Exploring the systemic origins of the RM-to-SMOB pipeline
May 4, 2021
After the most recent SMOB nominations, students from all over the county took to social media making jokes and talking about the so-called “RM-to-SMOB pipeline.” The idea behind this conversation is that RM seems to breed ideal SMOB candidates that tend to already hold high positions in student government. Not only are both of this year’s candidates RM students, but seven out of the 12 most recent SMOB candidates have all come from RM, and the current SMOB, Nick Asante, is also an RM senior.
To best solve a problem, you must get to the root of it and see what the causes are. For many students, the main cause of this trend stems from access and representation. While many students all over the county would enjoy participating in student government, their schools may not have well-established SGAs, and the countywide student governments, the Montgomery County Regional SGA (MCR-SGA) and the Montgomery County Junior Council (MCJC), are historically inaccessible in underprivileged areas. This is far wider than an RM issue and is rather a countywide issue. While RM students might benefit heavily from this trend of underrepresentation, the larger culprit is countywide student governments.
To many students, the root of the RM-to-SMOB pipeline is that instead of fostering inclusivity and actively trying to recruit students who reside in all regions of the county, the countywide student governments do a poor job of expanding into underrepresented areas. The meetings for these SGAs are often very far away from many students, especially downcounty students, as the meetings are held upcounty. If students are not able to access these meetings, their voices and problems go unheard. Because of this, MCJC and MCR create candidates that have often had similar student government/leadership positions and experiences. Most, if not all, recent SMOB candidates gained their footing from the countywide student governments.
MCPS headquarters, where MCR and other student governments meet and other important educational meetings are held, is located in Rockville, meaning that RM students and students who live in the surrounding area have an easier time traveling there after school. As a matter of fact, RM happens to be the closest high school to the headquarters, increasing the advantage. Many students are not as fortunate as to be able to live within close proximity to the MCPS headquarters or have the ability to commute there, and for this reason, are unable to commit to being a member of such student governments. “We do have such a big location advantage. That’s one of the reasons I decided to come to RM, because it’s so close to the county government. That gives us such a huge advantage in getting people involved and getting easy access to meetings,” RM junior Hana O’Looney said.
[Y]ou can’t keep having the same kids from RM and upper-county and expect results that reflect the entire county.”
— Ariel Nochez
Furthermore, a trend often seen in student government is that there are only a very small number of higher-level positions, such as president and vice-president, available. Not only are there limited higher-level positions, but students who hold these positions are often the ones that become SMOB. Students may feel discouraged from getting involved in SGA because they may feel that if they do not reach a high position, their voices do not matter. “Considering how SMOB is an important role in deciding our education and stuff, I believe MCPS needs to do more to get people involved because you can’t keep having the same kids from RM and upper-county and expect results that reflect the entire county,” Early College student Ariel Nochez said.
“It starts before RM because it starts from being in student government early on. Lowkey, I feel like MCJC and MCR favored some schools and ignored or didn’t show as much attention for others. That’s why it’s always certain schools, and kids who have these followings [before their campaign] that have successful campaigns for SMOB,” Jasmine Cox, an Early College student, said. Northwest High School junior Madison Page agreed, saying, “From what I’ve seen with student government, there are favorites that climb high in student government, and those are the kids who normally end up [as] SMOB because they built a following before their campaign.”
Campaigning for these higher-level positions in the countywide student governments also requires students to make and be active on social media platforms on which they gain large followings early on. They have followers and supporters who know their plans and initiatives making them less likely to relinquish their support later on. Many past SMOBs already had following numbers in the thousands before starting their campaigns and this allowed them to reach a wider audience than their competitors and students who did not have a large following. Without this large following, it is hard to reach enough people to make your message/platform public, putting students who are “unknown” at a major disadvantage from the beginning.
Another reason RM is a part of this pipeline is because of its International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Students that are part of magnet programs tend to participate in activities such as student government and student leadership. They often have years of prior student government experience, improving their chances of obtaining future student government positions. In MCPS countywide student governments, students who attend magnet programs and well-known, high-achieving schools tend to hold the highest roles. Currently, two RM IB students hold positions on the MCR executive board. Many RM IB students have become SMOB such as current SMOB Nick Asante and the 2018-2019 SMOB Ananya Tadikonda, to name a few.
In the grand scheme of things, the issue at hand is systemic and not the fault of any one school. RM, for several reasons, benefits from a system of countywide student governments that do not do all they can to make student government more inclusive, with the result being that the most represented schools in these student governments foster SMOB candidates. Instead of blaming RM, it is more necessary that students band together to voice their dissatisfaction with the current system and push MCPS and the countywide student governments to increase inclusivity, representation and opportunities by expanding resources and access to the underprivileged and underrepresented areas that need it the most.