ASW elections are on March 2 and 3, and officials said they're wondering how many students even know about the organization.
Thirty-six percent of the undergraduate student body voted in last year's elections, and officers said they think just half the campus population actually knows what ASW is and what it does.
ASW President Ben Pok said he thinks students are aware of the organization but don’t fully understand what it does for the campus.
“I think the problem is that they know who and what we are, but not what we do and how that affects them,” Pok said in an email. “It’s problematic because we pass legislation, and play a crucial role in college policies as well, and those policies affect their lives.”
Pok said many students don’t realize they are actually a part of ASW.
“If you’re a student who’s enrolled for 2 or more credit hours, you are automatically a part of ASW,” Pok said.
Despite students' automatic membership with ASW, Pok said their involvement and participation could improve.
“It’s just like democracy, to be honest. The more the involvement, the better,” Pok said. “But just as our democracy has proven, you can only sometimes get 50 percent of the people to come out to vote. That’s something that we have to deal with, but it’s also something that we’re trying to improve.”
Out of Westminster's 2,127 undergraduate students, 775 completed the voting ballot in the 2016 election. Part of the problem is students don’t know what ASW is and how that affects them, let alone that elections are taking place, Pok said.
The audience size at this week's ASW debate may reflect Pok's words. The debate consisted of a crowd of 11 students, two faculty members and four election committee members watching seven candidates lay out their platforms. One reason for the small crowd size could be that some students don't know much about ASW.
Marie Aufrere, a senior art major, said she’s never really understood what ASW is or what it does.
“To be honest, when I first came here I was totally confused by what ASW is,” Aufrere said. “I don’t think it’s very clear in my mind what it is exactly.”
Aufrere said she’s talked to other students about ASW, but its role on campus is very vague as far as she and her peers can tell.
“It’s an association, and it’s basically doing stuff around school... I guess,” Aufrere said. “They try to get students involved at school.”
Aufrere said she doesn’t know what else ASW does outside of trying to get students involved with school events and she didn't know elections were coming up.
Emily Pyle, an undeclared first year student, said she knew elections were coming up but only because a classmate invited her to like a Facebook page for one of this year's candidates.
"I feel like people get RHA and [ASW] confused," Pyle said. "I don’t even know when [elections] are happening."
Haley Coburn, another undeclared first year student, said she knew about the elections because she is classmates with one of this year's candidates.
"A kid in my class is running for something, so he likes to talk about it a lot," Coburn said. "Outside of that, I really had no idea."
ASW.Clubs President Warren Cook said students seem to know about ASW but not all of them know how it works or why it exists.
“I think they know the name,” Warren said. “I think they’re just like, 'Oh yeah that’s a thing...' I do think students know about ASW but not the intricacies of ASW.”
Warren said it’s not important to him whether students fully understand ASW as long as it makes a difference in their lives.
“I don’t think we need to be praised or talked about,” Warren said. “I think it’s more important that we do a good job. Even if people don’t necessarily know that we're the ones doing it, if we're providing them with a college experience that’s in any way shape or form better, then I think we’re successful."
Ryan Cook, director of student involvement, leadership, and orientation, said he also thinks ASW affects students more than they realize—regardless of whether students do or don’t know about the association.
“I would say people that really know what ASW does might be limited to people in ASW,” Ryan said. “I think that probably half of our students know about ASW, they have done something with ASW or they’ve attended one of our events.”
Ryan said a lot of people don’t know or care about ASW until it directly affects them in some way, such as a student wanting to start a club, create an event or explore an idea.
“I think people care when it matters,” Ryan said.
Ryan said it doesn’t bother him if students don’t understand the components of ASW as long as they know the association provides them with an opportunity to create clubs or events that have never been on campus before.