On February 3, 2016, this paper published my op-ed, “Why I Returned to Senate.” In that piece, I talked about an involvement cult, and how people pursue offices and titles rather than do their actual jobs. It covers many of my feelings from that January 27 meeting and why I was not a fan of the Missouri Students Association. To be honest, if you’ve read that piece, you’re probably wondering why I decided to serve as Senate Speaker 19 days after it was published.
The answer is really simple: politics.
You’re probably now getting signals from your brain, saying politics is a dirty word. You’ve probably heard people say “PEOPLE OVER POLITICS” and “MSA IS SO POLITICAL.” If I’m a betting man, I’m sure you heard about that from everyone who was on the MSA presidential ballot this past semester. Politics drove the fall election of 2015 to be contentious, led to calls for impeachment on two of the last three Board of Elections Commissioners chairs, and possibly the most stressful meeting I had in the speakership on March 8. It is safe to say that people don’t like the word “politics,” as they see it as people caring about themselves and how they can use the institution itself to benefit themselves.
Yet to channel my favorite political science professor, let’s look at the etymology of the word politics. The singular form (politic) is the Latin translation of the Greek “politikos,” which translates to “relating to the affairs of the citizens.” What does that mean? If you’ve worked on a campaign or voted (in ANY election), that’s politics. If you had Facebook conversations regarding the state of the nation (or campus), that’s politics. If you had any discussion or exchange pertaining to affairs that deal with those in your community, that’s politics. Your concerns with politics IS POLITICS. As such, when folks say “people over politics,” they’re saying “the people’s concerns over the people’s concerns.”
Saying MSA plays politics is disingenuous and masks the real issue with leadership.
People in positions of power are so concerned with how they see to fix the affairs of the people; they ignore the affairs of the people. This is from the top down, and MSA is of no exception. The No. 1 reason former senators informed me as to why they left Senate was of a general lack of respect between senators, leadership, and other members of the association. We talked over each other, spoke in condescending tones, and always thought we were right. We were quick to call for the heads of contenders for positions while colluding in the shadows to take them ourselves. We drove our associates and colleagues to tears without having the decency to come back and apologize. If I can amend my opinion piece from February 2016, the “involvement cult” was the tip of the iceberg known as a general lack of respect that MSA (and a host of other students) show to their peers. Let me be clear, if we are unable to show fellow tigers respect, then catchphrases like “Tigers Together” are about as useful as any other phrase you’ll find in a strategic communication class. Without respect, nothing else “matters, Mizzou” and togetherness is an unreachable idea.
MSA doesn’t have a political problem, as that insinuates that MSA has an issue with listening to the students that pay for it. There is a problem with humility in student leaders that has to be addressed, in order to build confidence in this institution. I am not removed from this criticism either. However, no matter how confident I was in me or my answers; I have always been someone willing to admit that I am wrong. Humility is the absolute most critical trait to have here, and I tried to show that in everything I did in the speakership. I have always worked to remove myself, as to allow senators to pursue their passions and make MSA succeed. For me, the speakership was never about me. It was about getting the speaker out of the way and getting things done for students.
We didn’t need to wait on Exec to get the money to change the signs in single occupancy bathrooms or to get an international flag display on campus. We just did it. We didn’t need to wait for the court to get the election started. We just did it. We didn’t need permission from anyone to get preferred names or pronouns on nametags or diplomas. We just did it. Why? Because politics. The politics that drove me to run as speaker created a culture of people addressing the affairs of the students that pay for this place, my office, and my salary, and doing something with it.
The problem with MSA is not politics. Clearly, the politics of MSA (and Senate) has made positive change on campus. However, no one here should ever see their mental health suffer because people are too concerned with having something to talk about constantly as if that makes them worthy of being a committee chair, department head, Senate speaker, or MSA president. When people are committing whisper campaigns, using intimidation techniques, and condescending messages to people who are supposed to be “prioritizing students’ interests above our own personal ambitions,” that problem goes beyond a gold nametag.
Senator McDaniel didn’t understand that in 2016. Speaker Emeritus McDaniel understands that well in 2017. As such, it is time to me leave MSA. This year, I strove to prove that “politics” is not the issue for MSA. If politics was the problem everyone thinks it is, we would’ve done nothing this year. The issue for MSA, is how to embrace respect: for this association, the students who pay for it, and their colleagues to which without, NONE of this is possible.
A graduating senior with student loan debt to repay can’t teach humility to a bunch of children playing government. Maybe someone else can.
Mark E. McDaniel
48th Senate Speaker
Missouri Students Association