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S.O. — Change the Name

Jason Beeferman, Editor-in-Chief

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“Student Organization” can seem like a bit of a misnomer. Not only does the name imply a greater responsibility than the group is entitled to,  like planning school events and gatherings, the name also undermines the common structure of power within the organization.

Like most clubs or extracurriculars in High School, Student Organization appears to be run by teachers, with students following their lead. Indeed, similar structures exist on all other Sports teams and Clubs at Great Neck North — the coach or advisor sets the rules, and the student must follow them or face the consequences put in place by such coach or advisor. As S.O. President Yoel Hawa said, “We’re pretty separate from the administration, but the advisors have both a big say and big assistance in what we do.”

Although this organization of power mirrors many other extra-curriculars in the school, it seems beyond reasonable that Student Organization should be different.

Aside from the fact that “Student” comprises 50% of the word count in the name, “Student Organization”, S.O. is simply not presented in the same light that a club or a team is. Rather, S.O. is posed to be the voice of the student body, or as S.O. puts it on the school website, “the link between the student body and the administration”.

Yet, the advisors that have a big say in the organization that represents students and their grade, were never elected themselves. If advisors make up a large portion of decision making in the body that represents students, they should at least have to undergo a similar election-based scrutiny by the grade or school they are representing. In this election process, the advisors should vow to tell students why they are fit to represent them and what their plans are as S.O. or class advisor.

The teacher-student power structure in S.O. can be exemplified by the fact that teachers run the election process, set rules and contracts for what students may and may not do at home or online, and reserve the right to remove officers from the Organization.

Such a power structure is completely antithetical to the mere concept of a “Student” Organization. Currently, the S.O. contract forbids officers from being present or participating in parties where alcohol is used, or posting messages on social media that can be interpreted as cyberbullying. Maybe there is real no problem with set rules and contracts for S.O. Officers to follow, but if the Student Organization is truly what it calls itself, perhaps such a contract should be written and enforced by the people who the student body chose to represent them.

The aforementioned rules in the contract are in addition to regulations set by advisors on how students may campaign in the school or use social media within campaigns, another rule that might be deserving of the great test of popular sovereignty.

Yet, others may find the contracts important to ensuring the dignity of the student body is preserved.

Some would find it disrespectful to have the very people they elected not hold themselves up to the highest standards.

“As S.O. members it’s important that we’re good role models because it’s not just that we are representing the students to the administration, but it’s kind of that we’re representing the administration to the students” said Hawa, pointing out the fact that the “link” between students and administration isn’t just a one-way street.

However, it should be noted that the name, “Student Organization” implies a certain degree of autonomy of the students, and certain a lack of administration-representation.

Perhaps it is the election process that is open to the most scrutiny, given that it is the only aspect of S.O. that is completely visible to the rest of the student body.

If this annual, brief glimpse of S.O. is a reflection of how S.O. is run throughout the year, then further speculation as to the true meaning of “Student” in Student Organization is warranted.

Campaign speeches are not only edited, but censored by Teachers. But if such censored phrases or sentences that are deemed inappropriate by the teachers are truly inappropriate, then the student body is equipped to make the correct decision by means of a vote.

Obviously, curse words that are censored on television should not be included in campaign speeches, but beyond that, if students are responsible enough to deem who they want as their S.O. officers, then they should be responsible enough to distinguish what is appropriate and inappropriate of an S.O. Officer.

Moreover, perhaps the most dubious aspect of the election process is the questionable method by which student vote for their officers: an unreliable Google Forms page on an iPad that has no system to prevent students from voting more than once. Not only do the words “submit another response” appear immediately after voting once or two times, but the voting numbers are suspiciously kept secret after the fact.

However, Hawa was quick to remind me that last year there were just two more votes than the number of people that voted, and that “it’s really a minuscule problem.”

This claim, of course, cannot be confirmed given that the exact election results are kept secret from the public, but also the candidates as well.

This lack of transparency can not only be frustrating to the losing (or supposedly losing) candidates, but it raises extreme questions to the true nature of S.O., and the value of transparency within our mini-democracy.

When considering the responsibilities of S.O., one may question the highly exclusive nature of the club.

What seems perplexing is why the club is held with such high importance and exclusivity when really they are just a group of students that ends up responsible for planning the specifications of the end-of-school-year barbecue that takes place.

As Hawa said, “There are certain events that we, [the officers of S.O.], have full control over, such as pep rally, spirit week, the halloween parade, and the end of the school year barbecue… besides those events the S.O. doesn’t really have inherent power over the school or anything.”

Perhaps this is part of the reason that S.O. is called Student Organization, and not Student Government. But given the small amount of S.O.’s responsibilities, why is there an election process at all? It seems plausible, that all those that have a knack for planning should be able to be there and help plan prom, battle, and more.

Mr. Gilden, S.O. advisor, pondered this idea, before saying, “You have to have some sort of hierarchy because somebody has to be able to take responsibility. Elections are necessary in order to establish who’s accountable, and ensure efficiency, but I do think that the organization works best when people other than the elected officers do have a voice in the organization of the events.”

Perhaps elections are indeed necessary to ensure accountability. Yet one might wonder, why does the responsibility of planning Prom and Battle warrant the title of “School President” or “Class Treasurer”, especially since the S.O. is intentionally not a Student Government, but rather an organization?

“I don’t know how popular an answer this is, but I would not keep those titles,” Gilden said. “I would feel much more comfortable having a ‘student council’ of officers. I don’t think there should be a ranking of officers. Sometimes the designation of officers feels a little bit artificial.”

Of course, it goes without saying that Student Organization can be credited as the driving force for various events that take place at our school.

A lot of work goes into planning for Prom, Battle, and many other school-wide events and student officers should be commended for their commitment to Great Neck North High, and the betterment of the school environment.

Furthermore, it must be noted that I, myself, have lost two student class elections, and therefore acknowledge that the views I express are coming from someone who may hold implicit biases towards S.O., even though I believe that an impartial yet observant eye might come to the same conclusions.

Ultimately, Student Organization is not responsible for the name it implies, nor does it necessarily warrant such a high-stakes election. Perhaps a more fitting name would be, “Teacher-Student Events Planning Committee”. At least this way, the name would indicate the true structure of power within the group, and its true function.

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