An Open Letter to the Students of StFX University

 
 

I am hard-pressed to believe that my time as Students’ Union President has come to an end. Even as I write this, I still expect to receive emails sent to an account that is no longer in my name, telling me about the next problem that needs to be resolved. Similar to the ones who came before me, now that I have reached the end, I find myself looking back on everything that was achieved.

The Executive Team and I were determined to accomplish many things on behalf of our students, but most importantly we were determined to do our best for them, every single day. In light of recent events, I can perhaps say that a number of us on the team are leaving with mixed feelings. I do not presume to speak on behalf of my team, but for me, there were moments in this year that felt like something out of a film.

As President of the Students’ Union, I felt strongly that it was my responsibility to uphold the dignity of my office. I was aware of my position as a highly visible member of both the Union and the school; I never wanted to do something that would reflect badly on either of these institutions. However, it was challenging to say nothing as I witnessed behaviour and comments in the second half of my tenure that were exceptionally problematic and also representative of a larger rhetoric that has in recent times, penetrated university campuses.

I will begin by stating that I am very conscious of the power of words. This is not only as an outcome of my background, but also because of the effect of a very different type of letter that I wrote around this time last year. Words have the power to harm, to heal, to blind, and to reveal. These revelations might be about you or about others. Most importantly, in all of these instances, words have the ability to impact. As someone who interacts with different systems of oppression in my every day life, I have witnessed how words can be used to subjugate and stifle, or to liberate and free. For this reason, I am very careful with how, where, and when I use my own words. I will state that awareness of my words further increased in my time as President because it was part of my job to speak on behalf of over four thousand people.

In our childhood, we are taught that honesty and telling the truth are important values. As we get older, we begin to choose what is important to us personally and how we will uphold these values. From my perspective, truth and honesty are imperative for the position of leadership that the President holds. Students pay for the operation of the Union and vote to choose the representatives of the organization. Therefore, students have a right to know what happens in the Union each step of the way. In fact, it is the duty of students as constituents to ensure that their elected leaders are doing what they said they would and are making decisions that uphold the democratic processes of the institution.

If students have deemed that their representatives are not performing the jobs they were elected to do, then students have the inherent ability to remove these individuals from their positions. The Students’ Union, similar to other democratic institutions, has checks and balances that are intended to ensure that no one person has the ability to do what they want without repercussions. All students need to do is ask for the information about these processes and it shall be given to them.

The checks and balances in a democratic institution include a healthy Fourth Estate. It is the job of news and media to investigate different situations and offer analysis to help the reader gain perspective. While holding a position of leadership, it is expected that a person will receive criticism at any time. Open criticism of institutions and leadership are one of the best indicators of a strong democracy. These criticisms hold leaders accountable for their actions and ensure that the operations of a given democratic body shall fulfill their intended purpose. This is why the autonomy of the press must be protected and held at the highest regard. As students participating in a democratic process, you do not have to be afraid of offering criticism or of speaking the truth, regardless of the threats of lawsuits and promises of anger that may follow.

In addition to my reflections about the presidency and the Students’ Union, I would also like to offer my thanks to everyone who contributed to making this year so incredible.

I will begin with my Executive Team; Tiffany, Tega, Kallie, Clancy, and Sean, I never imagined that I could have a team as great as you. Tega, your wisdom and resilience have been nothing short of awe-inspiring to all of us. Kallie, your humour and ability to offer an objective perspective always kept us grounded. Clancy, your determination and compassion reminded us to be kind to one another. Sean, your creativity and ability to bring people together kept us close. Last, but never least, to my wonderful VP Academic, Tiffany. Thank you for being my right-hand, confidant, and close friend. When we were both elected that cold, January night in 2018, I never thought that I would gain such a beautiful friendship and partner-in-crime/all-things-theU. You and I will always be “the throat-puncher and the politician” respectively, as we were once humorously described.

I would also like to give a warm thank you to Tanaka, our fantastic Chair of Council. In our organization, the positions of President and Chair of Council are set up to have a complicated relationship. I think you and I were truly able to turn this belief on its head. I could not have asked for a better Chair, you led with grace, strength, and an uncanny ability to keep calm, even when everything went wrong.

There are so many people who have contributed to the Union beyond just the ones I have named here. Thank you for everything you contributed and for all that you did for our students.

Finally, I would like to thank you, the students of StFX University. You have treated my team and I with kindness, trusted us to do the right thing, and supported us in a way we had never anticipated. In all of our decision-making, at the end of the day, we were always faced with answering just one question. “Is this in the best interest of our students?” If we could see that something was not, we changed the circumstances; we searched for new information, we asked for advice, we looked at best practice, and we discussed and disagreed. All this was with the objective of ensuring that we were making the highest quality of decisions for our students. You were our motivation for pushing StFX to be the best place it could be. By electing us, you trusted us with the great responsibility of representing your voice; this was not a task that any of us took lightly. Thank you, for believing in us and for giving us -for giving me- the opportunity to serve you, the students.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Mesay

President

StFX Students’ Union