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This week has the McMaster student body gearing us up for the event of the year — the MSU’s General Assembly! Just joking, no one actually cares that much about the GA.
Typing that last sentence, I feel a pang of remorse for all those that have dedicated time to planning this year’s assembly (hell, I even feel bad for my own staff because we take the time to report on it each year). But the reason most students genuinely do not care that much about the GA is because most students have, unfortunately, grown accustomed to the fact that Mac doesn’t always care that much about our feedback.
Let me preface this by saying, I do not think that Mac never considers our feedback. But historically, in part thanks to logistics, policy framework, and general challenges that come from working with thousands of students, it can sometimes be challenging for our university to hear and interpret our feedback.
The GA functions as a public forum where students can voice their concerns related to the MSU and all trepidations can be motioned and eventually voted upon. Sounds pretty democratic, right? Well, not completely. The GA is often dominated by a few motions that overshadow “smaller” issues students want to bring up, making it hard for all voices to be heard. In addition, for a motion at the GA to be passed, the assembly itself needs at least three percent of the student body, so roughly 650 students, present at the event. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but historically this number has been hard to reach. What is supposed to be the most democratic form of discussion for students has its limits.
And the GA isn’t the only student-driven method that has its barriers. Every year we fill out course evaluations, create petitions and write countless articles asking for change, but don’t always see it, or even hear people acknowledging our feedback. Take for instance the yearly petition that students have created to request their majors be listed on their degrees (this year a Google Feedback Form entitled “Program on the McMaster Degree” if you wanted to sign it). For the last few years, students have gone to the university with the same request, and every year their appeal is denied, and as far as the signees can tell, isn’t even acknowledged.
With this as the current standard for accepting student requests and input, it’s not surprising that events like the GA tend to pass by unnoticed by the majority of the student population. Why should students make the extra effort to push forward a change if they feel their voices will not be heard?