Berkeley High School’s (BHS) first virtual election convention was held from March 8 to 12 during the 45 minute lunch break between Zoom classes. In past years, around 150 delegates were selected to attend, but this year’s convention was open to everyone. Interest in the election seemed comparable to past years, considering there were 364 unique viewers to the election guide and 278 unique viewers to the election handbook.
Although student interest appeared relatively high, there are far fewer candidates this year than in the past: the total number of candidates has decreased by 26 percent. In fact, the deadline for applicants to declare their candidacy was extended in order to attract more students. Despite these efforts, some offices are still uncontested, including sophomore and senior class president and vice president. This is a stark contrast to last year, when there were five candidates running for senior class president alone.
BHS Director of Student Activities, John Villavicencio, remarked that while candidates have decreased in numbers, they have “evolved in maturity.” According to Villavicencio, in the past, “going to an election convention was more raucous, and maybe it was more fun. But some of the things that students would propose were sometimes trivial. It felt much more like a popularity contest.”
He reflected on the current candidates and stated that their campaigns were more substantive; they were extremely serious about the positions, taking care to address important issues.
Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA) sophomore Kai Otten echoed these sentiments, observing that “the candidates seem to think it’s a lot more about policy than popularity.” She continued in more detail, recounting her past election experience. “I’d see posters in the hallways, and people [had] no idea [what was] going on. These posters, they [didn’t] inform my decision at all. Putting up posters [seemed] very popularity based,” she said.
But this year, Otten said, “I had two or three people come into my math class and talk to me about their platform. And that was great because you’re meeting face to face, and you’re getting a little bit of personal connection. You see the people who are running rather than just their posters.” For these reasons, she concluded that the elections are “actually better now.”
Candidates have deftly adapted their campaigns to the online environment. They have continued to visit classrooms virtually, as well as create digital platforms on social media, such as Instagram, and distribute video speeches that can be replayed and shared.
The campaign videos reflect the serious nature of the candidates and their policies. Associated Student Body (ASB) President and Vice President candidates Chloe Burke and Hanim Nuru advocated for diversity and representation of student voices in leadership, while Elizabeth Gitelman spoke about the importance of mental health and the need for more accessible counseling, particularly during a pandemic. Additionally, Siena Cohen-Parikh and Julia Thomas delved into accountability and the need for respectful and safe classrooms, and Leila Mirza and Tenzing Chosang talked about the urgency of sexual harm and consent education.
Additionally, candidates for school board spoke about their experience addressing critical issues: Anjuna Mascarenhas-Swan has already worked with the school board to prevent sexual harm and police presence on campus, while Ava Nemeth emphasized her experience engaging with adults as co-president of the Womens’ Student Union. Emily Lim is also running, and promises efforts to incorporate student voices.
Villavicencio observed, “[Many of this year’s candidates] see something wrong with the school, and they just want to figure out a way to help.” He considered the election a success so far — while participation may be down, the candidates have grown in quality and managed to “effectively communicate their main points.”
Disclaimer: Anjuna Mascarenhas-Swan is an editor for the Jacket.