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The Milton Measure

SGA Elections Trigger Debate

by on Friday, June 8th, 2012

Compared with the head monitor election, boarding and day monitor elections provide students with the opportunity to choose their leaders in a more intimate setting, complete with personalized speeches, familiar faces, and comfortable chairs instead of crowded bleachers. Yet for two years in a row, candidate speeches made in King Theater have sparked great controversy in both the student and the adult community.

Some found the inflammatory comments of several candidates purely entertaining. “They didn’t want to offend anyone. They were just trying to be funny,” a Class II student said. Such divisive remarks, coming from a friendly dorm-mate, seem to provoke endless cheering and clapping, rather than disapproval. Unlike the head monitor election, which involves multiple rounds of speeches and fierce competition, boarding and day monitor elections have traditionally been more relaxed, with largely predictable results.

On the other hand, some students, along with many members of the faculty and administration, have voiced their concerns. They not only found some of the comments inappropriate, but also worried that these potential student leaders’ imprudent behavior would set a bad example for the people they serve–this potential influence was seen by the crowd’s cheering in the aftermath of the comments.

Associate Dean of Students André Heard has spoken at length during chapel about the inherent responsibility a student assumes once he stands in front the podium. Since that chapel, rumors have begun to spread about the possibility of election speeches requiring faculty approval in the future. Though Mr. Heard said in an interview that he would not initiate the conversation on this issue with the SGA or the Boarding Council until this fall, students have begun to worry that they will lose the fun of the election process and the original voice they seek in their leaders if candidates have to write their speeches under adult censorship.

With the final chapter yet to be written, it remains unclear whether the tone and feel of the election process will change significantly and if there will be a stronger disciplinary crackdown on speakers who make potentially offensive speeches.

But our eyes have been fixed on the wrong side of the story.

The question is not how we interpret the candidates’ jokes and references, but rather what cultural cues and social norms at Milton prompted them to think that these controversial comments would be funny.

The question is not whether people in the audience were cheering loudly just as friends or supportive dorm-members, but what anxieties motivated them to join the crowd even if they disagreed with the candidates.

Outside the Milton bubble, politicians often change the focus of their speeches because each audience cares about different issues. When our homegrown candidates stood in front of the podium — whether they were serious about running or were just “trying to be funny” — the content of their speeches reflected not only their choices but also our values.

At Milton, we take great pride in making our voices heard. The school motto “dare to be true” exemplifies the pride, honesty, and individuality of the student body. But at the same time, we cannot stress how accepting this place needs to be in order to support us and accommodate all of our differences.

As a community, Milton is made up of many different cultures and backgrounds. In light of this diversity, perhaps staying true to ourselves means more than just blurting out exactly what’s on our minds. Even in “daring to be true,” we have to give the same respect and consideration we would expect from another member of the community.

Debating whether to change election rules will only lead to a futile rehashing of past drama. Until we start asking ourselves the fundamental questions at the heart of this controversy, I fear that there will be more “inappropriate” speeches that cannot be stopped by rules on paper.

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Posted by on Jun 8 2012. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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