On March 14, Trent students will return to the polls to select the next executive representing the diverse group of student voices on campus.

I have received a number of requests to speak about the TCSA elections; my goal in this short piece is to share a few reflections on the language of politics and the disappointment I have in students who hide behind the rhetoric of democracy, participation and empowering student voices.

It is up to the student body, the represented voters, to hold the candidates accountable to the rhetoric and actions they engage in; I hope my reflections will empower you to do so.

Three upstanding values are mentioned over 27 times throughout the TCSA executive and equity commissioner platforms: democracy, student voices, and advocacy.

Let me repeat myself: democracy, the value of student voices, and importance of advocacy are mentioned over 27 times in the election platforms alone. On the surface, these are all great values to bring to student governance.

Ideally, our system should recognize the diversity of voices, the positionality of our leaders and the voices that we have left out in the past.

But ask yourself this: what is democracy? Election campaigns – not just student council, but all election campaigns – speak often of democracy as a Canadian ideal: to be democratic is to be Canadian.

Beyond our national pride and understanding of the word, what does democracy mean?

The problem with terms like democracy, student voices and advocacy is that all of these terms hide larger political conversations we need to engage in. Look beyond rhetoric and ask yourself: What is common sense?

Is it common sense to balance a budget and to advocate for more money in student pockets? Or is it common sense that poverty is not simply an economic problem, but a social problem?

What is leadership? Is leadership recognizing your own position and representing a diverse student population through collaborate governance? Or do we want a leader who will take control of the student’s political interest? Who is incompetent?

Is it a student leader, if so, who? A student organization, if so, which one? Or is it the institution of the Trent Central Student Union itself?

Are we political actors, students, leaders in training or students paying a membership fee for services? Are we defined by the levy we pay, the tuition we pay, and our loans? Or are we defined by something much more, if so, what?

There is a growing and visible flaw in the way we govern ourselves; we call on our candidates to engage in an overwhelming list of student issues and craft policies that ignore the realities of our situation.

We need innovation, but we need recognition of our own power and position in a larger political context (provincially, nationally, and globally).

Student voices are not passive on campus, they are engaged in a variety of political issues and challenging the way politics have been done in the past. Do we want a leader who will advocate on our behalf, or do we want a system that will encourage participatory politics and governance?

In expanding our imagination of what is political, what can be done and who can be included in political dialogues, it is important to recognize that there are some battles that we can win, some systems we can change and others we will only be able to manage.

Governance takes collaboration between actors, and sometimes that requires compromises in our own interests to benefit the whole of society.

Yes, there are times provinces’, nations’ and administrations’ interests will trump ours; it is critical for our next leader to understand the value of political dialogue with students and not simply on their behalf.

There are difficult decisions to be made in the near future, and those will require innovative new approaches to student governance. In ignoring the realities of policies and politics, we limit the imagination and political power of our student union to create effective change.

If you want to create a political change at Trent, look beyond the rhetoric of democracy.

Instead, ask the candidate how they will engage with and demand a system that is participatory and acknowledges our value as students outside of their offices, outside of the election cycle and outside of a flawed system of governance.

Instead of assuming the responsibility of speaking on behalf of all students, let’s build a system of governance that includes all political perspectives, recognizes the need for compromises and recognizes the ability of students to engage in political values and hold respectful political dialogue on campus.

Look beyond the rhetoric of the candidates. There are much larger issues at play in this election.

The so-called youth quake that took place in the federal election does not have to end in 2015. Instead, we can challenge our student governance — our own political leadership and powers — to reject the status quo.

The way we govern ourselves is no longer acceptable; we too often devalue our own political voices and reject the idea that students, young citizens and residents in Canada can create political change.

The greatest challenge for our next leader will be building a new imagination for future possibilities; an imagination that recognizes that Trent’s student governance must be opened to participatory forms of governance and inclusive of all student voices.

Participatory methods are not perfect, but it is an opportunity to reject the politics of division, individuality and personal responsibility, and form collaborative, innovative and exciting dialogues between students and the Peterborough community.

This election reject the rhetoric of division and the political other-ing, some candidates will rely upon for their own political gains.

Ask who is included, who is engaged and what kind of democracy they wish to achieve.

Dig deep into the conversations happening on campus. Think hard about the future of Trent. Challenge yourself – and your peers – to think about politics.

Ideological divisions can be overcome, engaging in political dialogue happens daily, but what is the students’ vision for the future of Trent University?