Social Distancing Impacts USG Campaign Efforts

As social distancing enters its seventh week, student activities face new challenges, and Undergraduate Student Government election campaigning is no different. Those running for USG must adapt to changes to election procedures, as now, candidates can only use social media to promote their campaigns. 

Image by Marissa Cronin for The Envoy

This year, the Student Elections Review Committee, a council under Student Life, decided not to distribute funds to slates or independent candidates. Candidates cannot personally contribute money to campaigns either. “In the interest of fairness and equity, I believe this definitely puts everyone, slate or independent, on a more level playing field,” says Mohamed Benyamine, who is running for junior senator with A Hunter United. 

Previously, candidates had the opportunity to campaign on campus in front of students in various locations. They would hand out flyers and cards with election information. Free food, such as last year’s infamous pancakes and waffles, and other item giveaways were also used to remind the student body about elections and incentivize participation. Students were able to set up tables in the North Building and visit classrooms to discuss policies. Now, social media is the only outlet candidates can use to campaign. Junior Stephanie Melendez, a first-time candidate for the College Association with AHU, finds that “It seems more convenient to be able to do everything through social media,” though “in reality it limits [candidates].”

“Through online platforms, there isn’t necessarily a demanding presence” to pique students’ awareness, echoes freshman Lizzie Bianco who’s running for residence life commissioner with A Hunter Alliance.

Some candidates described interacting with students face to face as one of their favorite aspects of campaigning. “With social media, it’s harder to encompass that depth [of communication] because so much of our information and goals need to be condensed and filtered into singular posts/comments,” remarks first-year student Afsana Rahman, who is running for sophomore senator with AHU.

Rahman believes that “interactions are more one-sided from candidates” and “it’s difficult to have a natural flow of discussion with voters. Most importantly, there are many students who don’t use social media at all so it will be difficult to share information with them.”  

Jose Israel, who ran for sophomore senator with AHA last year, notes how endorsements from others helped elections. “I think that the biggest way the elections will change due to social distancing is [that] it’s going to rely heavily on popularity. We saw this manifest in having people advertise/inform people about their slate even if they weren’t running themselves.”

Despite the challenges social media poses, candidates are trying to use platforms to the best of their ability and engage with students more consistently. Instead of just sharing flyers and descriptions of their goals on the class pages, some candidates are making videos introducing themselves and engaging in Instagram live stories. This aspect of live broadcasting from home puts candidates’ on the spot as they answer questions they cannot prepare for. Questions on the AHU’s recent live story ranged from asking about new campaign techniques to inquiring about how the slate will accomodate students with disabilities. AHU also discussed plans to post recipes, coffee making hacks, and makeup tutorials to ease the lockdown boredom in a creative way. 

The Instagram live story has the potential to generate more support from students, as they can easily leave a comment on the video and revisit the video for some time after it is posted. However, the inability to speak to students who might not be on social media results in a limited audience consisting of candidates’ peers or others who are running in the same slate. 

Generally, slates also post endorsements directly on their Instagram pages. AHA released statements showing their endorsements from groups like Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students or MAPS. 

Former AHA candidate Andrew Shkreli explains that social media “is a plus or a minus because last year, there was so much drama regarding the election process, that it inspired me not to run again.” Shkreli adds, “It’s kind of disappointing.” Candidates post multiple times a day on the Hunter Facebook groups, in addition to endorsing their slates on their own personal Facebook and Instagram profiles. Sometimes, single posts can generate over sixty comments, which may be overwhelming for some social media users. 

Each slate has one Facebook page, one Instagram page, a website and an email address. The campaign manager of the slate oversees posts on the page to ensure no one criticizes the opposing party. Slates cannot use election pages developed last year. In addition, they cannot ask specific departments or advisors to email the student body promoting the slate. 

The voting system remains the same, as students cast votes online. However, some people feel that social distancing will make it more difficult to remind students to vote. “Students might find it harder to keep up with elections due to medical, financial and familial situations,” adds vice presidential candidate Raisa Karim of AHU. 

Students can continue to follow the slates’ campaign efforts on their Facebook and Instagram pages. Voting opens on May 4 and closes on May 7; every student should receive a link to vote in their MyHunter inbox. 

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