The Dalhousie Student Union Council is composed of the executive, faculty representatives, community representatives as well as reps for the Dalhousie Board of Governors and Dal senate, and members-at-large.
Council members represent various constituencies of the university. They act as a liaison between the community and council, a way for community members to bring their concerns to the DSU. In council, members are responsible for consulting and advocating for their group’s interests, as well as contribute to the general governance of the DSU.
For the 2018-2019 year, ten council positions were vacant: reps for communities of Aboriginal students, residence students, students with disabilities community, women students, as well as faculty reps for agriculture, architecture and planning, computer science, dentistry, engineering, and health professionals. That’s ten empty seats out of 28.
Council rep vacancies are a long-standing problem. This year is not an outlier.
Council elections are not prioritized as they should be. DSU policy states that constituent representatives must be elected during the DSU general election period. Council positions left vacant following the general election may be filled by a by-election prior to November of the following school year. Otherwise another member who meets the eligibility criteria shall be appointed to the duties of the vacant position.
These positions may be vacant because students and the union focus on executive positions while not much is said or advertised about community council members. Students are not properly informed on the purpose of council and the election of representative positions. When’s the last time you heard about council by-elections?
These positions are important to student communities, who may require an advocate for them in bringing changes to the DSU, faculty and the university. Council members also provide a resource for student committees, providing guidance on navigating concerns and when concerns should be brought to council or faculty.
Students who lack their community council representative do not have an accessible contact for communicating their concerns and needs to the student union.
Despite the importance of council representatives, they also serve as a scapegoat for the DSU. Having these community rep positions allows the DSU to “check” the box for consultation, glossing over questions of whether students are aware of their community rep or whether the community reps are being heard within council.
The DSU may also use these positions to divert responsibility. They may claim that they have created the space by making these council positions, that actually filing the seats is the responsibility of the communities themselves. Diverting responsibility is a distraction from the main point, that DSU council serves to consult with students, and for community constituents, this isn’t happening.
Perhaps it’s that the DSU has failed to advertise these positions to students. Perhaps no one is quite enthralled with the idea of sitting around a table for a few hours a week, which might only be one hour if it weren’t for all the formality. Perhaps students just don’t care; although judging by the social media babble, that’s probably not the case.
Making space is more than creating a formal position. For the DSU, this might mean providing resources for students for learning how council works, live-streaming council sessions, overall, making DSU activities more transparent and accessible for students.