This year’s New Brunswick Student Alliance advocacy week focused on systemic barriers and was the busiest year yet with a total of 25 meetings.
Student leaders from across the province met with university presidents, senior civil servants and the business community from Nov. 6 to 10 as part of the NBSA’s fifth advocacy week.
“This is the first year where we met with such a diversity of stakeholders,” said Robert Burroughs, outgoing director of the NBSA.
The NBSA advocacy document released this year featured five areas of advocacy: addressing sexual violence on campuses, decolonizing the academy, addressing the mental health epidemic, overhauling the N.B. debt relief program and funding experiential learning opportunities.
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St. Thomas University Students’ Union vice-president education Brianna Workman said the NBSA shifted focus and took on systematic barriers, which is different from the previous years when the organization focused on financial barriers such as tuition.
“We saw a bit of a shift this year in what the NBSA lobbies on and I think that’s a really cool shift to see, so I’m very proud,” Workman said.
Until this year, the NBSA had never lobbied on anything related to sexual violence or decolonization during its advocacy week.
Workman began creating the 2017 advocacy document with fellow NBSA board members in June. She said she’s happy to see her hard work and ideas brought to fruition.
“It was super exciting to see things that I worked on … and to go in front of the government caucus and talk about it was really, really cool,” she said.
Workman got to meet with the premier’s office and the entire government caucus. She said the caucus meeting was the highlight of her week.
“It’s one thing to speak to one minister or even the deputy minister and staff … when you have, like, 20 MLAs in front of you … and the premier sitting at the head of the table, that was really, really neat,” Workman said.
Wasiimah Joomun, a second-year student who also took part in advocacy week, said it was a busy but worthwhile experience.
“It was a really eventful and enriching experience,” she said.
Before advocacy week wrapped up, a motion to legislate the campus sexual violence policy was put forth to government by Moncton Northwest MLA Ernie Steeves. The motion passed, but Steeves tweeted that the government amended the motion and “took the guts out of it.” The NBSA advocated for colleges and universities to develop standalone sexual violence policies. The amended motion, however, changed the legislation to a resolution and, as such, encourages colleges and universities to develop standalone sexual violence policies, but does not make it mandatory for colleges and universities to develop such policies.
Both Burroughs and Workman said the feedback they’ve received from government, university administrations and the business community has been positive so far.
“The feedback we’ve gotten has been very encouraging,” Burroughs said.
The NBSA hopes to see action on the mental health policy it proposed, which called upon the Government of New Brunswick to provide $225,000 in funding for technology-based intervention programs.
“This technology that we would like to see implemented in all New Brunswick colleges and universities has been tested and proven to improve mental health outcomes,” Workman said.
“We really hope to see that in the budget.”
When the Government of New Brunswick releases its budget for 2018-19 year, the NBSA will be able to tell which policies are going ahead.
Workman didn’t get to meet with the STU administration during lobby week, but said the university is generally open to making changes and appreciates the work the NBSA does.
Workman and STUSU president Philippe Ferland will be heading to Ottawa on Nov. 26 to take part in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations’ advocacy week. Neither Workman nor Ferland are on the CASA board, so they have not had as much involvement in constructing the advocacy document that will be brought forward on Parliament Hill.