Q: Do you think the rate of turnover for SU members limits what gets done, or holds you back from implementing changes you’re passionate about? Is that something that needs to change?
E: I don’t know about change, that’s why we do have some full time staff, like Linda, who you met, she’s our manager of HR and administration, she’s permanently here. Khadija, who’s the advocate, also permanently here. And our Finance Coordinator is also a permanent position.
There is no change over in the terms like the rest of it, there’s also a bunch of part-time staff. I’m a part-time staff, I’m not elected. I am in position on contract, but there is room for me to technically stay. Like Kay, who’s our Food Services coordinator. She did Hot Lunch at one point, she worked at the cafe at one point… so there are people that keep things the same. We also expanded our training for this year. You guys will actually be the first year were the reps and the executives will all be on a full year contract, and there’s a whole month of overlap.
I think that’s going to be huge, in terms of the first year that that’ll be happening, of being able to sit down with the new person. You can actually foster kind of what they want to do, and what you are working on, and I think that’ll be really a big difference to keep things in line.
There’s a lot of processes, and they are complicated, but it also keeps things functional. I think it’s important, even you were saying when you came in that you learn a bunch about the SU and even just about social justice. I think we have so much training, and it’s sort of like, even if you don’t totally know coming in, it’s pretty quick, you kind of know what you signed up for in the first little bit.
A: Yeah the training really gives you a chance to get a glimpse of what the rest of your term will be like.
Q: What about obstacles in decision-making, like do you ever take on a project and then get a no during voting? Does the SU have a hierarchy code for conflicts? I know you have the General Manager and Finance Partner, do they take part in decision making?
E: They don’t vote.
G: Decision-making is all the executives and representatives. There is no hierarchy, that’s why we don’t have a President and a Vice President. We just have specific representatives and directors that take care of different things.
E: I don’t think there is — I never felt like it’s only one person making the decision. I don’t know- I don’t vote on things. Do you guys ever feel the pressure?
G: No, never pressure, but it’s weird sometimes because there’s collective decision, almost always. Like for bigger issues, it’s always the collective that kind of everyone puts in their two cents and then it’s like ‘This is good, let’s go’, and that adds in to the whole moving slowly for things. For instance the by-law review is the same thing, we’re reviewing our bylaws now, and we’re kind of updating them so see what was missing in everything, so even that takes a lot of time because it’s everyone collaborating together because there is no president.
Q: I only ask because it seems like the members of the SU have a lot of power, and have ideas, but maybe not access to resources.
E: First of all, all students are members whether they know that or not, a lot of people maybe don’t. But also, anyone can walk in here and have an idea for something they want put on, and that has a lot to do with our grant programming, like Micro Grants and Project Grants. A lot of student groups at OCAD don’t get funding, or a couple do, but not all of them.
Not in all cases; if you started your own group, they’re not going to give you money to do something. A lot of students, if they want to do a project, they come and apply for our Project Grants. We have had up to $7,000 this year to split up between different projects. PROUD is doing a zine which we funded; the BSA show that they’re doing for Black History Month, that was funded by us, as well. Tons of other things, like the yellow staircase murals. We support a lot of student stuff that way. In terms of supporting groups, even if we can’t reach students directly as the SU executives or reps, I think we do it someway, maybe not as noticeably, through supporting student groups so that we can allow them to support students. The Christian waffle night, that was one. Those are things that we do help students to put on their own projects. You can even apply as an individual to do something you want to do. The only thing we don’t fund is course work.
G: It’s funny though cause you’re kind of split between both worlds, you’re working directly with student groups and everything and funding all these projects, and then on the other side, you’re talking to administration or sitting on committees for CSD and whatever. Trying to get that across, you wear so many hats, that you’re just like “What the hell am I doing?” You spend like five or six hours just researching what the hell was the CSD review was anyway, like, “What is CSD?”
When you step into the position, and then get onto the Sustainability Committee with ODESI, and you’re like “What’s ODESI?” So, learning all that, learning what the past of sustainability is.
A: There’s a lot to learn.
G: There’s A LOT to learn. You get to this point of your term where you can actually get shit done, cause you did all the catching up, this was what’s been done in the past, these are the key stakeholders of the university and the students, this is what we can do, because sometimes you can’t do anything. Sometimes you’re bound by budgets. We do a budget proposal at the beginning of our term, but like two weeks into your term, you don’t even know what the hell a budget proposal is, so you’re like okay, what can I do?
E: Being funded through the school as well, they give us a blanket amount based on how many students they think we are getting, so this year they’re like “This is how much money we think you’re gonna get.” We plan all of our budget around this, and then mid-September, they say oh, enrollment actually wasn’t that high, so we’re not getting that much. And then Nicole, our finance coordinator who is amazing, had to go in and go through everyone’s budgets again and change them. It’s a bit of, we are like okay we’re gonna do all this stuff, but we don’t even have the money sometimes? And that’s on OCAD ‘cause I guess they’re a little out of touch with their own enrollment.
Q: In closing, what do you wish students we more aware of? What do you wish you had been more aware of before being in a position where you have to share information with a bunch of other students.
G: We can do everything and we can get whatever we want, but we have to know what we want. Just like, for example, the paper towels, that was people coming together, like no, screw that, we want our paper towels back and we got our paper towels.
If there’s an issue we all agree on, then let’s do it! I don’t even know, like administration or CSD isn’t working and we think there should be more money into CSD. Or, like, get rid of accommodation letters, because accommodation letters aren’t working anymore, because they’re stupid; people should know that students need accommodation, period. Because that’s the way the world works. Let’s talk! That communication is missing, let’s have round tables, come into the office, let’s talk. When that’s not there, we don’t even know what’s going on.
Even you folks at Chiaroscuro are, like, you’re reaching out to a whole bunch of students and like, let’s keep this momentum and keep people talking and be, like, okay, this is messed up. Why do I have to pay so much for tuition? Why do I have to fail a course when I already paid for it? That’s ridiculous. Why am I not able to get rid of an 18 or 20 percent course that I have on my transcript because I failed for some reason? Why? Like, these are things that people think but they’re, like, you can’t question authority, and this is just the way things are, but no, it’s not like that.
A: We just have to present it and be sure that we are all on the same page because when it’s little clusters of people saying things, it just gets confusing, and we just look unserious, but if we can all come together as just one union, and say exactly what is it we want, they will have to take us seriously because there is strength in numbers.
G: The union isn’t ‘us’, its everybody.
A: It’s you.
E: Everything we do is a collaborative decision, and I think that’s because none of us are working for own interest, we’re working for everyone’s interest. That’s the most important thing. I would love to see students reach out to us more, about the issues that they have. But also know that we aren’t this entity that is chatting with the administration.
Everything we do is for students because of a decision we heard a student didn’t like, or even if someone talks to one person in the SU, you can be pretty sure that that’s going to get to a meeting where everyone knows about it. Don’t think that just having one conversation doesn’t count, ‘cause it does.
A: Also, once again, we’re not under OCAD, we’re an entirely separate organization. We are not affiliated with OCAD, other than we are representing the students.
E: We have no accountability to OCAD. We have accountability to the students. That’s a big one.
1 Brent Everett James, the Campus Life Coordinator at OCAD.
2 To clarify, the crosswalk has been approved, not yet built.
3 Article on CCC construction from Chiaroscuro’s January issue: click here.
Interview by Sebastián Rodríguez Vasti