Tired of hearing that students are apathetic and generally uninterested in politics? Here’s a quick comeback for the next time it comes up: Dalhousie students actively pay into federal and provincial lobby groups that guarantee that the “government hears the true voice of students” through our student union.
Ever heard of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and Students Nova Scotia (SNS)? I certainly had not—until last summer, when I learned that the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) was debating whether or not to leave them.
Why would we do that? To a degree, it’s an issue of money. The cost of the DSU’s membership in these lobby groups is between $114,598 and $136,818 every year ($22, 220 for associate membership in CASA and $92, 377 for SNS, plus conference and travel fees). That’s a pretty hefty sum, but costs can be justified for the right reasons, right? I did some digging around and found that the DSU has a lot of reasons for choosing to opt out of these groups.
First off, these groups don’t adequately represent our student body. The few who know of these groups and work with them are finding it increasingly difficult to bring the views of Dal students forward. Motions initiated by Dal student representatives at CASA—such as a call for a reduction in tuition fees and ending the unscientific ban on blood donations from men who have had intercourse with other men—were both flatly rejected by CASA when it came to their general meeting. SNS published four position papers this past year and the DSU only voted in favour of one of them, because they failed to reflect the views and issues brought up by Dal’s representatives. Instead, these papers advocated for things such as increasing international student fees and tying tuition fee levels directly to the job market, rather than the financial needs of students. These organizations seem to be at odds with the current and majority values of our student body.
Differences in values aside, in my opinion the most fundamental issue with these organizations is their anonymity on university campuses. Most students here (including myself) have never heard of CASA or SNS in the first place. I’d be interested to see a street survey conducted with Dal students about the policies, goals, and achievements of CASA and SNS. I’m no math major, but I think the chances of getting a well-informed response would be about as likely as the pope being Jewish. However, these groups represent our student body in the provincial and federal governments every day and the fact that they can claim to be bringing up the issues of students who are not even aware of their presence is something that I personally find preposterous.
CASA and SNS are doing a mediocre to pretty darn awful job of representing their members and if the DSU chooses to drop out of these groups, I’m honestly all for it. It gives Dal students the opportunity and resources we need to put our own, authentic voice up the political ladder rather than having it go through an approval process under a whole different entity.
There is a catch, though: the voices have to be there. What more than $112,000 can’t buy is student interest and activism. Knowing what groups are representing you in government and understanding the policies that are written regarding your education are pretty important in order for that to happen. I hope the publicity surrounding the DSU’s upcoming decision helps spark a conversation about how the Dal student body chooses to voice our issues and opinions.