Q: Can you say a little bit about yourselves as students?
Gino: I’m Gino, I’m in ID (Industrial Design), in like 6th year, I think. In thesis. I’m Director of Campaigns here, even though “director” sounds weird. I hate that term, but I take care of the campaigns and advocacy work at the SU. All the campaigns I go through are either CFS (Canadian Federation of Students) or campaigns that we initiate.
Adé: I’m Adé, and I’m in second year ED (Environmental Design), and I’m the Sustainability Representative for the SU. Basically, I work closely with ODESI (Office of Diversity, Equity and Sustainability Initiatives) to think about how we can bring sustainable initiatives to OCAD, and how to make it more sustainable, generally.
Emily: I’m Emily, I’m also in my 6th year, and I’m in Drawing and Painting, doing my thesis, too. I’m the Communications Coordinator, and basically, I do communications stuff, so, social media, e-mailing students, a lot of copy editing, preparing statements or… pretty much just trying to help wherever I can. But we have a bit of a social media team that we’ve started, so we also have a Social Media Monitor, and she does a lot of day-to-day, checking out people’s Instagrams, looking at comments… we try to make sure that we’re pretty accessible online, so that’s been a big project this year, too. How we can keep that going.
Q: I think a lot of people don’t know that the SU is still active during the summer. What do you do?
E: It’s pretty much like a big visioning, for two months, about what we want to do.
G: Visioning, training… a whole bunch of training.
Q: What type of training?
G: We do anti-oppression training, we do training on how the SU works, on fiduciary duties, what confidentiality means, we do cultural sensitivity training — because we’re at OCAD, and there are so many people, and we really have to be sensitive to everybody and know the ins and outs of everything, and it’s really hard. It’s really hard to actually get a holistic understanding of diversity in the university and how certain things manifest in the university, and the systemic things that happen in the university. And we continue to do training all the time, because there’s always something you need to learn, there’s always something you gotta do.
A: We also spend the summer planning for O-Days.
E: Yeah, that’s a huge thing we do.
Q: I think it’s also important that students know that the SU is part of planning O-Days. Do you guys accept ideas from other students?
E: Usually… we try to be in touch with students from the last year. How it works is that there’s Campus Life O-Days and then there’s SU O-Days… or O-Day, I guess. We have a really good working relationship with Brent1, we collaborate a lot, but we also do our own programming. So, we work with them with picking food options. We actually gave them all the suggestions for catering, because we were, like, “Pizza’s not super healthy, let’s try to make it something a little better.” The SU put on all the anti-oppression training for all the new students, which was one of the first years we’ve done that. And I think that’s really cool. We did screen printing…
A: The totes.
G: Yeah, stenciling on tote bags.
E: We had our own sponsors, too. BUNZ was our big sponsor, and they gave funding for specifically out programming. So, yeah, we work with Campus Life but we’re also separate in that our resources come from us, and our own sponsors and funding.
Q: What did you think of the SU before becoming a member, and how do your experiences as a part of the SU compare? Is it what you expected?
A: I think before I joined the SU it was there was just something very mysterious about it. I was first year when I applied for my position, so I didn’t really know a lot about what was going on or anything about it, really. I found out through the show we did, “Conquering Me.” That’s when I found out about the space and everything, generally, that there was an SU. Then I joined, thinking, like, “Ok, I had an SU in high school…” but it’s very different, because now there’s more responsibilities, and here your actions can actually have more of an impact on things that happen at school, which is something I realized at the sustainability retreat. We had this activity where we paired up with a student, someone from admin and a faculty member. The task was basically to figure out a problem at school right now and come up with a solution for it, and how the members of our respective communities would take part in the solution to that problem, essentially. And then these things kind started to realize, which was something that I was like “Oh, this is real now.” It’s just not all these ideas. When you say things now, things can actually happen. So that’s really interesting to me.
Q: Did you guys have similar experiences with what you hoped to do?
G: Hoped to do… it’s a slow process. Everything that you plan, there’s so many different people involved. Administration, you have to consult Sustainability Initiatives, like ODESI and everyone. It’s really like getting everyone on the same page, but a great thing that actually happened was the crosswalk at Duncan and McCaul 2.
Q: The crosswalk! Right? Jeez.
A: Yeah. You almost die.
G: Exactly, and it’s just to kind of understand how long it takes to get stuff done. We’ve been advocating for that crosswalk for like three years now. Lots of people forget that the SU initiates a lot of the change that happens. Even CSD (Centre for Students with Disabilities) Health and Wellness, that was an SU thing. We pushed for a review, because things weren’t working, everything was really weird at Health and Wellness, CSD… so we actually asked for a review, and that happened.
E: Because they were separate, and now they’re basically overseen by the same person. And they still function separately, but yeah, that was an SU thing. A big thing for me was last year, the seating in the Great Hall. Having permanent seating for students. That was something the SU had been pushing for so long. I sat on so many meetings, and they were just, like, “Ok, students really need this,” and then it finally happened, and everyone was so satisfied. But I think the thing people don’t really know is, like, you could be here for so many terms and put all this stuff into motion and actually never see it happen. But it’s still super important, because eventually it will happen, and that’s kinda nice.
G: Even with what’s missing. If student engagement was higher, I think things would move faster. Because you give pressure. Even what’s happening with the Creative City Campus (CCC)3 right now. Everyone has their own ideas, everyone has their own needs and wants and everything, which is fine, but if we could actually unite and figure out what’s the most important thing for us right now… like, are we even tackling issues like student security at OCAD? Or the student pantry getting used up in like three or four hours? They’re huge issues in the university that could be highlighted more, especially with this money coming in from the university. That’s why student engagement is so important. Even just getting people to know that the SU isn’t like this fantasy things that exists in its own world. The SU is you, me, everybody in the school.
Q: Did you feel that the SU was this fantasy thing when you were not part of it?
G: Oh, one hundred percent.
E: I don’t think I knew anything about Student Unions at all, actually.
G: I knew they did micro-grants, I know they offered a whole bunch of services, I know they organize that hot lunch thing
E: Yeah hot lunch is the one thing that people are like I know that’s Student Union.
G: The one thing I really remember from Student Union was Pablo and his initiatives, like Money Matters, and being really vocal with the increase of the compound interest on tuition and that. So I had this idea that its somewhat political, but then when I actually got it I didn’t realized actually how political it was, because there’s so much involved and you have to be careful with what you say to administration.
E: It’s really about building relationships with people you never thought you’d have to build a relationship with, like Sara Diamond. I always knew who Sara Diamond was but I didn’t really know her, and all of a sudden I’m sitting in a meeting with her. That’s why we really focus so much on training with the new team because it really is a big responsibility that you take on, so we try to prepare people as much as possible. I think it’s through learning.
I think what’s great about the Student Union is that their biggest focus is social justice. And that’s more important than other initiatives, and it’s a very big one that they’ve decided to take on. I think a lot of communication with the upper administration, students don’t really know about that, they know if things happen. When I started, I think my first memory of working with the student union, was getting 24/7 access. Cause when I started here, that didn’t even exist. I remember this big awful petition in the open studio on the 4th floor. And now there are students that don’t realize there wasn’t 24/7 access. It’s a long game, and I don’t think people realize that. A lot of them get frustrated because they want action right away, but there’s so much that goes on into getting the little changes.
Q: It makes sense that the crosswalk would be a slow process since the city is involved. But for initiatives like the seating in the Great Hall, are the meetings and procedures all justified, or are some just obstacles that slow the process down?
A: I think it’s a mix of both because in some cases its regular mandatory procedures, and in other cases, with almost anything I feel, if there are not enough people talking about an issue then it is not really considered that big of an issue, it wouldn’t be emphasized.
E: I think there’s also a disconnect, we see students, students come in and address certain issues they tell us about. We then take those issues to upper OCAD administration, and they go “well, we never heard of this”, but it’s also like no one’s knocking on Deanne Fisher’s door going like, “We want this”.
Q: And from what I could tell, there aren’t really a lot of people knocking on your door here as there would ideally be.
E: I think the students that know about us come a lot, and we do get engagement from the same people. It’s getting new engagement that is hard. Because if you don’t really know what the office is, or about our services, then you just won’t know.
G: Just because there aren’t people coming into the door doesn’t mean that folks aren’t using our services. Most of the things that students use are probably things you’re not even aware of, like appointments with a lawyer.
E: That’s true, we have no idea how many students use it because we can’t, that’s confidential, and I know tons of people use Hot Lunch. I think it’s because technically it’s in your face and you walk in and “Oh, food”. We definitely, everyone here, want to prioritize outreach. That’s a big thing for us. But it’s also hard to prioritize outreach when OCAD also isn’t necessarily engaging. That’s what a lot of people don’t realize, we definitely try, it doesn’t always work but that’s not always because we’re not trying.
G: Folks are busy, folks are so busy! Even when we came to Hot Lunch the other day to hand out flyers about what was happening with OSAP and the march and all that. We did a sign-making, we bought all the materials to make signs, but 5 or 6 people showed up. You can do outreach as much as possible but if I have a project due tomorrow, you don’t really care about the rally. I completely get it.
But maybe we’re looking at it the wrong way, where it’s like, if we need students to be involved, we have to be involved with students. Creating services that are just there for you, and not you having to come and look for them.
E: I think that’s what we tried to do. All of our services exist probably because we know students need them, and not necessarily because someone has come and asked for them. Especially the pantry. We know OCAD doesn’t have food programs. That’s why Hot Lunch and the pantry exist. I don’t think anyone came and was like “You guys should cook a free meal!” That’s sort of how we anticipate needs. When I think about what the Student Union really does I think about advocating for students and providing services. It’s hard, because I think there are students that will come and be like, “Here are all of these ideas we want to do!” And we want to support students, we want everyone to bring their own ideas to us, we’re always down to listen and collaborate as much as possible.
G: People do their own thing, we have microgrants, we have grants that we offer to so many students and student groups. It’s not like we have to be solving problems on a micro level. That’s not what the Student Union’s is about.
Q: As members of the SU are temporary, how do you think the issue of continuity can be solved? I know you meet with the last person that was in your position so they can brief you, but how was this briefing? Was it efficient or useful?
G: I found it a lot more useful to actually go through the training than the actual transition, because even the ex-Campaign and Advocacy Director, they were only in their position for 6 months because they got elected in the by-elections, so they didn’t really have much to transition.
They were working on the U-Pass initiative. But then things changed. Like, it’s weird. U-Pass; a whole bunch of work was done with Parker on the U-Pass. They met up with the TTC to kind of figure out how this pass would work and all that, and then I came into the position. We all kind of looked at the U-pass and were like, this isn’t going to work. How is this benefiting students? It was mandatory for all students. No opt out. So, basically, you couldn’t sell it, you couldn’t opt out, everyone had to do it.
E: It’ll be like other universities were, it’s basically built in tuition costs, but the problem was the no opt-out.
G: The no opt-out, and that it’s just TTC. Like, consider that we’re a commuter school, so folks use the Brampton transit system, the GO transit, all that, so it’s like okay, maybe we could work with other universities to figure out a new game plan to incorporate other transit systems. With just TTC, who’s that benefiting? It’s benefiting the TTC and those who can already afford passes that are monthly.