When reflecting on campus-wide events that have shaped students’ experiences throughout the year, individuals may recall 2015 as an exciting and dynamic year made up of many highs and lows for the University of Saskatchewan.
In 2015, the university propelled upwards in terms of numbers. By comparison, in 1910, only 70 students were enrolled and tuition only cost $30, whereas by the end of 2015, there are now 21,001 students enrolled and the approximate average cost for tuition is $6,500.
With a 2.4 per cent increase in tuition and provincial budget cuts, there have been many consequences for students, staff and faculty. With projects being halted, bank accounts feeling the effects and financial requests being denied, 2015 is remembered by many as a year of stringent and cautious spending.
Not only has tuition taken its toll, but security risks have been a concern for U of S students throughout the year.
On May 8, in the graduate students’ parking lot, 50 cars were broken into. The cars were not only significantly damaged, but valuables inside were also stolen. The culprits have yet to be identified, while the victims demanded increased security and compensation.
Natural disasters were also a concern through the span of late-June to mid-July when northern Saskatchewan was engulfed in a total of 550 fires. Not only did this have severe consequences for students living up north during the summer, but the air quality in Saskatoon hit plus 10 on the Air Quality Index Scale, making breathing conditions unbearable for many.
The year was not all bad news however, and in 2015, the U of S Students’ Union ranked in the top five for Canadian student unions that protect freedom of speech. This was reflected in the USSU’s capacity to effectively accommodate and oversee the needs of an ever-growing and diverse student body, bringing about beneficial changes for students.
The 2015-16 budget unanimously balanced in March, reaping positive benefits for the incoming USSU executive — president Jack Saddleback, vice-president academic affairs Gabe Senecal, vice-president operations and finance Ata Merat and vice-president student affairs Kehan Fu.
From creating a more hyped-up welcome week and a school year filled with events, to pushing for mandatory Indigenous content in all disciplines and establishing a female leadership commission, the 2015-16 USSU executive has worked towards enhancing the university experience for students, faculty and staff at the U of S.
Another major initiative occurred during Sexual Assault Awareness Week when on Sept. 22, the U of S released its first official draft of a newly-created sexual assault prevention policy. Amendments were open to the campus community until Oct. 5. with the purpose of unifying the student body, faculty and administration through the common goal of creating a culture of consent across campus.
One of the primary objectives of the USSU was to increase voter engagement in anticipation of the federal election, which took place in October. By hosting a multitude of events to raise awareness such as candidate forums and a trivia night at Louis’ Pub, as well as providing information regarding voter eligibility and voting procedures to make voting more accessible, students were encouraged to participate democratically.
Although the statistics regarding youth voter turnout have yet to be released, national voter turnout spiked seven per cent from the previous election, with 68 per cent of Canadians exercising their democratic rights.
The placement of advance polls across Canadian campuses was successful as, over the span of four days, 3.6 million Canadians voted at the advance polls, a 71 per cent increase from the 2011 federal election.
In addition to a new prime minister, the university welcomed their new president, Peter Stoicheff. Formerly the dean of arts and science, Stoicheff began his presidency term on Oct. 24.
One of Stoicheff’s plans for the future of the U of S includes Indigenizing the institutions on campus. Currently, 2,236 Aboriginal students, or 10 per cent of U of S students, are enrolled for the 2015-16 year and this number has been incrementally increasing. A central focus for the upcoming year is accommodating space for students to retain and share cultural values, practices and ideas for future generations.
The Gordon Oakes-Red Bear Student Centre started construction in 2013 and was completed at the end of 2015. This space is an inclusive ground for different student groups, the hosting of ceremonies and aims to provide learning and sharing opportunities for others with the overarching goal of cultural and educational understanding.
In response to global pandemics and national issues, the U of S community has also shown its support over the past year by raising awareness, support or money for an array of causes and charities.
The Pan-Canadian Day of Action took place in March across Canadian universities to protest increased tuition rates and the corporatization of education. Carried out in front of the Peter MacKinnon Building, over 100 U of S students and faculty protested against the current state of the post-secondary educational system.
The past year saw multiple organizations and student groups on campus taking an initiative to raise awareness and funds for refugees living in Canada and abroad, but the U of S has also opened its doors to provide refugees with learning opportunities.
The U of S Student Refugee program is run by the World University Service of Canada, which aims to provide both education attainment and stability for impoverished youth around the world.
Currently, there are three Kenyan refugees studying at the U of S through WUSC, as well as approximately 14 refugees in undergraduate studies who have been involved in the program.
U of S students and groups have also responded to what has been coined as “Islamophobia” over the course of the year through dismantling extremist notions and misconceptions of Muslims while purporting the peaceful teachings of Islam.
Saskatoon Ahmadiyya Students’ Association, Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association and Students for a Free Palestine are examples of groups who have aimed to deconstruct the prejudices and misconstrued perceptions on Islam through public panels and discussions.
Another topic shrouded in misconception is mental health. Recently, the conversation about mental health has begun to open up, but in 2015 the dialogue was consistently flowing the entire year.
Overwhelming collaboration between the USSU and various groups and organizations led to workshops, events and activities to educate students about the importance of mental health. This heightened awareness shed light on the stigmas associated with mental illness while teaching students different methods of self-care.
While 2015 involved many significant initiatives and developments across campus, along with unexpected security breaches and natural disasters, the 2016 term has already begun as students return to campus and look forward to the year ahead.