On January 29th, 2017, the Students’ Union Representative Council met to pass motions of approval to create two new Council positions.
As a result of substantial lobbying from various student groups on campus, an Aboriginal Representative and a Students of African Descent Representative have been added to more accurately portray the student population at Council.
The lobbying began in the summer of 2016, when student groups and Students’ Union executives met to discuss the possibility of having more representation on Council due to growing diversity on campus.
According to Cassia Tremblay, equity representative, and Brandon Hamilton, chair of council, the process to add the positions was laid out and presented to students interested at the beginning of the year.
Those pushing for change with the U were Rebecca Mesay, Katie Grosicki, Rebecca Clancey, Shanna Francis and current education representative Nayo Upshaw who together identify as the group SACERM (Student Advocacy Committee for Equity for Racial Minorities).
The group then presented their case for the new positions to the SU Council at the first meeting in October earlier this school year.
During that meeting, SACERM member Nayo Upshaw expressed the groups approach to their mission, stating “All we’re asking for is a seat at the table, the same table that you guys are sitting at,” highlighting the need for more Council diversity.
As a result of the meeting, The Students’ Union was prompted to conduct its own research to support and ultimately legitimize the notion.
Focus groups were then held with various visibly marginalized groups to consult with Aboriginal students, students of African descent and others that could be potentially associated with the positions. The findings were then reported back to Council.
According to the research, there was significant evidence that the positions had the utmost support from the student body. Further, the focus groups determined that it was appropriate to add the positions to sustain the push for equity within the Students’ Union and the university. There were also many individuals already expressing their interest in the positions, per Hamilton and Tremblay.
The U also studied cases at fellow Students’ Unions at other Canadian universities to follow possible precedence.
However, the five-month long process became frustrating for the SACERM student group.
Tremblay explained that the students perceived the slow action due to bureaucracy as “resistance” to the initiative.
In response, Hamilton noted that the long process and subsequent research was to ensure the stability and sustainability of the positions.
“We don’t want to set them up for failure. We need the research to support them,” he added.
The decision to add the positions ultimately falls in line with the U’s mission to provide greater equity within the organization.
The U generally strives to mirror the university in terms of its equity structure, yet although the university’s Equity Officer position is currently vacant, Hamilton is confident that equity can be attained on the U’s side.
In accordance with the two new positions was a “Two Year Mandate” motion that would effectively freeze Councils structure over the next two years until May 2019 to ensure stability without any interference. However, the motion failed to pass after heavy deliberation and debate ensued, led by arts representative Nicholas Favero who claimed the motion was un-democratic.
Yet it was observed that after the motion for the two positions were approved, Hamilton along with other Council members were nonetheless thrilled with the outcome. Hamilton described it as a sense of “tingling” after the extensive council meeting.
In light of the positions creation, the SACERM student group released a statement to The Xaverian describing the importance and future impact of the two new positions:
“We are happy the Student’s Union Council has decided to share their power through the approval of the Council representative positions…We understand that it is not an easy thing to recognize your privilege, and then proceed to reconcile the systemic oppression faced by those without it,” the group stated.
According to SACERM, the positions will provide a voice to those who have been systematically silenced in the past but will also make StFX “an institution that hears, accepts, and supports all its students.”
“We also hope that this entire endeavor will inspire those who feel silenced to speak up – your experiences are important and your voice has power,” the group concluded in their statement
Like the other Council representatives, both the Aboriginal and Students of African Descent positions will be elected by the student body during the March election season.
As for the terms of reference for both positions, the U’s organizational review committee will be deliberating in the coming weeks to decide the structure.