Looking Into "The Letter"

While many of the criticisms mentioned in “The Letter” were targeted toward individuals, they brought to light the lack of transparency surrounding the role of the SU and its election process, an issue that must be addressed immediately.

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The Instagram account @remove_stuy_of_corruption posted an expose on two members of the Stuyvesant Junior Caucus and issues of mismanagement on Thursday, February 3. The post comprised just one portion of “The Letter,” a collection of testimonials and screenshots organized by 23 Stuyvesant juniors.

It is clear that the situation, which is largely personal, was mishandled. Much of the information provided in “The Letter” seems like a personal attack on a few students because of conflicts within a group of friends that could’ve been handled internally. The post was spread across social media, gaining hundreds of views in just a few hours, leading to a wave of harassment directed toward the individuals targeted in the letter. Though some of these personal attacks were tied to serious issues like misogyny and homophobia, “The Letter” conflated private conflicts around Student Union (SU) members with broad criticisms of the SU itself, instead of addressing the two issues separately. It did, however, address nepotism and corruption within the SU, issues that have inspired questions regarding the future of student government at Stuyvesant.

One of the most significant allegations made in “The Letter” was that of nepotism within the Student Union. Despite the use of anonymous IDs and attempts to ensure equity in the member application process, the class of 2023 Sophomore and Junior Caucuses allegedly bypassed these obstacles by asking people what extracurriculars they participated in or even allowing members to join without applying. Though nepotism in Stuyvesant extracurriculars is not a new phenomenon, the SU is responsible for setting an example for our school. Application processes could easily be improved by having more involvement from the administration, including Coordinator of Student Affairs Matt Polazzo, or even by requiring that members of the higher caucuses or other members of the SU approve of the nominations that each caucus makes for its cabinet.

For the past nine SU elections, we’ve seen cases of the incumbent SU Vice President becoming the President in the following year, a situation that can be labeled dynastic. This trend was rarely seen in the past—there were only three dynasties in the SU between 1969 and 2003. Uncontested elections have become increasingly common with the rise of social media, which has turned elections into popularity contests, as well as with the rise in apathy among Stuyvesant students. Given the trend of these uncontested elections, leaders are more likely to simply be less efficient than SU leaders who acquired their positions through more competitive elections. As former Senior Caucus Co-President Katerina Corr (’21) said in a past article, “it promotes a sense of innovation when people are running against you.” The decreasing number of tickets and re-election rates of incumbents breed complacency, and thus, a lack of effective governance.

The most jarring realization that came from “The Letter” was as simple as the age-old adage “things are not always as they seem.” Part of the reason there is a lack of interest in voting in the elections and general involvement in the SU is because many students do not understand the role or importance of the SU. While the SU is such a significant part of the Stuyvesant community, it remains opaque, and the powers they hold have never been clear to many. For much of the student body, their only connection to the SU is through weekly schedule e-mails. More efforts need to be taken by the SU to increase transparency and communication with students. This way, more students will understand the importance of voting and SU involvement, which would foster more competitive elections that force leaders to keep true to the promises they make during their campaigns.

To ensure that elections are not simply popularity contests, Stuyvesant should create a more organized formal campaigning system. Regulations on the role of social media in campaigns could be developed, and rules that force each set of candidates to expand its outreach could also be enforced. Formal debates between each set of candidates would allow students to develop a better sense of each candidate’s platform rather than relying on a candidate’s popularity. These changes would help facilitate a more fair election process.

However, even when considering the responsibility and esteem the leaders of the SU hold, we are all still high school students. Because our social and academic lives are so intermixed, it is pertinent for students in positions of power to distinguish their personal and work lives as best they can to avoid interpersonal conflicts. Most of the screenshots found in “The Letter” were taken from social media communication platforms like Discord and Instagram. When informal social media platforms are used as a central means of communication, personal conversations will naturally be mixed with professional conversations. The SU should consider mandating that all SU-related conversations be made in work-centric platforms, like Slack, to avoid blurring this line.

It is the responsibility of an institution to establish policies that encourage transparency, prevent favoritism, and draw the line between personal and professional conflicts. While many of the criticisms mentioned in “The Letter” were targeted toward individuals, they brought to light the lack of transparency surrounding the role of the SU and its election process, an issue that must be addressed immediately.