The question was innocent enough: what was the mood on-campus this fall?
As editor-in-chief of the Dalhousie Gazette, I have the privilege of speaking with an array of people from all corners of the university—yes, even from Truro. I’m not usually stumped when presented with an open-ended question about campus, but here I was, struggling for a word. I didn’t have an answer.
To me, Dalhousie was the same as it’s been in recent memory. There’s the commotion that comes with September. Wide-eyed 18-year-olds and hardened veterans alike slowly returning to the grind of university life. Before you know it, it’s a frantic sprint from midterms to finals to freedom.
Despite fumbling for an answer on that December evening, I knew there was something unique about this year’s batch of Dalhousie students. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Three months later, I finally have my rebuttal.
Today’s Dalhousie students are speaking out with a resolve unlike we’ve seen in some time. They are frustrated with increasing tuition, shrinking budgets and skyrocketing international student fees.
The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) has embodied this resentment—whether they do so proactively or reactively is another question entirely.
Waving placards, delivering handbills and planting fake tombstones have brought student-centred issues to the forefront. Students, apathetic as we can be, understand the major struggles facing this university. In my opinion, more so than we have in a long time.
Dal students are noticing the seemingly habitual three per cent tuition hike year after year. They see retired professors not being replaced. They see their faculties struggling with diminishing budgets.
It’s becoming a PR problem the university cannot ignore. It’s hurting the school’s reputation.
To pick an example of the frustrated student, look no further than this fall’s library debacle. It took until October for the firestorm to erupt. Hours were cut drastically. You couldn’t study in the Killam past 6 p.m. on weekends. In only a matter of days, after a Facebook group gained traction and petitions were signed, the university bucked under the pressure and reinstated midnight closures.
Later that fall, students learned more about the library’s financial headaches. The university could no longer afford new acquisitions. A university, an institute of higher learning, could not purchase a new book or academic journal. The uproar returned, again from everyday students, and the university had no choice but to find funding somewhere else.
It was frankly the most successful advocacy the student body has been a part of in years, and it was done not by paying thousands of dollars a year to the DSU, but by mobilizing Dal’s science and arts students.
These grievances from Dal students boiled over again when the advocacy debate engulfed the student union this semester.
Leaving the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and Students Nova Scotia (SNS) was only formally presented for the first time last spring, but the makings of a potential split was in motion several months earlier.
The DSU was changing. The more conservative student union of the past lost favour with activist executive members like president Jamie Aaron and VP academic and external Aaron Beale and certainly numerous other students, too.
To last year’s DSU executive, Dal’s advocacy efforts were failing. Tuition kept on soaring, after all. So, protests meant to draw curious onlookers and embarrass the government became the new norm. Students were marching with puppies on one day and staging a ‘die-in’ on another occasion.
This is why the DSU separated from its federal and provincial advocacy groups. CASA and SNS didn’t demand lower tuition fees. They figured the way to accomplish their goals was reasonable, marginal requests at the government table.
For the activist DSU, this wasn’t fast enough. They thought a loud, united student voice could accomplish great things, like it did in Quebec when student strikes prevented a massive tuition hike.
No matter how biased that sham of an advocacy review report was, the DSU’s document was meaningless. The DSU voted to leave CASA and SNS because they were on different ends of the spectrum. It didn’t matter what the report said, that a DSU councillor was so angry he was shaking as he read his biting report or how an Acadia student representative was nearly brought to tears explaining how his work was unfairly represented. None of it mattered. The DSU didn’t see enough similarities between themselves and CASA and SNS, so they split.
Sure, the DSU reversed their decision two weeks later after realizing that following due process was a good idea, but it was clear that students were speaking up. They believed in something.
You can say all you want about student apathy and how it still exists, but it is obvious that Dalhousie students won’t sit idly by during this juncture in the institution’s history. A vocal and growing group of students are disappointed with what their money is getting them, and they aren’t afraid to say it.
That’s the mood on campus. That’s what separates this student body from its recent counterparts.
You may not remember asking me this question in December, Dalhousie President Richard Florizone, but I hope you consider my answer. I’ve learned quite a bit in my four years here.