Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this letter are the writer’s and do not reflect those of The Aquinian, its editorial board or its board of directors. The Aquinian publishes all letters to the editors that meet the criteria outlined in our ethics and practices guide.
This is an open letter to the students’ representative council of the St. Thomas University Students’ Union regarding the institutional shortcomings of STUSU.
I know all of you have a lot of unanswered questions and there are a lot of rumours circulating, so I wanted to give you all my view of current events. A friend of mine wisely said that as activists and as people, we need to ask ourselves where we can make the biggest difference. Is it from the inside of a system that is designed to uphold itself or is it to abandon that system altogether and create a new one? At the time, I never fully understood that proposal, but the last few months have led me to consider that question more closely.
The past four years of my role in advocacy have largely been from the “insider” perspective. I got involved in institutional advocacy because I thought that picking away at barriers and having influence over policy would – albeit slowly – create meaningful change to the systems that affect all of us. This is the consideration that kept me involved in student government and formalized activism. It is why I chose to run for the positions I have, in an attempt to gain the ability to make the changes that desperately needed to be made: putting individuals before the system, rather than the inverse.
I want to make it clear that in my time working with various organizations, I have seen first-hand the good people who truly care about those they represent and serve. They maintain the same mentality that I had, the ‘insider’ advocate, and I am forever grateful to call many of them friends, colleagues and confidants. These words are in no way reflective of any individual, but rather the institution that we are all subjected to navigate.
Over the years, I have been present to a number of situations where the decision was between representing students and upholding the system. Most of the time, it was the students that won and the few times that they didn’t have been well-documented. Recent events have followed the same pattern and when considering the initial question of how to effectively advocate, my views have changed.
It is clear that the current institutional setup of our student government is failing some of the most marginalized groups of students — arguably directly involved in re-traumatizing rather than empowering them. A system that allows for individuals to breach its own clauses, only to have those same clauses condone said behaviours is flawed from the start. A system that is most concerned with its image over its integrity and the constraints on those within is bound to fail from the start.
I cannot see how the “insider” path I started down will maintain its effectiveness. If the system has the ability to constrain its chief executives, then it can resist all “insider” changes. I chose principle over policy and it led to the system choosing its image. So when the time came that a similar choice needed to be made, it was already decided for me.
This is the reality of current governance doctrines – one that only becomes known when issues of significance arise.
Unfortunately, the timeframe for this year is ending. Consequentially, I am left with only recommendations to the next set of student leaders. As you are all new to these roles, you have the ability to change the system from the ground up. To change the approach rather than a simple bylaw or interpreting an existing policy differently. Think outside of the box because the box is broken and strive for integrity over image.
I promised in my welcome address to lead with integrity and represent students to the best of my ability. Where I was unable to contend with the rigid system and its flaws, I still have the ability to represent the student body and defend its interests.
Our students are hurt, they are lost and they are tired of being on their own. They cannot and should not be subjected to trauma from the institution that claims to and encourages other organizations to strive for equity. I encourage this organization to practice what it preaches and reorganize itself so these events do not resurface. Do not allow this pattern to continue and truly put the students first – a task that will not be possible without top-to-bottom institutional change.
I encourage all incomings to take the outsider approach to advocacy and student representation. Break the cycle and resist the trap of the status quo. It is a lot of work in a short period of time, that’s why so many of us fail to enact meaningful internal change, but stay strong and resilient and you just might be the ones to do it.
Be different. Be bold. Be the outsider. Because this current setup is no longer effective.
Tyler (Ty) MaGee