As the election period for the Undergraduate Student Council here at Brown drew closer, many students eating at the dining halls were confronted by their peers in UCS who were hunting for signatures.
It was common to see students in the Ratty, with half a noodle dangling from their mouths, be approached by UCS members and solicited for signatures.
"But, does it matter that I don't even know what your campaign is about?" some students, myself included, would
"Not at all," we would immediately be assuaged. The signatures are only to allow students to participate in the elections. In fact, they have nothing to do with determining which candidate actually wins, because the actual voting would only take place
In the end, signing the paper they held out to us seemed like too small a deal to fuss over, so I didn't protest any further. Besides, you would only be helping someone and surely hurting no one if you agreed to sign, and so students generally did.
If I were to protest, however, it would be about how this felt like a useless practice. What does getting the signatures of 250 random students who do not know — and probably do not care — about your campaign even prove? It surely does not prove that there are at least 250 people at Brown who desperately want you to compete in the elections. Why, then, was getting 250 random signatures a benchmark for being able to participate in the upcoming elections when, clearly, anyone could accomplish this task?
But then again, to fuss over something so small would be unreasonable. And perhaps the only requirement is to make the student body aware of your stance, or simply to make it aware of what UCS is up to, even if said student body does not really care to remember afterwards. I, for one, had stopped asking what changes these candidates would bring into effect should they succeed in the elections.
There are, however, two separate incidents that deserve special mention regarding the solicitation of these signatures.
The first incident took place two weeks ago in Poland House at a friend's birthday. It was a regular Keeney event, with students running around the hallway in various stages of intoxication. Indeed, all was going as expected until one person, accompanied by a friend, turned up at the party with a pen and paper and asked everyone who seemed semi-capable of holding a pen straight to sign for him.
My first reaction to this was obviously to laugh. I'm sure that a majority of the people who signed for him had no idea what they were doing and do not remember having signed anything. Unlike the people who approach students in the dining halls, this person wasn't even bothering to explain what the sheet of paper was, what his campaign stood for or what position he intended to compete for. Indeed, it seemed useless to do so because no one would understand.
But that's exactly what was wrong about going to a party and asking for signatures in the first place. Not only was the purpose of making students aware of UCS activities defeated, but the idea of exploiting people's not-quite-right states of mind for anything is completely wrong. The principle behind that action is not one that I would want a person of authority and a representative of mine to follow.
The other incident, based on the same desperate quest for signatures, took place about a week before that, when I was having dinner at the V-Dub with a friend and her sister who was visiting from Santa Fe, N.M. A UCS member approached us and asked us to sign for her, which we did. She then turned to my friend's sister and asked why she did not sign. When the sister explained the situation and asked if she was even allowed to sign, considering that she did not go to school here, the UCS hopeful replied, "Well, technically, no. ... But, I wouldn't actually mind."
That was definitely the part where she lost my vote. (If I were going to vote in the first place, that is.)
Besides these specific cases when candidate hopefuls demonstrated qualities that weren't so admirable, simply the idea of asking people to sign instead of having a system where they sign because they want to isn't very dignified.
Perhaps it would be a better idea to just have a fewer number of required signatures for every candidate hopeful, as long as these are the signatures of people who care and genuinely want that person to compete.
Fatima Aqeel '12 is from Karachi, Pakistan. She can be reached at