Letter: ASG Speaker Ani Ajith on leaders we need

    I have neither any business nor any interest in endorsing candidates. I am, however, enthused and entirely at liberty to offer my thoughts on the race as a whole.

    The elections must be interpreted as a mandate from the student body as to the tone, attitude, and general priorities the student government must follow in the coming year. To wit:

    With Claire Lew, the student body expressed support for the latest consummate ASG insider from a political dynasty that began with Neal Sales-Griffin. Lew brought micro-management (for better or worse), personal presence in numerous settings across campus, and focus on longer-term goals like the New Student Center and Senate reform.

    With the election of Austin Young, the student body pivoted dramatically, choosing to elect not simply an ASG president, but really a student body president, whose focus would be on building relationships, executing shorter-term, smaller projects, and above all, being the face of the student body.

    In my conversations with students, student leaders, administrators, faculty and other members of the Northwestern community, an updated mandate has emerged, albeit in a rough form. What Northwestern wants and ASG needs is a cohesive partnership that clearly delineates areas of responsibility between top officers; identifies a few key lobby-worthy issues; and proposes a few other deliverable projects that ASG is uniquely qualified to tackle.

    But what we need most is a vision.

    ASG is sputtering along without a clearly articulated vision or statement of aspirational identity, as is our campus, in all its inherently decentralized glory. In order to coalesce around a central vision, we need visionary leaders. Leaders intimately familiar with the fabric of this campus, capable of weaving together the disparate strands of this community with their wisdom, panache, and sheer personal will. Leaders with the ability to forge coalitions out of vast networks of friends and allies for goals larger than any one individual or group—be it tolerance or income equality or student debt. Leaders with the sangfroid and experience necessary to navigate the tangle of bureaucracy and soldier through the headwinds of apathy and inertia, and to do so with as little time spent learning the ropes as possible.

    We need a team that can easily combine knowledge of the intricacies of ASG and the administration with an unmatched familiarity with the Northwestern network of groups and interests to execute the agenda of the student body – not the agenda of a select group of leaders sitting behind closed doors for ‘brainstorming sessions.’

    We need a partnership capable of weathering disagreement, stress, and choices that are almost always in the gray. We need leaders who understand that they are simply not officers of just another organization. Instead, they are each student body leaders, leading an organization that serves as a channel and mechanism to turn student concerns and ideas into tangible change.

    We need leadership wholly capable of harnessing the will of the students to spur ASG to action; we also need this leadership to seamlessly translate the actions and deliberations of ASG into policy and persuasion. We need a duo comfortable operating in tandem to ensure consistent messaging and action across outward- and internal-focused arms of the 120-member student government.

    In other words, the vice president must be fully aware of the world beyond the walls of Norris, and the president must be fully aware of the products of ASG efforts. We must be sure the former is competent in managing the organization to maximize quality output, and the latter adept in conveying ASG’s work to a righteously skeptical campus.

    We must expect our leaders to already live and breathe purple, to already work close to its heartbeat every day by working with students from all walks of Northwestern every day. That’s because we deserve leaders who understand the rhythms of student groups large and small, of fraternal organizations and residential communities, of schools at opposite ends of campus.

    We cannot do without leaders who have a wide variety of experience across social, political, service, philanthropic, arts, ethno-cultural and other interest groups, because our ASG leadership must understand what it means to walk a mile across campus in the shoes of a Greek or Republican or theater or minority student (or all of the above, because we’re just that diverse).

    ASG is a group without peer on campus – not in its efficiency or efficacy (that is a different argument), but in its organizational purpose, operational style, and composition. We are tasked with accurately representing 8,000-plus, very busy students as we work towards one simple, incredibly difficult goal: to improve their Northwestern experience, now and forevermore.

    We are grateful for the honor of tackling these challenges on behalf of the Northwestern family. We frequently fall short of promises, get distracted by procedure, and occasionally forget to leave Norris for food and sleep – but we are trying, and we appreciate your patience. We just need leaders who can re-energize and empower us to take our work to the next level by offering a vision we can all believe in.

    This fine Wednesday, I ask of you two things: 1) vote and 2) vote for the leaders we need.


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