of Trustees, the President of the College, the first-year students and their parents. SAS elections determine the SAS representatives who ultimately decide where students fees will be spent, what activities will be available on campus, and much more. Clearly, those who sit in these positions of power are important—and yet SAS elections have never been able to reach even 50% voter participation. To date, the most votes we have had in an election is 382.
A large reason for low voter participation in the past was the fact that elections took place in Seal Court on paper for one day only. If students were off-campus or didn’t come to Seal Court, they couldn’t vote. In an effort to make voting more convenient for students, increase voter turnout, and reduce waste, SAS went paperless.
This was great in theory. Yet at Scripps, nothing is ever that easy. SAS elected to use Simply Voting, a secure voting platform, to conduct online elections. The site works by assigning a specific URL ballot to each student’s email address. The idea is to input all students’ email addresses into the voting system so that everyone receives an individual email ballot and can choose to vote (or not) at their convenience.
However, SAS is NOT allowed access to a list of students’ names and email addresses. This is because, according to Scripps administration, SAS is a third party to the college and is not recognized as part of the institution. For this reason, students must authorize SAS to input their email addresses into the Simply Voting system, which they do through the “Opt-in” button found on the Academic Portal. If students do not opt-in by a certain deadline they are not eligible to vote. Given this extra step, many students do not vote.
If you’ve been at Scripps for long, you have surely been hounded by SAS members asking you to “opt-in.” Why is this term not more ubiquitous among our neighbors? Because Scripps is the only school in the consortium, maybe among all liberal arts colleges for that matter, that requires students to do this. Why, you ask? How do other schools conduct elections?
At Pitzer, their SAS equivalent uses a similar third party online system called FormStack to conduct elections. This site functions similarly to a Google Form: students enter their name and ID number into the form prior to voting, and afterwards the student leaders cross-check the names and ID numbers with a master list of student names and ID numbers given to them by the registrar (after getting approval from an Assistant Dean). This way, they can ensure that only current students voted and only voted once.
Why can’t SAS do this? The administration has made it clear that they will not provide a student list to SAS. Therefore we have no way of ensuring an honest and fair election. Because we are viewed as a separate entity, this would be a “privacy violation” for the college.
At Pomona, their IT department created a simple voting system on the “My Pomona” portal. Students access this page with their username and password ensuring security and that everyone only votes once. The Scripps Information Technology department refuses to create or maintain any voting tool on our portal. SAS offered to hire another student to create such a system but Jeffrey Sessler, the Director of IT at Scripps, is not willing to allow such a system to be housed on the Academic Portal under any circumstance. He is unwilling to dedicate “any resources or time to this project” per Scripps’ administration’s request. It is clear that Scripps sees no responsibility to extend its resources to SAS and treats us as an unwanted nuisance.
While SAS is technically an independent non-profit, we are clearly part of this institution. SAS’ asking for student emails addresses is not the same as ZipCar or Subway, third parties to the college, asking for this information—and yet we are treated as such. While SAS does not have a master list, we still have the ability to send emails to the student body through the SAS-L—so technically, we are already sending emails directly to students! This paradox is utterly frustrating—we have this information and the ability, yet we don’t.
Overall, SAS has been left with little to no options moving forward. The administration refuses to budge, and therefore we are forced to take measures into our own hands. We have tried to work with them and their “rules,” and now we will find our own way to do what we need to do without them.
SAS is sending a formal letter of complaint to the administration as a final effort to receive the support that we need to give Scripps students the opportunity to be part of the organization that they themselves fund. Increasing opportunities for participation is the only way to help SAS grow and become truly democratic. More importantly, it is the only way to foster the kind of active community that Scripps is so eager to create. Why the administration wants to impede this goal is truly perplexing.