Spell it out for me: S-U
Pay no attention to that group behind the curtain! Scratch that, pull back the curtain, let’s meet the OCAD Student Union. Though they aren’t all-powerful and draped in emerald green, the Union is the force behind a lot of decisions and services here at OCAD, and much like the Wizard of Oz, they are sort of a mystery. Well, call us Toto because we’re here to do a big reveal.
The Union is made up mostly of current students, and accordingly, they aren’t too different from the rest of us. They stress out about assignments, leave things for the last minute, worry about people’s expectations, complain about the various issues at OCAD – ah, here is where they differ, just slightly. They don’t just complain, but hear our complaints, too. The Student Union is a strong group of people who have come together to focus on change and tackle the problems we face as a student body.
Gino Marocco, the Director of Campaigns – they couldn’t have picked a better candidate. He is a passionate and sociable Industrial Design student (thesis! How does he manage?!), currently heading the massive campaign against post-secondary reform.
Kais Padamshi, a talented painter and an amazing listener. Not surprisingly, he started off as the Faculty of Art Representative; now, he is the Director of Academic Affairs. His initial aspiration was to integrate lessons for Drawing and Painting students in selling their work and professionally interacting with galleries. He saw a need in his program and dove right in to make it a reality.
Kais often sits in on administration meetings and student appeals; alongside those responsibilities, he runs the Communication Committee, accountable for all SU Affairs. We’re overwhelmed simply writing about it!
The last of the three Directors is Roshan Thiruchelvam, a wicked awesome guy who is a friend, a brother, and a leader to anyone he meets. His main focus is on fostering a strong network at OCAD, where every student can feel a sense of community. As the Executive Director of Operations, his domain is hiring staff for event planning, reviewing payrolls, and communal aspects such as the Hot Lunch.
Adé Abegunde: Our Sustainability Representative uses her Environmental Design knowledge as an asset in order to successfully drive sustainability forward. She works closely with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Sustainability Initiatives (ODESI).
Emily Condie is Communications Coordinator: direct, punctual and organized, she’s in charge of SU’s social media, emailing students about important information, releasing statements, and other tasks.
Anatomy of the Heart
Each of these people has a critical role, and while this isn’t a full list of members, it shows how independent these positions are – so, who’s in charge? The Student Union is not subject to OCAD rules or [faculty] hierarchy, nor do they have their own president or manager. Though the Student Union is separate from OCAD, the two work together to facilitate change. In that regard, they are not accountable to OCAD, but rather to us, the students. Their elections mirror this idea: for students, by students. The lack of an internal hierarchy means every representative has a voice, and no one person has power over the group. However, this sort of model brings forth its own challenges. It’s easy to say that each member of the group plays an equally important role, and that no hierarchy exists. But hierarchy occurs in any group of people, though it’s not always explicit. As members have realized upon joining the Union, representatives have less power than directors. A system like this quickly becomes bureaucratic — if everyone has a voice, every topic must be discussed as a group, every decision agreed upon collectively.
Despite their “for the students, by the students” attitude, the SU is not entirely made up of current students. Besides students who run for positions and are elected by the study body, there are permanent staff and alumni that fill these roles and help the process of decision-making run more smoothly.
So, now we know who’s in the SU and how it’s all organized, but what do they do? This group of students talks a good game, but do their actions live up to it? You may go through your entire education without noticing the SU, but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything. The changes they make within the school occur in the background of our day-to-day lives. Maybe you just got out of an evening class, and you’ve got a big project due in two days, so you head to the studio and work until late into the night. You can thank the SU for 24-hour access to campus, and extended studio hours, too. The Union is behind it all, anticipating student needs and addressing them to the best of their ability. But change takes time, so, even if an issue seems to have fallen through the cracks, know that the SU isn’t sitting back doing nothing. Take the crosswalk where Duncan and McCaul meet Queen. The SU has been advocating for this crosswalk for three years, and just recently plans with the city have been approved. Though it may take another couple of years before the crosswalk exists, the SU is in it for the long-haul.
Any students at OCAD – clubs, groups, or individuals – can start their own initiatives, all thanks to SU funding. Whether it’s an idea to support other students or put together an exhibition, the SU offers grants and micro-grants to allow you to make change. Recent examples include the PROUD zine, the yellow staircase mural, the Journal of Visual and Critical Studies, and the BSA show for Black History Month. Students got in touch with the SU to get funds for these projects, and thanks to SU grants, were able to see them through.
What’s the issue, dear?
Sounds great, right? A group of people that are fixing problems before they even happen… turning every frown upside-down, handing out rose-coloured glasses so we can all skip around laughing, all projects are handed in on time, everybody gets at least 7 hours of sleep, food is free, and … ok, nothing is that perfect. Like everything in life, the Student Union can always be improved. In fact, this article is an attempt to improve their biggest problem: communication with students. You shouldn’t need a trench-coat and a magnifying glass to figure out what the SU is all about, and yet they remain a mystery to most of the student body. The SU offers so many services but given how much work those services are to maintain, communication can slip through the cracks. But having services to support students is like throwing a party and not sending out invitations.
Another concern about the SU (and about life in general, lol) is money. Recent issues with other university student unions as well as occasional questions about OCAD’s money matters have students wondering where their money is going. We all pay fees for the SU when we pay tuition (for now, anyway), and yet a lot of students don’t know what happens with that money. It may seem like the money just disappears into a cloudy void. It’s not a big leap to go from “I don’t know how the money is being used” to “the money is not being used properly”. So, are they mismanaging our money, or are they putting our money towards important services (that we just don’t know about)?
It comes back to communication. The reason we don’t know where the money is going might be because we don’t know a lot about the Student Union. Yes, the representatives in the SU need to improve how they provide the student body with information. But, hey, it takes two to tango. So, how can you meet them in the middle?
SU & US
Arguably the most important aspect of the SU isn’t the structure or their successes, but you. You, a student at OCAD, are a vital part of the SU, and without you, the SU can’t reach their full potential. You might be thinking, “Um, I’m pretty sure the actual members of the SU are more important than I am”, but we would challenge that. You ARE a member of the SU. Every student is.
So, how can you make a difference? For yourself, for others, for the school as a whole? Reach out. If you have an idea for a project or have an issue with the school (like the ones we covered last month), walk into the SU office1 or e-mail2 one of the members, and make yourself heard! You have a voice, and the SU will listen. They will tell you all about the resources they have to offer, and if they don’t have any resources that can help you, they won’t just leave you hanging! They’ll make a plan and see to it that whatever problem you’re having is addressed. It can be daunting to ask for help, and intimidating to pitch an idea, but that’s the reason the SU exists: to support and represent you.
The SU needs to hear from you in order to best serve the student body as a whole. How else can they know what initiatives would have the greatest impact? How can they improve student life without hearing from students? United we can make your time here at OCAD better and improve the institution itself.
The simplest way to get involved, even if you don’t have ideas for initiatives or problems you need solved, is voting during SU elections. Get to know the students representing you. Talk to current representatives, see what they’re all about. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself running for a position come the next election. Big or small, we can all make a difference. The SU will show you how.
SUmming it up
There is great and transcending value in contributing to community at OCAD U, and a good way to do so is through involvement in SU initiatives, or creation of initiatives the SU can support. By giving input and asking questions we become more aware of the tools we can use to face issues, and we connect with each other, making a lasting impact to benefit students, current and future.
1 230 Richmond St. W. Suite 620
2 Gino: firstname.lastname@example.org, Kais: email@example.com, Roshan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Melissa Roberts, Aira Minasyan, and Sebastián Rodríguez Vasti