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Letter to the editor: Positive changes

Rebecca Rose kicks things off
Start of the 2011 Student Day of Action rally in front of the Killam. (Photo by Angela Gzowski)

Dear Editor,

The results of Wednesday’s council vote have allowed the DSU to finally break free from the roughly $136,000 shackles of two external advocacy organizations: the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and Students Nova Scotia (SNS).

As a senate representative on council, I continue to be in full support of this decision based on feedback from my constituents, as well as my own experience with advocacy at Dalhousie. Our membership with these organizations has prevented us from making real gains with the government, has prevented mass student outreach and has stopped us from taking stances that represent Dalhousie students. Students will now be able to create an independent advocacy department within the DSU, where the unique interests of our university and its population can be accurately expressed. This is a great opportunity to join together and form a common vision for the future of our advocacy.

Tuition fees and student debt in our province have been steadily on the rise. If students want to ensure that we have affordable education, as is the case in several other provinces, we need strong advocacy that will fully engage all levels of power. CASA and SNS aren’t involved in grassroots organizing with students, instead focusing exclusively on lobbying government and bureaucrats. There’s no doubt that it’s important for students to go to the table, but without actively campaigning on the ground to inform and engage as many students as possible—as well as faculty, staff and the greater public—students will always be stuck making small amendments to a government agenda.

As an example, SNS would direct much of their lobbying efforts at expanding the student loan allowance and needs-based grants. These have merit, but as long as funding decreases and tuition fees rise, students will always be playing catch-up. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  Student debt is rising and bankrupting a generation.

Some might say that asking for reduced tuition fees won’t be listened to, and so demands should be moderate—but case studies in Newfoundland, Quebec and Manitoba show that campaigning and working with communities changes public opinion, as well as what’s within the realm of possibility. In Quebec, they said stopping the 75 per cent tuition hike was impossible, and yet they did it.

Affordable education isn’t just a reasonable thing for student unions to support—anything less is unacceptable. I supported exiting these organizations so that Dal students’ money can be more effectively used to advocate for causes that Nova Scotians support, and from which Dal students benefit. This move strengthens the Dal student voice and I’m glad it finally happened.

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of consulting with students regarding the issues brought forth at our meetings. From this councillor’s seat, the ongoing debates on campus, at societies and at council have provided us with the information we needed to make an informed decision based on the best interests of Dalhousie students—and this is exactly what we’ve done. We’re finally ready to move forward in reviewing advocacy more thoroughly, but this time with a fully funded advocacy department.

I look forward to exploring the huge potential that independent advocacy brings with it, while engaging students in the process. Boundless opportunities have come knocking at our door, and I am eager to invite them in and celebrate their long-anticipated arrival.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Eldridge

Rebecca is a Senate Representative on DSU council.

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