If you’ve been through the Student Union Building, you’ve heard the news: on Feb. 26, the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) voted to pull their membership from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and Students Nova Scotia (SNS). This decision will have huge ramifications for DSU activism in the coming years: by leaving CASA and SNS, we freed up around $140,000 to do our own lobby work. Conversely, CASA and (especially) SNS are likely looking at some serious restructuring, as Dalhousie’s membership packed a huge financial punch.
But I don’t care about them so much—let’s focus on the DSU.
This pullout was a brilliant decision because a) Dal was paying thousands for CASA and SNS to fight problems we don’t care about and b) most importantly, Dal students have demonstrated that our energy is better spent on in-house issues. As Uytae Lee pointed out in a Gazette article published before the vote, Dal’s concerns haven’t been represented by either of these bodies lately. An (enormous) report on Dal’s relationship with CASA and SNS revealed that overall, Dal just isn’t seeing eye-to-eye on either the issues they should be addressing, or how they should be addressing them. It seems like we (the students) were paying thousands of dollars for organizations to fight campaigns we don’t identify with.
We are much more effective when moving on issues Dal students actually care about. Selected at random, I doubt most Dal students would have a clue what you’re talking about when asked to describe their stance on CASA or SNS. But they sure as hell signed those DSU petitions when the library came under fire. And when asked, eight opinions writers came up with eight very different issues for our president to address during his tenancy. Dal students are engaged, and they do care—just not about what CASA or SNS are up to. Working on in-house issues— like the fact that our library budget has been diminishing for years, or that the food on campus sucks for those with restricted diets—will get results because students are already engaged in these areas. Rather than fighting a losing battle to educate students on lobbying groups no one knows about, the DSU should let existing student interests guide their approach to activism. Pulling out of CASA and SNS was an important first step.
In the upcoming DSU election campaigns, I want to see candidates engage with on-campus issues. I want to know what they’re going to do about the library budget. I want to know they’ve spoken to professors who know what’s up with the Enrolment Related Budget Adjustment policy. I want them to promise to move forward with the proposed committee for transgender issues. More than ever, I want to be sure that candidates are ready to work on in-house problems that students on this campus actually give a shit about.
By dropping CASA and SNS, the DSU has an opportunity to take on a central role in campus lobbying and activism. I want to see them rise to the challenge.