With Student Representative Assembly elections finished, it’s time for everyone’s favourite kind of conversation: an “inside baseball” look at student politics.
The SRA is an important group (just ask them) and play a significant role in shaping the student experience at McMaster. This is not up for debate.
But the paradox is that the SRA represents students while not truly engaging them. As you can see from the news piece on page five, this is not a McMaster-specific issue; apathetic students who are a mix of too busy or disconnected from the school that they just don’t pay attention to these issues plague universities across the province.
And the SRA will have its meetings every other week and they’ll have their circular debates that will feature the same comments about representing students. SRA members have to come to terms with this, especially those who are only on the assembly because they were acclaimed: the majority of your constituents did not or would not vote for you.
3,501 total votes were cast this year and if you use faculty numbers from the 2015-2016 McMaster fact book, that means only 21 per cent of people voted. This figure excludes faculties that had acclaimed seats and it is not exact because the faculty enrolment was not immediately available.
21 per cent is a solid turnout for an election like this, but it is far from a license for an SRA member to vote however they want. Your job is to represent students and that consultation process only starts when you’re elected.
It is bizarre how members of the SRA can be on completely opposite sides of an issue yet they say to be representing the McMaster undergrads.
Do students from different faculties differ so strongly on separate issues? Or are SRA members just using their position to implement their own views instead of those they represent?
This gets at a debate as old as the SRA itself: should SRA representatives vote for what their students want, or should they use their expertise they gain through sitting on different committees and reading over memos and reports to make more informed decisions?
The right answer is a balance of these two. A number of SRA caucuses have improved the way they interact with students through Google doc feedback forms or increased visibility on social media. We need more initiatives like this to engage a passive student body, and that should be a top priority for the incoming SRA.
By engaging more students, we can increase the variety of voices that inform the legislative body and make it representative of the McMaster population. Soliciting the opinions of people with different experiences will only make for a stronger SRA.
The flip side is the responsibility to become informed on the issues they are voting on. I find it hard to blindly trust the judgement of SRA representatives.
Over the years, I’ve watched countless meetings where SRA members ask questions that can be answered by reading the documents provided. I’ve seen members sit through meetings with their laptops open to all sorts of random things.
If the SRA is going to argue that they know more than the average student and that informs their logic, they need to be critical of other assembly members who shirk their responsibilities. Unfairly or not, one person slacking off undermines the student population’s confidence in the SRA.
This year is especially important because of the lack of interest in the positions. To me, it says students do not see value in the legislative body. SRA representatives need to put more effort in than before to restore interest and trust in the group.