By Kristy Koehler, May 14 2020—
“This has been a uniquely challenging year — and I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing those words in that order,” said Students’ Union president Jessica Revington as the 77th Students’ Legislative Council wrapped up its final meeting.
She’s right. I’m intensely sick of hearing about how challenging it’s been — but what I’m definitely not sick of is watching student leaders rise to the occasion.
The 77th SLC met for the final time on April 14 via Zoom. Mid-March, owing to the coronavirus public health crisis, the group had to pivot to hosting meetings online.
Most of the members donned their blue SU sweaters as they gave final reports, wrapped up business and showed more than a little emotion as they faced the end of their term over a screen instead of in person.
“It’s been a pleasure and honour to serve alongside all of you,” said vice-president academic Kevin Dang.
Vice-president student life Alisha Gordon shed some tears as she said goodbye to her team and vice-president operations and finance Omer Mansoor was equally emotional.
“Where do I even start,” said Mansoor as he delved into his third trimester report. “We didn’t imagine our terms ending through an online, digital format.”
A federal election, two provincial budgets and a global pandemic tested the resilience of the 77th SLC. How did they handle it? Dignity and professionalism come to mind.
Revington, the first female president in more than a decade, managed her team with quiet confidence, advocating for students calmly and logically.
Vice-president external, Sadiya Nazir, took up the position as chairperson of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) at a time when advocating to the provincial government became far more difficult than it had been in the past. It goes without saying that she was sufficiently entertained this year. She remained calm during chaos and faced the challenges head on.
Mansoor put an outgoing, smiling spin on a position that isn’t normally in the public eye. He oversaw the drafting and adopting of an equity, diversity and inclusion advocacy policy that was adopted by SLC. Mansoor also oversaw the creation of defined positions on the Refugee Student Board, assisting its efficiency in the future. Mansoor was responsible for a parking report that resulted in a new student exam parking rate being implemented at a cost of $4 per day rather than $8 per day.
Gordon hosted two sexual violence prevention workshops alongside the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education club in each semester. She also worked to increase access to funding for student clubs and hosted workshops to inform club members and executives about this funding. Students could find Gordon roaming the halls, handing out candy and actively engaging with students on a variety of topics.
Dang presided over the Undergraduate Research Symposium and saw a record-setting 207 applications. He also introduced a nomination process to ensure consistent and fair undergraduate representation on university bodies such as the University Appeals Committee, the University Appeals Tribunal, the Faculty Merit Committee and the Faculty Tenure and Promotion Committee, as well as securing student representation on the Open Education Working Group.
The entire executive team held the university — and each other — to account.
The Faculty of Arts representatives are some of the best in recent memory. The four elected officials — Rayane Issa, Justin Gotta, Tomiwa Oje and Marley Gillies — made good on their campaign promises and tirelessly advocated for student interests.
The representative’s reports presented at SLC meetings showcase a staggering amount of events planned, functions attended and consultations had with students and stakeholders.
One of Gillies’ main platform points was to host a Faculty of Arts Town Hall to unite clubs and students on campus. She was not only able to do this, but also brought in speakers to discuss the value of their arts degrees.
Issa ran on a platform of hosting monthly wellness nights to help students maintain their mental health. She succeeded on this platform goal until the pandemic necessitated a cessation of public events.
Issa’s reports to SLC show an impressive attempt to reach out to Fine Arts students as well — a demographic that often seems to be ignored. She reported meeting with the Associate Dean of Arts, Dawn Johnston, to discuss the role she could play in best supporting fine arts students as well as contacting fine arts professors and students to discuss potential collaborations and the possibility of having a fine arts student run for a role in the SU. She also sat on five committees — the Refugee Student Board Committee, the Policy Development and Review Committee, the Faculty of Arts Students Association Board, the Quality Money Committee and the Clubs Committee.
Oje’s platform featured a promise to host an entrepreneurship event for arts students. She fulfilled this promise early into her term by hosting “Side Hustle to Reality: Panel of Entrepreneurs with Arts Degrees,” a well-attended event hosted at the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking.
The Faculty of Arts reps also managed to pull together a last-minute town hall to help students understand the provincial budget.
The meeting minutes show something even more important than events held and meetings attended — engagement with their fellow representatives and executives during question period.
The 77th SLC held each other to account. Reps ensured that their counterparts were engaging in consultations with students and providing value to the electorate. Colleagues who were acting contrary to their duties were swiftly removed from positions. This group had no time for those who didn’t pull their weight.
Issa was a powerhouse during SLC meetings, actively invested in other SLC members’ reports, holding them to account for students. She was one of the strongest voices in every meeting. Faculty of Science rep Manpreet Sahota also showed an intense level of engagement, taking interest in faculties other than her own and actively working to increase diversity and inclusion across the board.
Georgia East and Marie Beaupre-Olsen, from Werklund School of Education and the Faculty of Social Work respectively, acknowledged mature students and student parents in their family-themed event. East went on to submit a successful Quality Money application for a truly incredible multi-sensory room project. Mathieu Chin was also able to leverage funding for the students he represented, and was approved for more than $175,000 in funding for improvements to the Faculty of Kinesiology.
The 77th SLC has plenty to be proud of. It really has been a uniquely challenging year and, in my opinion, there wasn’t a better group of people positioned to face it head on.
They weren’t screaming from the rooftops and they’ve garnered some criticism for that, but they used their professionalism to their advantage and scored some big wins for students, even if they weren’t ruffling feathers.
They weren’t perfect — politicians at any level never are. There were some failures — once again we held an election with acclamations. Some platform points went unfulfilled as faculty reps learned just how difficult some of their campaign promises were. The COVID-19 situation prevented SLC — or perhaps saved them — from having to deal with Bermuda Shorts Day, a perennial headache at this point.
But, the final grades are in and the 77th SLC gets an A — for advocacy, for achievement, for accountability and for adaptability.
The 78th SLC technically took over on May 1 and inherited the unenviable position of a provincial budget that reduces university funding, the looming implementation of performance-based metrics, a recently-raised tuition fee and a global pandemic that prevents anyone from actually being on campus. Not only do they have a whole host of problems to deal with, they have big shoes to fill. I’m looking forward to seeing how they handle it.
It remains important, perhaps now more than ever, for students to follow the activities of their student leaders, engage with them and make their own voices heard through their elected leaders. Keeping up to date with the activities of SLC helps students hold to account those who are charged with working on their behalf and amplifying their voices. Attend the weekly meetings, ask questions, send them emails and demand the same standard of your student politicians that you would of any elected official.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.