Updated: March 31, 2019 at 3:41 p.m.
As candidates running for the Student Association’s top two posts wrap up a friendly campaign season, a student’s last-minute write-in campaign for SA president has exploded on social media.
Hours after freshman Justin Diamond launched a write-in campaign for SA president Monday with a promise to abolish the SA, students rushed to the GW memes page to joke about the candidate’s unconventional platform and the third consecutive year of 11th-hour SA election drama. Over the past 36 hours, students have curated more than 50 memes related to Diamond’s campaign, and moderators of the memes page have both endorsed the candidate and renamed the page to “GW Memes for pro-Justin Diamond teens.”
Other candidates vying for the SA’s top spots said that while they applaud any candidate who wants to make a difference on campus, they would encourage students to vote for peers who want to make change in the student body by working with administrators rather than gutting the organization.
Diamond first spoke with students about his campaign Tuesday in Kogan Plaza, where he played tunes like the GW Fight Song and “Despacito” on his accordion for about six hours. Diamond said he spent an additional three hours in Kogan Wednesday talking with students about his platform, which also includes plans to renounce the $15,000 stipend afforded to the SA president and reallocate it to student organizations.
Diamond said he has gained about 200 followers on Facebook and about 100 followers on Instagram since his initial announcement.
“I simply announced my campaign and made one or two off-hand jokes about it, and then the meme page, among other social media platforms, just really made my name get around,” he said.
Diamond said he wants to abolish the SA because he views the organization as an ineffective body. Diamond said in a livestream Tuesday night that he is an apolitical candidate with no formal stance on changing the Colonials nickname or adding a nondiscrimination policy to SA bylaws – two issues featured on the SA ballot this week as referendums.
Students have often joked about getting rid of the SA, but an SA candidate has not included the platform point in their campaign since 2011. Diamond has not registered with the Joint Elections Commission, which oversees SA elections.
Registered candidates running for SA president and executive vice president said students should cast their ballot for candidates with more achievable platform points.
Nicole Cennamo, the SA’s vice president for academic affairs and an SA presidential candidate, said that while Diamond’s campaign gained traction on social media, she baked banana muffins for students and campaigned outside of Thurston Hall Wednesday. She said her campaign team also posted testimonials on social media from supporters.
Cennamo said she hopes students are motivated by Diamond’s push to get students to vote, but the support he has received from students is “stressful” because candidates have historically beat out their opponents by a slim margin. SA President Ashley Le defeated candidate Imani Ross with about 51 percent of the vote last year.
“I wouldn’t necessarily come out and say, ‘He shouldn’t be campaigning,’ because I think anyone should have the opportunity to do so even if they don’t necessarily treat it as seriously as people who registered,” she said. “At the very least, it is spreading more awareness at the fact that SA elections are a thing and they are happening today.”
Residence Hall Association President SJ Matthews, a candidate for SA president, said her campaign team has turned to social media to spread Hatchet articles about her platform and information about student organizations that have endorsed her. Matthews said she gives Diamond “props” for garnering support days before polls close but would encourage students to vote for platform points highlighting student advocacy work.
“I wish he would be a little more realistic about the feasibility of dissolving the organization, but I like that it’s gotten people talking,” she said.
SA Sen. Amy Martin, ESIA-U and an executive vice presidential candidate, said she spent the first day of voting spreading the election link on social media. While playing the accordion in Kogan Plaza is “iconic,” promising to shut down the “best vehicle through which we express student voice” is frustrating, she said.
“His campaign is only as real as we let it be, and the second we start adjusting ourselves to Justin is when it becomes a true possible outcome,” she said. “As someone who actively advocates for more student voice in decision-making while he is advocating for the removal of student voice, I don’t want to see it happen.”
Quentin McHoes, a candidate for executive vice president, said his campaign team has also used social media and paid promotional advertisements to spread his campaign on election day. He said Diamond’s campaign has received “quite a bit of momentum” over the past couple of days, but the SA should not be shut down because it can “enact change for the student experience.”
“Although he and I have diametrically different approaches, I empathize with the emotional response of his supporters that is carrying him,” McHoes said.
SA Sen. ShanTorrian Underwood, CCAS-U and a candidate for SA president, did not return multiple requests for comment.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Diamond launched his campaign Tuesday. He announced his candidacy Monday night. We regret this error.