Student Council Speeches and Politics
I love student council. I’ve served on student councils since sixth grade. Contrary to what television says, student council races are rarely competitive. In fact, I’ve only been in one race where there was actually an opponent, and even then it was pretty clear who was going to win. My sophomore year in high school, three people ran for three spots each year so there wasn’t even voting. Still, we had to give speeches. There were some hilarious performances, one boy read Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” speech, a girl read the seminal Dr. Seuss classic Hop on Pop, and another girl gave a stream of consciousness speech about squirrels. I figured, what the hey, I have a captive audience; I might as well bring up some things I want to change about the school. I talked about two issues: technology use, and dress codes.
My high school was behind the times for local private schools in that we did not have a one device per student policy, a policy that encouraged each student to bring a laptop or tablet to class with them. In fact our school banned usage of laptops and tablets in class and even during lunch breaks. The vast majority of colleges allow laptops in lectures, so not allowing students to use technology in the classroom in high school prevents them from building the skills necessary to use technology appropriately and effectively in college classrooms. My points about technology were met with minor annoyance. One of my teachers talked about how laptops are inherently distracting as though computers aren’t an inherent part of white collar work. It is true that technology can be distracting, but it is an integral part of our lives and I believe that high school teachers have a responsibility to teach their students how to use it correctly in academic settings.
In contrast, my points about dress code were much more controversial. I argued that the regulations were ambiguous and hard to follow. Skirts had to come to the point where when one put their thumb and forefinger in a line from their knee up their thigh. Where on the knee? Who knows? How were teachers supposed to be able to sight check that rule? Who knows? Enforcement was actually a major issue with the dress code; only two teachers enforced it and one of them was a man. While a fine person to work with in general, he often made poor choices when telling girls that they were violating dress code. He once said to a girl, “That skirt is too short but it’s okay, you have such long legs.” It’s clear that he meant it’s hard for her to buy clothing of the appropriate length, but you can see how that could come off as him objectifying a fifteen-year-old girl. When I spoke about it, my peers applauded. Several students came up to me in the hall afterwards and thanked me for my remarks. There was also backlash; the headmaster yelled out at the end my speech (mostly in jest) “I’ll see you in my office.” One girl pointed out that my proposed new regulations were not much better than the current ones. One boy even complained that I gave my speech in modest business attire and not in something that violated the dress code. I guess he thought that would’ve been more of a statement or perhaps he just wanted to see me in daisy dukes.
Overall, I stirred the pot and it felt good. I had gotten up on my soap box and said my piece. The result? Absolutely nothing. The technology policy remains exactly the same to this day. The dress code has been changed slightly to allow for pants that cover the shoe (apparently this was a problem in the 90’s?), and it now prevents male teachers from commenting on female students’ violations. Speaking up feels satisfying but doesn’t always do anything. When I got up in front of the student body, I said what all the students were thinking, the dress code was stupid and so was the ban on computers. The student body listened and appreciated what I said, but the school officials who disagreed with me didn’t. Speaking up didn’t change minds or sway favor. I should have pushed harder, gotten a petition or organized a protest. Just giving my speech didn’t change anything because I said what everyone had been saying. Speaking up works when it moves people to action or when it calls attention to issues that people do not know about. When speaking up just amounts to trotting out the same old arguments that have been made a thousand times before, it will ultimately be a futile gesture.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Eigerman, Elisabeth. "Student Council Speeches and Politics." 13 April 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 23, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/student-council-speeches-and-politics>.