Seven ideas to combat inaction
2018 was an eventful year for StFX. In August, the school hosted more than 1 000 athletes from across the country for the 2018 Special Olympics Summer Games. Construction continued on the Mulroney Centre, began on the Oland Centre, and students were forced to adjust their routes to class as construction also began on the new stairs and ceremonial flag plaza.
Not too far into the 2018-19 school year, the university began to make national headlines for mishandling a case of sexual assault, and student protest became a force to be reckoned with as Xaverians came together to combat the school’s apathy and inaction. Protests calling for fair fees and accommodations for international students also garnered attention in late November. Coming into the new year, many students are hoping for big change. Perhaps, I believe, StFX should be too. To help them on their way, I’ve pulled together a list of 7 new year’s resolutions based on the big events and stories from 2018.
1. Listen to the revolutionaries
Cornell University professor Sidney Tarrow writes in his book Power In Movement that “people do not risk their skin or sacrifice their time to engage in contentious politics unless they have good reason to do so.” This year, StFX students and faculty took a stand against sexual violence at the university’s open house.
More than 5 000 individuals signed a petition listing calls to action. A number of individuals wrote and shared open letters, ran forums, and staged protests. Students petitioned for fair fees and accommodations for international students, they stood with Coady workers, and proved that our generation is willing to get up and engage and fight for what’s right.
StFX prides itself on being an institution founded on principles of social justice. While that claim is dubious when applied to the institution itself, students, faculty, and community members have proven their commitment to justice by engaging in contentious politics on a number of occasions. This year alone, the StFX community proved themselves revolutionaries.
Taking to heart Tarrow’s words would serve StFX well. Revolution doesn’t happen without good reason, and so to better the institution, listening to the revolutionaries is key.
2. Prioritize action
Everyone’s heard the phrase “actions speak louder than words,” and yet, some people seem to have a hard time applying it. StFX is a big fan of the empty promise. In terms of the fight for action on issues of sexual violence, students were promised action on multiple occasions in 2018, and have yet to see any significant changes. The new Sexual Violence Prevention Committee has yet to be created, a clear apology has yet to be issued on behalf of the administration, and the action plan promised at the open forum in November has yet to be released.
Creating trust in a system (one that we as students are supposed to trust with nearly every aspect of our lives) requires more than just telling people what they want to hear. Following through on promises and committing to real action needs to be at the top of StFX’s list of priorities for 2019.
3. Treat students like people, not money
Students pay a lot to be here. For a student in a general arts or science program, fees before living expenses come to about $9 000. For international students, that amount more than doubles.
University is expensive, we all know and expect that, but unfortunately, many students don’t feel valued for anything other than the contents of their bank account. For example, charging students who can’t afford to fly home for the holidays a fee to stay on campus. International students were right to petition for fair fees in 2018, but they shouldn’t have had to. Treating students like people, rather than sources of cash, should be an easy resolution for StFX to make.
4. Be trauma informed
Sexual violence has been at the forefront of nearly every discussion had on campus since September. Not because every conversation is about issues of sexual violence, but because it is impossible, when those issues are so prevalent in the day to day life of more than half the student population, to put them out of mind.
The university, in addressing issues of sexual violence, must recognize the impact of trauma.
Consisting unproportionately of upper-middle class white men, it is evident that the StFX administration is largely unfamiliar with the struggles of female, queer, Indigenous, and international students who all face increased risk of sexual violence on a day to day basis. This privilege, too, needs to be recognized as we continue to take action on issues of sexual violence.
There are so many people at StFX who have more experience with issues of sexual violence than those who make up the administration. Lean on those people, who are already doing the good work, and combating violence - listen to them when they tell you what needs doing, and how to go about change.
5. Embrace and value diversity
In social justice work, the guiding principle of “letting the most qualified person speak” is referenced frequently. That means letting those most affected by issues speak to their own needs and situations. In academia, this principle also applies. Who better to teach a course on Indigenous issues than an Indigenous person? Or a course on race than a racialized person? Hiring diverse faculty benefits everyone - allowing students to learn from those with first hand experience in the worlds they’re studying, and creating an environment more accepting to all.
Additionally, celebrating the diverse student body at StFX should be given more time and energy. Pride month shouldn’t just be one month. The flag shouldn’t go up early January and come down four weeks later. Christmas shouldn’t be the only holiday celebrated with big events across campus. The StFX student population comes from across the globe, and the university experience should reflect and recognize this. So, hire diverse faculty! Fly the pride flag year round! And the Mi’kmaq flag! Recognize and celebrate holidays that aren’t Catholic!
Embracing diversity isn’t that hard, I promise.
6. Break more traditions, and start new ones
September 2018 marked a big change in StFX tradition: single gender residences Cameron and MacKinnon Hall were, for the first time, considered co-ed. While the decision was highly contested, it was also necessary in combating misogynistic rituals. Tradition can be extremely harmful, and breaking this one was a step in the right direction. StFX should continue to challenge campus traditions, asking themselves if a tradition is truly adding to the university experience they want to present, or if it might be causing more harm than good.
7. Rethink the reputation
On a similar note, StFX is well known across Canada, and even internationally, for its reputation. While many students jokingly refer to StFX as a cult, two of the main reputations that have befallen the school are 1) that StFX is the number one party school in Canada, and 2) that the StFX community is like family. Both these reputations, while wielded proudly by a number of students, staff, and alumni alike, are unfortunately quite harmful.
The party school reputation lends itself to the promotion of alcoholism - excused as part of the experience rather than the affliction that it is - and makes space for behaviour that is violent and inappropriate. If this reputation is one the school plans on sticking with, they should balance it out with more education - on safe substance use, mental health, addictions, consent, and violence.
Referring to the school community as a family, as Professor Johannah Black pointed out at November’s open forum, brings up the often troubled dynamics that real families face.
Too often, families cover up or ignore sexual violence, disown family members in acts of discrimination, or integrate unhealthy power imbalances into the home; I would hope that this isn’t the picture of family StFX has in mind, but it would serve the school well to rethink the emphasis placed on the term.
This list (though quite long) only addresses a small portion of what StFX should be striving for in 2019. What has been well proven, however, is that new year’s resolutions tend not to stick.
Maybe what StFX needs, then, is a revolution - but whether or not they’re ready to accept that is another story all together.