It was almost a year ago that the MSU’s Student Representative Assembly passed a motion to “stand in support” of Quebec students, who were fighting tuition increases proposed by the province’s then Liberal government.
The block of SRA members who brought it forward shook their fists, got a majority of the 35 people in the room to agree that tuition was probably too high in Ontario and then sat back to admire what they’d done.
But not much changed. Students didn’t take notice, and the MSU continued to pay membership dues to a far less militant lobbying group than those in Quebec.
The sound-and-fury faction of the SRA was responsible for the “stand in support” motion. They had pet projects. They were radical. They didn’t consult much with their student constituents. They spent too many hours in petty arguments with each other. They were full of rhetoric and short on action.
They could have (by constitutional authority granted to the SRA) reshaped the multi-million-dollar organization that is the McMaster Students Union. But they didn’t.
Say what you will about the place of social justice issues in the governance of the MSU. Whatever it is an SRA member hopes to accomplish, there’s a right way and a wrong way to represent students.
And where some of last year’s representatives got it wrong, Elise Milani got it right.
Milani brought a motion to the Oct. 14 SRA meeting, proposing that the Assembly create a committee to investigate bringing a Women and Trans Centre to campus. It passed.
This wasn’t a pet project. It wasn’t even a new one. McMaster hosted a women’s centre from 1979-1985. A referendum reopening the discussion went out to students in 2009. Last year, McMaster’s women’s studies department gathered information from other schools on how their centres operated. The SRA talked about it then, too. Milani and other supporters of the idea are channelling the interest that exists here at Mac.
Work went into the proposal. Milani has been, and has committed to continue, consulting with the relevant student groups, University organizations and community stakeholders.
And she didn’t – as past members might have – try to push a vote through the SRA that said something like, “the MSU wants a women’s centre.” A committee has been founded to do the legwork, and to find out if this project is wanted or worthwhile. It recognized the complexity and the context of this issue. Like a good committee should, it will make meaningful contributions to a quality project, and will help clarify substantive next steps.
Last year was not a unique year. The effectiveness of the SRA has been in question for decades. There are times when it seems structural – when it seems like something major has to change in the MSU constitution’s SRA section.
But there are other times, the Oct. 14 meeting included, that are much more encouraging.