The Dalhousie Student Union held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the 2021 fall term on Oct. 7. The Mcinnes conference room was quiet that Thursday evening, with two hundred vacant seats set out in front of the DSU executives.
The AGM needs to meet its quorum of 212 general members in order to hold the meeting, pass motions and amend bylaws — 12 were present.
The AGM took the form of a forum rather than a meeting, with executive members giving reports on their progress and plans for the semester. During his report, Mazen Brisha, vice president (student life) said, “student engagement is the heart and soul of the union, we need to increase awareness of what we do and increase engagement in student politics.”
He wasn’t the only one with this point. Every DSU executive brought up a lack of student engagement in campus politics, and for good reason, there are some things the DSU can’t do without meeting quorum at the AGM.
The AGM hasn’t reached quorum since 2016.
This means the DSU has been operating under the same bylaws since 2016. “The only way we can change bylaws right now is on a one-year basis. We can amend policies in Council through a regular vote. But we can’t amend the bylaws in a meaningful long-term way without the AGM,” said Madeleine Stinson, DSU president.
It’s a paradox; operating under 2016 bylaws limits how much outreach the DSU can get done, which in turn keeps AGM attendance low.
Under current bylaws, each exec member is mandated to hold six office hours a week. “No one comes to office hours, which is fair,” Stinson said.
The DSU would like to start using that office hour time so exec members can reach out to students, attend society and community events and be more involved in the student body. “We seem like this weird elite group because of these office hours. That’s very much not the vibe,” said Stinson.
The 2016 bylaws also mandate a budget revision every year, but the financial policy hasn’t included that since March 2020. “It’s so confusing, because the bylaws say something different than the policies and no one knows what to do,” said Stinson.
The elections policy and bylaws surrounding elections also don’t entirely match, “if there was ever a huge issue with an election, we would have to spend a concerted effort into figuring out how to deal with it,” she said.
The DSU would like to pass a motion allowing for students to vote by proxy at AGMs, meaning one student could vote on behalf of multiple other absent students with their consent. This would make reaching quorum much easier, but voting by proxy can’t be passed unless the DSU can hold an AGM.
“The only reason they reached quorum [in 2016] was because some people from CKDU were doing a DJ set that night and they had a dance party right after,” said Stinson.
At this most recent AGM, the DSU gave out over $300 worth of prepaid visa cards in a raffle, but this still didn’t draw enough people in.
“I’ve heard of places that do drag shows during their AGMs to get people to show up. We want to do something like that next time to draw people in,” Stinson said.
But according to Stinson, getting the support to hold fun student awareness-raising events requires more student awareness in the first place. “We could throw a killer party. But if no one shows up, even if we have the coolest people there. It’s just going to be a waste of student funds.”
Stinson also worries that spending too much money on student life events to increase student engagement in campus politics would end up reflecting poorly on the union.
“I don’t really know what the student union does,” said first-year Zeerak Junie. “I was never really told much in my first few weeks here.”
Trulee Love, the DSU’s vice president (internal), made pamphlets this year to educate students on what the DSU is, but Junie had never seen one.
Fourth-year classics student, Brendan Kay, was a little more blunt. “They sit on their Lorells,” he said. He wouldn’t elaborate.
“The student union does something, but I’m not sure what,” said second-year arts student Liam Alabiso-Cahill from a hammock on the Studley campus quad. “I think I voted last year in one of the elections.”
Just below him in another hammock was his friend Evan McCalister, “I think they do a good job representing students. I saw an interview with the leader of the union, I can’t remember her name but she gave a good interview about the homecoming party.”
The two jokingly called themselves the Dalhousie hammock society. To become a ratified society, they’d have to get in touch with the DSU.