The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Op-ed: The problem with the Pepper Prize

Photo courtesy of Lafayette College Flickr; logo courtesy of Student Government

How are the Pepper Prize finalists chosen? From firsthand experience, I can tell you that the process is thorough, but it is also thoroughly flawed.

That is because Student Government is the only student voice helping decide the finalists.

This is not to say that the committee that chose the Pepper Prize finalists did not do its due diligence – I served on that committee in 2022 and our deliberations were rigorous and thoughtful – but the charge of the committee, also composed of faculty and staff, is to decide upon 10 student finalists for the most important award that a student can receive at Lafayette College. Necessarily, the student voice on that committee is extraordinarily important.

But isn’t Student Government representative of the student voice? In an ideal world, yes, but that ideal is far from reality.

Student Government is a homogeneous group that is getting smaller by the day. Around half of Student Government members, according to LinkedIn accounts and other publicly available sources, are government and law majors, with STEM and the arts sorely underrepresented. Having served on Student Government for more than half of my college career, I could not tell you how many prospective members asked me if it was okay to apply if they were not government and law majors like myself.

Homogeneity breeds blind spots. Only one of my Student Government peers who served on the Pepper Prize finalist selection committee in 2022 was involved in the arts world, for example, leaving that iteration of the committee with a fundamentally limited understanding of how that part of campus works from a student perspective. None who served on that committee were athletes.

After the 2022 Pepper Prize finalists were announced, some students complained that some of the finalists were not deserving of the honor because their involvement was lackluster, but we were none the wiser; all we knew was what the finalists included in their applications.

Changes have been made since I served on the committee. A more comprehensive application has been in use since last year, but this does not strike at the heart of the problem. Student leaders from throughout the community – from the arts to the humanities to the sciences to athletics – should have a chance to decide upon the Lafayette ideal, not just students in one 24-member organization.

Trebor Maitin ‘24 is a former Student Government member who served on the Pepper Prize finalist selection committee in 2022. He did not apply to be a Pepper Prize finalist this year.

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About the Contributor
Trebor Maitin
Trebor Maitin, Managing Editor
Pennsylvania enthusiast.

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