The U is not accessible to all students.
By its very nature, a students’ union is intended to represent the voice of the students. Members of said union are therefore expected to push issues to administration and external organizations on behalf of students and that are in the interests of the students they represent. Now, there is no pleasing everyone. That is non-debatable. And yet, would a job in which the task is to represent a certain demographic be facilitated if there was open communication with that demographic?
My question for the Students’ Union of StFX is not whether or not they are doing anything, it’s what are they doing? For an organization meant to represent us, they are not very accessible to us. To come to a representative’s office hours and find that not only are they not there, but that there is no note or any type of indication as to when they will be back is frustrating to say the least. Receiving no response to e-mails is equally frustrating.
Many have shared with me the same anecdote: so and so had questions or concerns for one of the council members. The curious individual makes their way up to the 4th floor to speak with that member, only to find most of the union goofing off together in one room. That curious individual feels uncomfortable walking in and breaking up this little club going on, and decides to live another day with the unknown rather than awkwardly break up a group of relative strangers. I apologize if my understanding is incorrect, but is accessibility to your constituency not by and large the point of having posted office hours?
Furthermore, we see vague proofs of activity on their behalf. Okay, so I see you have gone to a conference on our behalf but… what happened at that conference? What issues are you pushing for us at this conference and what is your angle? The students are already aware of the countless hours that all our representatives must be putting in. The problem is that we are less able to see the fruits of this labour.
Amidst all these concerns, the U has a funny way of putting them to rest. For any who may have attended council recently or followed the proceedings via twitter, a new policy is being placed on the table. The Eligibility Policy would set a higher average requirement for students applying to the Students’ Union. As of now that average is 60%, and some members of Council were advocating for averages as high as 70-75%. When directly told there were concerns with the message that sends the student populace as to what kind of student they are looking to hire as implied by the average requirement, some members seemed to not be concerned. In fact, one representative was quoted as saying that the union should be elite. Apparently, if you test poorly one semester, you do not deserve a voice. I say that with the implication that joining the union yourself is the only way to solidify your voice, as in practice the general inaccessibility of the execs makes it hard to do so otherwise.
Toward the beginning of the year, I myself had a conversation with a mutual friend of mine and many of the exec team of the U. I asked her if she thought the U was elitist. She said “of course not. I can go up to any of those guys and tell them how I feel about something, or find out what I need to know.” I asked her if she thought that any student on campus would feel equally as comfortable doing so given the dynamic on 4th floor. With that question, her answer was less resolved. Frankly, you shouldn’t need to be best buddies with these people to find things out. The access to information is strained unless you have a VIP pass into the U inner circle. For all I know, it is very possible that the U consults some students on decisions they intend to make. Unfortunately, as not being a part of that inner circle, I would never know. I remind them that they are the Students’ Union, not the 'my-close-friends union'.
Bottom line here is that we need this dialogue to open up. It’s not too late, we have a full semester left. No one can represent on what they think their constituency wants alone. You need to ask them, so ask us. Invite us in on these critical conversations. This article is not meant to accuse anyone of not doing their job – it is meant to point out that we would not know whether you were or were not either way. The students need to hold the U accountable for continuing a dialogue with us. We no longer want to sit at the window peering in and trying to read lips; we want to have a seat at the table.