By: Takhliq Amir
The Student Representative Assembly by-election nomination period officially closed on Oct. 20, setting up the upcoming week for the campaigning period that will conclude with the election of three new SRA members.
Currently, there are two vacant seats on the SRA social sciences caucus and one seat on the kinesiology caucus. These seats had been filled in the 2016-2017 year when elections were initially held but have since been vacated by the elected representatives for various reasons. One of these representations, Kathleen Quinn, SRA Social Science, had been re-elected for her second term, but has stepped down due to other commitments.
“My co-op with the city of Hamilton was extended and I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. With the new board I was already making progress on my platform so it was a tough choice, but I had to go with the best opportunity for me and my career plans,” said Quinn.
With two empty seats on the Social Science caucus, however, there is arguably greater strain on the remaining members to adequately represent their faculty.
“As caucus leader, two open seats means we’re missing 40 per cent of our caucus. This means most of the decisions we make are usually tentative as we can’t set out to do a whole lot until we have a full caucus that can make decisions together,” said Uwais Patel, SRA (Social Sciences) caucus leader.
“The SRA is a leadership opportunity that is mostly self-driven; you get what you put into it. It means we have two less caucus members not fulfilling a platform, representing their faculty or supporting the caucus as a team,” he added.
He states that although such situations should not have adverse impacts in the long run, they do cause difficulty in managing responsibilities in the short term.
“We’ve had to put some of our projects on hold and re-evaluate some of the projects our former members had set out to accomplish. This ultimately means that we have less representation within the faculty and less support internally as a team. I believe the more voices you have, the more you can accomplish,” Patel said.
“The SRA provides support as it can through one-on-one [sessions] and setting firm deadlines, but one of the difficulties is that this organization relies heavily on volunteer labour.”
Former SRA member
To compensate, Patel personally decided to run a stronger outreach and communications plan for the by-election in order to have greater outreach. On the MSU website, there is also a page by the SRA Social Science caucus that aims to smooth the election process for those running for a seat in this by-election.
Taking on greater responsibilities is not uncommon in the SRA, where representatives sit as active members on other MSU committees in addition to their own workload to effectively represent their constituents. However, this can also take time away from other extracurricular and work commitments and potentially present as a source of stress for the members, something that was acutely felt by Quinn.
“The SRA provides support as it can through one-on-one [sessions] and setting firm deadlines, but one of the difficulties is that this organization relies heavily on volunteer labour. I found it difficult to balance my job outside of the MSU, school and responsibilities I have as a mature student that others may not have. I think it does affect your mental health as there has been an expectation in the past to work beyond what one should to maintain balance,” she said.
Quinn suggested that there are options that the MSU should explore in lessening the workload of SRA members to ensure that they can balance their responsibilities with their academics or other commitments.
“I think that an honorarium, better compensation and accurate staff hours tracking is key. The culture needs to shift,” she said.
“Ambitious platforms are great, [but] they shouldn’t come at the expense of staff and volunteers… I think we need to discuss with the school how many basic services we are providing as a union and ask for more support,” Quinn added.