by Jason Ewell
EDITORíS NOTE: Jason Ewell is a sophomore at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.† He is also an active student leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio.
During my freshman year of college, I participated in a number of† extracurricular activities, including playing center on an intramural freshman flag football team, playing my alto saxophone in the band for the Christmas concert, and participating in several clubs.† Nevertheless, I was not as involved as I would like to have been.† Early in my freshman year, I considered running for a class office, but only briefly.† Now, I think that I should have run, but at the time, I was somewhat apprehensive of my chances, and, unfortunately, I let my apprehension keep me from trying.
Throughout my second semester at John Carroll, various controversies arose and several events took place that were both irritating and thought provoking. This trend helped to increase my desire to become involved on campus, though I was not sure exactly in what I wanted to participate. While I was at home on spring break, I received an e‑mail message from the Student Union, John Carroll's organization of student government. This message said that those wishing to run for class offices needed to file a letter of intent and attend a meeting scheduled for one week after we returned from spring break.
Once again, I thought, "Maybe I'll run for a class office, possibly for president," but I made no plans to do so and told no one of my thoughts. The day before this meeting was to take place, I was talking to one of my sophomore friends who had suggested that I run for the presidency of a club to which we both belonged.† When I told her that I was considering either writing for the school paper or running for a class office, she strongly encouraged me to do the latter and said that there was no reason why I couldn't write for the paper as well.
I talked to several other friends that weekend, all of whom were encouraging and enthusiastic about my chances.† Upon reflection, I resolved that I did not want blindness to become a factor in the election.†† I did not want to gain votes because of blindness, but I didn't want to lose votes on that account either.†
Two of my classmates ran against me for the presidency of the class of 2001 for the sophomore year.† The three of us ran in a primary election. I and one of the others, being the top two vote getters in the primary, went on to the general election. My opponent had run for president of our freshman class in the fall. He lost by seven votes.† During the campaign, an individual prominent in student government told one of my friends that my opponent had complained to him, saying that in his first attempt he had "had to run against a jock, and now [he had] to run against Blind."
How much commentary is needed here? All I wanted was to run a fair, spirited campaign.† I wanted the outcome to be decided based on issues that affect student life. I wanted the best candidate, me, in my opinion, to be elected.† Maybe my opponent was worried that he might not have been running the best campaign. Maybe he thought that I was more charismatic.† One can only guess.
Ultimately, I won the general election for president by ten votes. I think that those who supported me did so because they believed that I was the best candidate for the job. Serving as class president for the past year has been a great experience. I have directed the planning of various class activities, including a weekend trip to Toronto, a one‑day ski trip to New York, and a class picnic. In addition, I have served on two committees of the Student Union: the Rules Committee, which reviews certain legislation, and the Activities Committee, which has planned two concerts this year.
In January of my sophomore year, I decided to run for the vice presidency of the Student Union.† My opponent in the general election told several people that I would get the "pity† vote." While I admit that some people might remember me initially because I am the only blind student on campus, once I get to know them, I think that my personality is what they remember most.
When I campaigned, I went door‑to‑door in several dorms, talking to people, telling them what I thought needed to be done, and how I planned to do it. By no means did people give me a free pass just because I was blind. Some of them told me they would vote for me, simply because I was the "only one who took the time to stop by," but others asked me what I proposed to do about issue X, or if and how I could help to solve problem Y.
While it is unfortunate that I have to deal with the occasional "pity vote" comment, I have come to realize that most of my fellow students have little tolerance for people who make such remarks, not just because they see making the comments as impolite behavior, but because they don't believe such comments to be true.
Those students who care enough to take the time to vote, are the ones who care most that the planning of events for which the vice president will be responsible will be carried out correctly.† Those who voted for me did so either because they thought that I would do a better job, or because some aspect of my campaign appealed to them.† In the end, I emerged victorious, this time by more than one‑hundred votes.
I am really looking forward to the year ahead. I think that being involved in student government is a good way for me to do something beneficial for the students of John Carroll.† I can also promote a positive philosophy of blindness at the same time.† If you would like to participate in the student government at your university, I encourage you to do so, whether you run for an office, or help out in some other way. The individual role that you play in the organization is not nearly as important as carrying it out in a way that maximizes use of your talents and promotes a positive philosophy of blindness.
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