In order to have the most effective students’ union possible, there must be increased engagement from both the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union and the student body itself. The current disconnect between the two groups is causing disengagement.
According to USSU News and Events, only 19.2 per cent of the eligible undergraduate student body voted in the 2014 USSU executive elections — this was a miniscule 3,251 students out of 16,975.
What’s worse is that this was a decrease from the previous year’s turnout, which was slightly higher, at 23 per cent. Given that voting is now conducted online through PAWS — meaning you don’t actually need to leave your house to vote — the lack of democratic participation is about more than just inconvenience. It’s about a lack of engagement, from both the USSU and the student body.
It is important to involve as many students as possible with the USSU. Some might say that if people are going to be ignorant or apathetic, we should let them — only those that really care should have a say. However, this cannot and should not be the conclusion.
All undergraduate students at the U of S automatically become members of the USSU upon registration — a fact that may not be known to everyone. This means that the bulk of the USSU is comprised of students-at-large who do not serve on either the USSU executive or the University Students’ Council. So when a large portion of the USSU is not actively engaging within that organization, the USSU as an entity cannot work as effectively as it should.
When only a small group of students — like those who sit on the USC — are the most active within the USSU, only a certain number of perspectives can be heard. While the USC is comprised of a diverse group of individuals, these individuals cannot be the voice for every single student at the U of S. If more students attended council meetings or brought forward issues of importance, we would see a wider range of perspectives being considered at the weekly meetings and on the council’s various committees.
Students also take advantage of a number of USSU services, some on a daily basis. Things like the U-Pass, SafeWalk and health coverage are all provided through the USSU. Having student feedback is crucial to ensuring that these services are meeting the needs of the students they serve.
Other initiatives, like the Pride Centre and the Women’s Centre, have one paid staff member and from there, are run exclusively by volunteers. If the USSU cannot find enough people interested in giving their time, these important spaces are difficult to operate. This is another reason why student participation in the USSU is extremely important.
Ultimately, the USSU is here to serve the student population. The decisions made by the USC directly affect all undergraduate students — from student fees to funding for clubs and events held on campus — all of it impacts us. If it impacts everyone, then everyone should participate.
Getting students to play a bigger role within the USSU isn’t quite as straight forward as the reasons for why they should. A lot of this comes down to communication, from both parties involved. There are ways that non-elected students can serve and engage with the USSU — things like volunteering at events. If the USSU could make these opportunities more widely known, hopefully more students would take advantage of them.
Adding additional voices to the USC might also be helpful. This might come in the form of providing more seats on the USC for smaller departments, in addition to colleges. There can be great diversity within colleges, so by expanding the groups included we’d see smaller departments having their needs met. Perhaps the the inclusion of seats for campus clubs and organizations would also have an impact. Overall, increased representation would be a good thing.
If the USSU can provide more opportunities, students need to be taking advantage of them. While this could mean running in a USSU election, it doesn’t have to be limited to entering student politics. There are easier ways to get involved. USSU events and centres always need volunteers. You can attend a USC meeting and bring forward your concerns.
During election season, attend debates and learn about the candidates. The easiest thing might be to simply vote in the upcoming USSU elections. Be a part of the decisions that affect each and every student at the U of S.
With elections on the horizon, I urge the USSU to reach out to the student body and really engage. At the same time, I urge students to take a more active role within student government. By working together, we can take a great university and make it even better.
Graphic: Stephanie Mah / Graphics Editor