Borrowed Pants and Bold Moves: A Cautionary Tale for Varsity Student Leaders

The Catholic University of Eastern Africa recently issued an internal memorandum stating that the deadline for student leadership position applications has been extended. This indicates that the initial call for submissions did not receive a satisfactory response. This sense of apathy and inertia is prevalent in many universities across the country. What led to the emergence of this apathy, and when did it originate?

In 2015, Kenya’s University (Amendment) Act was enacted, eliminating certain provisions that students argued hindered the possibility of having effective representative leadership. A member of parliament proposed amendments to the Universities Act in the same year. These changes reduced the number of student organizations to four and introduced the concept of electoral colleges.

Prior to the amendments, university students exercised their voting rights through a direct popular initiative, wherein leaders were directly elected by individual students. However, with the introduction of the electoral college system, students now first cast their votes for delegates representing various schools, faculties, or departments.

These delegates then proceed to vote for the student leadership in subsequent elections. As a result, varsity and college students no longer regard their peer leaders with the same level of seriousness. They see them as mere conduits for the university administration’s agenda. The students exhibit a sense of wariness and caution.

This prevailing state of apathy among the students can be likened to a village dance rule: ‘Don’t dance with the most beautiful girl in the room while wearing borrowed pants.’ This applies even if she keeps smiling in your direction all night. It’s crucial to exercise patience and wait for your opportune moment – another day. Wisdom dictates not getting swept away by the moment, for failing to resist premature advances can lead to stories that are far from beautiful, much like most rebellious student leaders’ experiences. The primary repercussion of staging anti-establishment theatrics is usually incarceration.

And once you find yourself ousted from the dance, the best course of action is to quietly fade away and take stock of your losses. Engaging in a confrontation is likely to result in more wounds to mend. The more tumultuous and raucous the situation becomes, the more injuries and bruises you’ll accumulate. The majority of the blows and kicks will come from the not-so-handsome yet sturdy and forceful bullies who, despite their efforts, never garnered even a hint of attention from the village butterflies.

Picture the intensity with which those blows and kicks would be delivered when the bullies recall their frustrations in trying to win the girl, only to fail, and then witness her warmly embracing you, looking as delicate as a chick in your arms. Opting for a confrontation only transforms you into a punching bag or the grass trampled in a brawl between two bulls. While it is the students who deliver the pants to the leaders, those pants actually belong to the administration.

Kenyan universities and colleges are currently struggling with the issue of student apathy. Despite a growing body of research on apathy and its impact on student performance, there has been limited exploration of the problem from the viewpoint of the apathetic student.

Perhaps of equal or even greater importance is that once these apathetic students graduate, they’ll need to step forward and become active and informed citizens in a democracy. Developing the attributes necessary to thrive in the global workforce and take their rightful places as responsible citizens demands time, support, active engagement, and personal commitment. When students exhibit apathy and disengagement in school, the chance to guide them in cultivating these vital attributes is forfeited, potentially leading to a diminished impact on both the individuals and the country at large.

Another area of research addressing the issue of student apathy and engagement pertains to achieving the broader objectives of East Africa’s education system. One of these objectives is to equip students to be actively informed participants in a democratic society. Another equally crucial aim is for institutions of higher learning to graduate students who are culturally adept adults advocating for elevated levels of equality and social justice.

These laudable goals cannot be attained by apathetic students who perceive education as a futile undertaking, something they endure rather than a vital foundation for their future.

Past and present research confirms the idea that the years spent in school have the potential to either launch individuals onto a path of promise or consign them to a life of untapped potential. Ensuring a promising future for today’s students is not only important for their individual well-being but also for the vitality of a country’s democracy, as it advances the goals of an informed electorate and social justice.

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