I had to really sit down and think about what I would write about this week. Especially due to recent events, but despite the controversial nature of what I’m about to blog about I feel like it needs to be said. (That being said, I would like to reassert that the following are my opinions, not those of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) or anybody else.)
Election season ended off with a bang. Sana Ali, Team Renew’s VP-External forfeited the election with a letter that she posted on Facebook. In response, a few days later, the Renew slate came out with a response to the letter in a two part YouTube video (part 1, part 2). I have linked both so that you, the readers can decide for yourselves what to believe. Needless to say this debate has been passionate and emotional. As a student union executive, I have to say that I am glad that students are engaging with their student union and giving their input into what they think their student union should look like. (I also have my own respective opinions on the UTSU, the Canadian Federation of Students and the college council based opposition structure. However, for the purposes of this blog post, I won’t divulge into those at the moment.)
Since I began covering this story for The Varsity a year ago, I have become familiar with both sides of the divide and their points. Both have good points that deserve proper discussion. However, what I have seen is passion and emotions get the best of people and arguments become lost in translation a midst a sea of angry voices. I’ve seen Facebook statuses written, Facebook pages created, catchy Twitter handles, and some very fancy Photoshop work. But at the end of all this, we really should ask ourselves – have we really achieved anything? I’d say we’ve achieved more polarization.
Mobilization is good – but only if it’s productive. And thus far, the way both sides have presented their arguments have been far from productive, focusing on individuals, accusations and defamation. What we risk is both sides becoming so entrenched in their side of the ideological divide that they refuse to consider the other’s point of view. As a result, a lot of students whose cup of tea isn’t a good ole hard fought game of political football will turn away from being involved in their student union. And that’s a really sad thought.
This year I decided to stay out of UTSU elections. I didn’t write about it for the Varsity and I tried not to pay attention to it. And if a student like me who sits on an adjacent student union and clearly is not apathetic about the issues, choses to turn away due to the atmosphere, how many more students will?
I have seen events play out this year and people have reacted to these events like their team just scored the winning touchdown with one minute to go in the Super Bowl, or even worse, like successful revolutionaries after storming the Bastille. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate and being happy when things go your way, but doing this excessively can be hurtful to those who don’t agree with you. There is also the issue of throwing out the word “students” excessively. Both sides like to position themselves as if they are the only legitimate student voices and that they truly represent the students. Now, we aren’t even getting into debates about the issues, we are getting into debates about who is more legitimate as a student voice. We need to articulate our arguments respectfully and make sure that we are arguing for the sake of our campus, not for the sake of being the winner in an argument and telling off the other side.
Let us go forward with a productive discussion and debate on our student union and college councils. And if we find that we have to run referenda in our colleges as to our membership in the student union, I like others ask the debates around this be done be in the good spirit of being in the best interest of students and again not to smite each other or prove a point.