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DSU’s decision to leave StudentsNS ill-informed

Students Nova Scotia (Supplied photo)
Students Nova Scotia (Supplied photo)

In my first year at Dalhousie, I was Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) secretary. I was impressed, then, to learn about the Alliance of Nova Scotia Students’ Associations (ANSSA) and its work to advance student concerns. In the previous year, 2008, it had successfully lobbied for the creation of Nova Scotia Student Grants, as well as a tuition freeze. Five years, a brief stint in England and a move to a master’s program later, I continue to applaud the work of the organization, now Students Nova Scotia (SNS).

I’m tremendously disappointed by the DSU’s decision to leave SNS. Rash and poorly researched as it was, this decision doesn’t represent my views. Had the appointed review committee properly consulted with other Dal students, I suspect they would have found it wouldn’t represent theirs either.

SNS, an alliance of post-secondary student associations, advocates empowering students and making post-secondary education in Nova Scotia accessible, affordable and high quality through policy-oriented research, lobbying and public campaigns. Current projects include researching student health, housing and employment; promoting safer alcohol consumption; and campaigning for “enthusiastic consent” (see morethanyes.ca). In 2011, SNS successfully advocated to make the full provincial portion of student loans forgivable over the first four years of an undergraduate degree—one of many achievements outlined at studentsns.ca.

Are these concerns relevant? Dalhousie students thought so in 2012, when we voted in a referendum to double our financial contributions to SNS.

Despite this, last week the DSU council voted 16-15 to leave SNS entirely, based on a report it had commissioned called “Strengthening Advocacy.” The report is badly written, carelessly researched and clearly biased. Patrick Visintini, a member of the review committee, explained to council how the report failed to represent student views from consultations, and had only three authors, two of whom initially proposed the review. Worse still, many of the report’s claims are false or misleading, as SNS’ response details.

Some errors and sloppy writing might be excusable. But I can’t forgive the report’s refusal to acknowledge another side to the argument, or its disregard for any solidarity with other Nova Scotia students: it argues that Dal’s student union is big, powerful and wealthy enough to advocate for its students on its own.

While numbers, unity, professionalism, continuity and neutrality to student politics give SNS a strength far exceeding that of even a better-funded DSU, this position is callous. SNS exists because students share concerns, and it will be severely weakened without Dalhousie. Even if we could effectively advocate alone, does sheer might permit us to eschew our responsibility—as human beings with common concerns—to the larger student community?

Nowhere does the 69-page report mention that Dal students voted less than two years ago to drastically increase our support to SNS. Last week, the DSU council—supposedly our representatives—voted, on the basis of a flawed and biased report cobbled together to reinforce its authors’ pre-existing opinions, to completely leave the organization. The motion passed by a margin of one.

Is this democracy?

SNS’ response to the DSU’s report can be found on Scribd.com here.

Amy Donovan served as DSU secretary in 2009/10. She is currently a social anthropology MA candidate at Dalhousie.

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