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Every March, past and present MSU student leaders, University administrators and some members of The Silhouette, get together for Student Recognition Night, an evening that highlights achievements and successes in student politics and service provision. Apart from the awards ceremony, one of the most anticipated parts of the evening is the current MSU Board of Directors’ Swan Song — a humorous and final goodbye from the President and the Vice Presidents of the MSU that has traditionally been used to poke fun at student politics, sing a couple self-deprecating lines and throw a few (welcome) jabs at our coverage.

Unfortunately, this year the song crossed the line from humorous to offensive. Although much of the song was funny and light-hearted, I have two issues with it: the individual attack towards a student activist, and the way it ridiculed the efforts of student activism, specifically the pro-Vice Presidential election reform campaign team and the Student Mobilization Syndicate.

Addressing student concerns of increasing tuition rates and groups that have requested that the MSU be more active beyond its role with OUSA, the song included lines like, “They say that tuition has doubled; maybe because they’ve been here for 10 years,” and in the same vein, “They’re now on the SRA; at least I’ll soon be gone.” For anyone involved with the MSU, the identity of the person the BOD was referring to is very clear. It’s also well known that this person is also a mature student who used to attend McMaster and has now returned for reasons that we’re not aware of and which frankly are none of our business. Whether their choice to leave was because of financial reasons, health reasons, or simply a matter of personal choice, whatever angle you decide to look at this line from, it is extremely offensive.

The person in question is also, as the song gives away, a new member of the Student Representative Assembly. The lines only create unnecessary and damaging animosity between the executive branch of the MSU and its governing body members, which should expect more respect from the BOD. There is a difference between inside jokes and personal attacks towards people you don’t engage in constructive dialogue with. That the person was also not present (or invited) to Student Rec Night makes the whole thing even more uncomfortable.

Beyond the personal attack, I was also disturbed at the willingness of the Board to ridicule the efforts of student groups whose goals are to push for change within the MSU. I’m not arguing that their stances are good or bad, but students should feel free to speak their mind about how they want to govern their student union without being ridiculed. For example, one line from the song about the VP reform petition was: “VPs-at-large they tried to file a petition once or twice… by once or twice I mean maybe a couple of hundred times.” It later added, “It’s too bad you lost VP to some Yik Yaks and memes… 21 votes,” referring to the small number of votes the pro-reform side lost the referendum by (a sad 0.3% under the two-thirds majority needed). What good does it do to ridicule the efforts of students with good intentions and students who want to improve the democratic process of our union? The BOD are the people in power. Whether you choose to respect their opinions or not, they still hold a lot of ground. Ridiculing student movements creates a hostile environment that discourages people from expressing opinions that the larger voices within the MSU might look down on.

Before anyone messages us to let us know that we don’t get the “point” of the Swan Song, that it’s meant to be in jest, let me assure you that we know. We know that it is meant to highlight the sometimes ridiculous and immature nature of student politics, and give the BOD a chance to respond to criticisms they’ve faced throughout the year. But it is not meant to be malicious or attack individual people. It’s not meant to discourage student activism, especially not activism that doesn’t align directly with how the MSU sees itself. The petitions and activist groups get attention because they speak to people — the numbers speak for themselves: both in the number of people who signed the VP reform petitions and those who voted in favour — and the last thing the MSU should be doing is making people feel that they will be ridiculed for wanting to make a change or be involved. Though the Swan Song does not take away from this BOD’s accomplishments, it ends the year on a sour note.

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