Although a mere four kilometers apart, the gap between North Campus and Campus-Saint Jean (CSJ) has never been bigger.
It is essential that the University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU) candidates are positioning themselves to represent CSJ and its distinctive and important needs as a part of the University of Alberta.
As voting days approach, campaigns are in full swing and students are preparing to choose their UASU representatives. During this time of year, CSJ students find ourselves in a more particular situation as we seek representation from students who do not speak their language, frequent our campus, and rarely understand our unique experiences as an official language minority. With these barriers in mind, how should candidates structure their campaigns to meet the needs of our university’s francophone population?
First and foremost, all platforms and campaign materials should be translated into French so that CSJ students can access this important information. Considering that the University of Alberta is a bilingual institution, translation should be a no-brainer. A significant proportion of those who attend the campus are monolingual francophones, meaning that resources only in English are of no use to them. This ultimately excludes and alienates a whole group of students from an election that is intended to benefit them and their university experience.
In addition to providing bilingual material, it is important that the actual content of candidates’ platforms are CSJ inclusive and connect to our specific issues. Included is the lack of funding and government support as well as the current English-only student orientation. To satisfy CSJ specific needs, candidates should be meeting with student organizations such as the Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (l’AUFSJ) as well as l’Association Canadienne-Française de l’Alberta (ACFA). These organizations understand the campus’ problems which will help connect candidates to CSJ and allow them to better represent their student body.
Given that UASU candidates are usually North Campus students, these relationships with CSJ associations are important so that action can actually be taken during the term. Once elected, it is expected that UASU executives follow through on the promises they make in their platforms and at forums. This is often not the case, leaving CSJ students disenchanted with UASU.
Nonetheless, it is critical that the Students’ Union provides support, advocacy and attention to this and other issues. The best way to do this is for the vice-president (academic) to engage in communication between the AUFSJ and other faculty associations, as well as pushing for our visibility in more university governance meetings. Regular monthly or bi-monthly meetings with CSJ student groups would ensure follow up on campaign promises and consistent open communication. Instead of treating CSJ students like we are on the other side of a glass wall, it is important that the SU consults and communicates with us to finally bridge the gap and create a space of inclusion and collaboration.
The SU can also improve their efforts towards CSJ by following through on policy that has been created to represent our minority campus. Elements of the Students’ Union’s political policy for Campus Saint-Jean include translated bylaws and advocacy for francophone research professors. While most political polices are translated, there isn’t a widely available translation of Students’ Union bylaws. This failure to uphold and follow through on policy is frustrating and makes it difficult for CSJ students to trust the Students’ Union to do their job as their representatives.
CSJ is the only Canadian post-secondary institution west of Winnipeg to offer multiple degree and diploma programs in French; it is important that our campus is supported by the Students’ Union in order for it to continue to provide for French-speaking students. The broken record of unkept SU promises is exhausting, and the University of Alberta’s official language minority community deserves consistent, committed and collaborative efforts both during the campaign and once elected.
Sithara Naidoo is a counsellor for L’Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (AUFSJ) and is a regular contributor to The Gateway.
Click here to read this article translated in French.