At 7 p.m. on Monday, leaders of the University’s three branches of student government stood on the Main Green and announced the results of this year’s student government elections. Many of the races were uncontested, but the final race announced, for the president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, was neck and neck between its three candidates: Emma Amselem Bensadon ’24, the current UCS health and wellness chair; Ricky Zhong ’23, the current UCS student activities chair; and Chas Steinbrugge ’24, the founder of the popular @brownumemes Instagram account ― and an outsider to student government at the University.
Steinbrugge won 34.5% of the vote, prevailing over Zhong, the runner-up, by only 24 votes, or 1.5%. He will be next year’s UCS president. The elephant in the room: Is the administrator of a meme account with no experience in UCS qualified to lead the organization?
Perhaps, in some ways. Steinbrugge’s experience connecting with students through @brownumemes could help UCS tackle its student engagement problems ― an issue we’ve raised time and time again. Steinbrugge’s platform promises a student government “better at listening to student concerns” and “better at keeping the community informed about what the council is up to.” Steinbrugge’s meme account clearly pays attention to campus discontent — the account is often quick to criticize unpopular policies or administrative blunders that anger the undergraduate student body. Still, running UCS, unlike making memes, will require more than comic relief.
Converting campaign promises into real action will be a challenge for Steinbrugge. Both his platform and his forum speech focused on dining — a subject at the center of campus discussion last semester — and housing — a topic on many students’ minds after a chaotic selection process. We admire his desire to be a forceful advocate for undergraduates on these issues. But at the end of the day, Steinbrugge is looking to tackle lofty problems that are not easily solved. UCS cannot veto administrative decisions or set budgets. It has little say in major University policies — with dining and housing being no exception.
The point isn’t that UCS shouldn’t address these issues, but that its influence on them may be limited. Bright-eyed optimism must be tempered by an awareness of UCS’s limitations.
Back in September 2021 in an interview with The Herald’s Bruno Brief podcast, Steinbrugge conceded that his meme account could often be critical of the University without providing productive solutions. Now, as UCS president, it will be his job to work toward those solutions. But success will require knowledge of how student government works and the knowhow to negotiate with the University ― more than lofty goals.
In this light, Steinbrugge shouldn’t discount the advice of those more familiar with the mechanics of student government at the University. It’s probably good that incoming Vice President Mina Sarmas ’24 is this year’s chair of campus life and was a first-year representative last year. Will Steinbrugge be able to navigate the structure of student government? Take one example: His platform’s focus on “creating more school spirit by hosting large UCS events in addition to promoting athletic events” is puzzling given that school spirit and event planning are the Class Coordinating Board’s main responsibility.
Steinbrugge won the UCS election as an outsider, not to mention with a narrow margin and only a plurality of the vote. If UCS had staged a runoff election, as it has in the past when no candidate reached 50%, would Steinbrugge have won? Students saw the appeal of a candidate with an outsider background ― and fresh perspectives on student government may help revitalize UCS. But fresh perspectives do not equate to real change, and Steinbrugge’s win was far from decisive.
Next year, Steinbrugge will have to prove that he is more than just a meme account administrator.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s Editorial Page Board. This editorial was written by its editor Johnny Ren ’23 and members Catherine Healy ’22, Caroline Nash ’22.5, Augustus Bayard ’24, Devan Paul ’24 and Kate Waisel ’24.