Vice president (student life) (VPSL) candidates Daniela Carbajal and Talia Dixon covered the issue of engagement in student governance at the Augustana Forum.
Of course, the existing barriers to involvement in student politics, especially for students who don’t go to North Campus, cannot be understated. After all, in last year’s general election, 38 votes total were recorded for the Faculty of Augustana. Improving student participation in elections and governance requires communicating to students that there are multiple points of entry. For example, I imagine many students are unaware that you do not have to be a councillor in order to run for an executive position.
Furthermore, genuine change needs to be made so that Augustana and Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) do not feel isolated from North Campus. That way, more students from these campuses and other marginalized groups feel comfortable engaging with the Students’ Union on serious issues. This could be achieved by increasing the number of seats allocated to historically underrepresented groups on Students’ Council, which might be possible through the Governance Restructuring Task Force.
This was addressed directly by Carbajal in the forum, who said the SU has historically not represented Augustana students well enough. When asked about re-imagining the way students talk about the multiple campuses that make up the University of Alberta, Carabajal responded by criticizing other executive candidates for having separate platform pages that cater specifically to Augustana and CSJ.
“Right now, we’re treating [platforms] like they’re separate,” Carbajal stated. “People have their Augustana platforms then they have their North Campus platforms. It should be university platforms because at the end of the day, Augustana has international students, domestic students, it has the same diversity that North Campus has and we need to ensure that we’re really representing all of those students when we’re taking on any advocacy efforts.”
Thankfully, there is hope for this year’s executive candidates to tread new ground. It is important to note as well that Carbajal is one of the first students from Augustana to run for an executive position in the SU.
However, Carbajal wasn’t the only candidate who attempted to tackle barriers to inclusive governance. In her remarks, Dixon attributed sparse student participation in governance to a broader problem with the SU communicating their value to everyday students, beyond the “governance bubble” of people already involved.
“I think that our lack of engagement with elections, which is very disappointing, speaks to a broader issue within the Students’ Union,” Dixon said. “And that’s people simply don’t believe in its effectiveness or its value for them…we need to work to actually address that and make people see the value.”
Ultimately, as Dixon points out, it is up to the Students’ Union to gain students’ trust through standing up for their needs and taking more daunting measures. Some of the actions suggested by Dixon to be taken include being fully transparent and taking strong positions on key issues, regardless of what the university administration might think. These would certainly be welcome additions, which should make the SU more engaging for all students.
The only way for us to see the change promised by Carbajal or Dixon is to contribute to it ourselves. It can be as simple as voting in this upcoming election, or following the remaining forum. Regardless, the path forward is a path forged by one united university community.