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Notes from council: VPSL defends conduct at heated GFC meeting

Catch a student representative’s response to a question about this week’s General Faculties Council (GFC) meeting, updates on the new sexual violence prevention coordinator position, and a new platform that could help connect students with housing in this January 26 council update.

“Notes from Council” is The Gateway’s ongoing series of recaps of noteworthy items from Students’ Council meetings.

Vice-president (student life) explains conduct at heated General Faculties Council (GFC) meeting

Adrian Wattamaniuk, a second-year electrical engineering student, posed a question at the January 26 council meeting to vice-president (student life) Katie Kidd about her conduct in the most recent GFC meeting. 

“Yourself and a number of GFC student representatives were pushing for the idea of radical compassion in academic matters,” Wattamaniuk said. “However, you proceeded to make several ad hominem attacks against the professoriate as a whole.”

During the GFC meeting, student representatives demanded professors listen to student concerns about online learning, like exam proctoring’s inherent racism and ableism and the problem of international students waking up in the middle of the night to attend live lectures. 

Wattamaniuk noted professors have also struggled due to challenges with online learning, putting in “countless hours” adjusting their curriculum, recording lectures and preparing material.

“Even if we agreed that the blame lies squarely on professors, we have to remember that GFC consists of primarily professors and faculty,” he said. “I think taking this stance… takes away more credibility from student representatives on GFC when we build up antagonism… Why do you feel this was the best approach and what do you hope to get out of it at GFC?”

Kidd pointed out that while students were criticized for showing anger at GFC, they were not the only GFC members expressing their emotions.

“It was an emotional evening,” Kidd said. “I do think we are held to a higher standard than our peers on GFC, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

Kidd emphasized her comments did not target specific professors, and that they were directed equally at university administrators. 

“I think there’s been a failure on both sides,” she said. “I also stated that I don’t think we need to ask for radical compassion, I think we need to ask for basic compassion.”

“I love teaching, but I think asking your students to wake up at three a.m. and attend a synchronous lecture where they’re being graded for their participation lacks compassion …  not [just] radical compassion, it lacks basic compassion for humans.”

Kidd added that in her experience, her communication style has been effective. 

“I have been a strong student advocate since I’ve started on council,” she said. “I have always been assertive and confident in myself, and I will have you know that I’ve gotten a lot done this way, so I don’t appreciate criticisms of my mannerisms.”

Update on cost of sexual violence prevention coordinator position

Kidd provided an update on the new sexual violence prevention coordinator position during council. While the position initially had the potential to cost students up to $3 per semester, Kidd shared that the rate has now been set at $1.50 each semester, and will only be charged in the Fall and Winter. 

The charge would fall under the umbrella of the health and wellness mandatory non-instructional fees (MNIFs), meaning students would pay $62.82 per semester in total for this charge.

“I don’t think we ever thought [the fee] would be at the top end of our range,” Kidd said. “We were expecting it around the $2 mark so the fact that it’s only $1.50 is so positive for students.”

When the fee was first announced, councillors expressed their frustration with the university asking students to shoulder the cost of the new position. Kidd said while it is still unfortunate that students have to pay for the role, the position will be “transformative” for the state of sexual violence on campus.

“I do hope that having this money lowered quite a bit does help dissuade some of those fears [of student cost] and we can focus on how important it is that we do have this role,” she said. 

On January 27, the joint student and university oversight committee on MNIFs met and voted on the fee for the new position. The vote passed unanimously. 

New housing platform, Elev Homes, aims to partner with Students’ Union

Kevin Mpunga, a third year nursing student and CEO & Co-Founder at Elev Homes, gave a presentation to council about the Elev platform, which is designed to assist students in all aspects of renting a living space, from house hunting to communication about repairs. Students can also be matched with roommates based on factors like sleep patterns and noise tolerance.

While the service would be free for students, Elev would charge landlords up to four per cent of rental costs to use their platform.

Mpunga highlighted that one challenge the platform could face would be bringing landlords on board, when many are already familiar with existing models like classified ads.

“Our barrier in terms of marketing is more on the host side,” Mpunga said. “With the student side, that’s where the Students’ Union comes in. Your reach to every single student on campus is what’s really going to help us capture the student market.”

Ana Oliveira, an arts councillor, was among those who expressed interest in the platform. 

“I really love the idea because I’ve had trouble finding places to live,” she said “I think it’s very innovative and really fun and will be very helpful.”

Dave Konrad, the Board of Governors student representative, asked Elev how they would avoid being the next startup that “fizzles out.”

“Often we as people take familiarity over accessibility as the next new thing,” Konrad said. 

Mpunga responded that the rental process as it stands today is “really long” and complex.

“Elev is a platform that helps students through every single step of the rental process and it’s as easy as one, two, three,” he said. 

Rachel Narvey

Rachel is the Gateway's 2020-21 Staff Reporter. This summer, she will complete her MA program in English and Film studies before returning to the U of A in the fall as an Education student. In her spare time she writes poetry and watches Jeopardy. You can often find her sitting alone, eating a burrito.

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