As candidates vie for positions of power in the Howard University Student Association (HUSA) Executive branch and Senate, Royal Court and school councils, I find myself unsettled by outrageous spending tactics in an attempt to garner voters in some of these campaigns.
What is supposed to be a focus on the ways in which a candidate can bring change and unite the student body, has instead turned into a financial spectacle of expensive concert tickets, gift cards, shoe raffles and rented food trucks as ways to win over voters. Campaign handouts have been more memorable than some candidates’ actual platforms.
Votes shouldn’t be bought
For senior political science major Devon Reed-Rivera, this election season has not just excluded other candidates who can’t keep up financially, but student voters as well.
“The problem with the Beyoncé tickets or the Yeezy slides, all the other things, is there are only a select few people, based off of luck, who would actually be able to get it,” Reed-Rivera said.
HUSA Executive candidates Hassana Balde and Ka’Nedria Boldin, under the slate “For The Culture,” hosted a Beyoncé Renaissance World Tour ticket giveaway followed by an American Airlines gift card giveaway earlier this campaign season.
“The point of a student election is to elect a peer of yours that can represent you adequately. As of late, a lot of the candidates are vying for just the position rather than what they can do and what change they can make,” Reed-Rivera said.
Nia Naylor, a junior political science major and candidate for HUSA Executive president, believes that raffles and giveaways are simply ways to catch people’s attention. Naylor conducted a giveaway for Broccoli City festival tickets and a giveaway for a pair of Nike Dunk Retro White Black shoes, currently retailing for more than $140.
“While this is my third year campaigning at Howard, it is my first year doing giveaways and raffles,” Naylor said. “I decided to begin doing those this campaign season because I need to reach a wider base than I have in the past. I’ve learned that raffles and giveaways bring out more people than tabling by itself.”
Naylor continued by acknowledging some students’ concerns with the increase of raffles and gift cards this election season.
“But I do think giveaways without action are disingenuous,” she said. “Especially if the raffles or giveaways are strictly on social media, in my opinion. They need to be both on social media and in person. Having it on social media will reach a large base and allow for more people to come out, doing it in person will allow you to speak to constituents one on one, which is the purpose of campaigning.”
Naylor encouraged all voters to look more at a candidate’s passion and knowledge of their position. “I don’t believe in electing someone into an office that they are not passionate about and don’t know anything about,” she said.
Reed-Rivera suggested that the Howard University Elections Commission reduce the maximum amount that a candidate can spend on a campaign to encourage more financially inclusive campaign strategies.
“There should be a cap in order to make sure that more people have a fighting chance to campaign…it needs to be more towards our motto of ‘In Truth and Service.’ More of the campaign strategy needs to be around that theme,” he said.
According to the Howard University Elections Commission, any candidate for a HUSA or Trustee Position is prohibited from spending more than $7,500 on their campaign and all other candidates are prohibited from spending more than $5,500, as stated in the Election Code.
There are candidates who may spend up to a semester’s worth of rent money on a school election, while some of their potential constituents struggle to reach GoFundMe goals to raise money for tuition and housing.
The message that this style of campaigning sends, one that suggests that in order to be a student leader you must spend thousands of dollars, is counterproductive to the sole purpose of student leadership.
‘Seek out something that’s bigger than yourself’
Last week, I sat down with Akinyele Calhoun, a Howard alumnus and former HUSA president, in the library of Dunbar High School where he works as a social studies teacher, to discuss the meaning and importance of student leadership as spring elections come to a close.
In 1985, he was known as Emory Calhoun, and led a seemingly controversial, but impactful, HUSA administration.
Calhoun reflected on his own campaign season more than 30 years ago. “I wanted to unite the campus. I saw so much division and all these different pockets of people,” he said. “That’s what I was trying to bring to the administration.”
During his presidency, Calhoun protested apartheid, brought the children of civil rights leaders to campus and worked with the Howard administration to make African-American studies a core class. Most famously, Calhoun staged a break-in to the Harriet Tubman Quadrangle dormitory with The Hilltop to show how easy it was to get inside the dorms, following an incident in the dormitory where a female student had been sexually assaulted. The Howard administration addressed the security concerns shortly thereafter, according to The Hilltop archives.
“When I came to Howard I had no intention of being that revolutionary leader…I was able to see, because of the people that came before me, the importance of the legacy that is Howard,” Calhoun said.
“You have to seek out something that’s bigger than yourself. If you don’t have that in you, then you’re not going to be successful. You might win the presidency, but you’re not going to be successful. That’s what I can say looking back,” he added. “If you’re not seeking those moments, then you shouldn’t be seeking that office.”
With voting less than a day away, it is imperative that voters choose candidates that align most with their vision for Howard’s future. Voting should not be based on the extravagance of campaigning, but on the platforms that have the potential to impact every student on this campus.
Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett