Photos by Kyle West
By: Brian Zheng
Since I started at McMaster University in 2014, I’ve been involved with the McMaster Students Union, from involvement with a presidential campaign to eventually being elected on the Student Representative Assembly. I quit the SRA six months in.
When I started, I was handed several documents to help me understand the MSU and my role within it. Even after two training sessions and reading multiple documents, I still didn’t have a clear understanding of the possibilities within my role.
This is due to the sheer volume of functions the MSU oversees. The MSU consists of over 30 different business units and services, along with individual committees that address issues affecting the 20,000+ undergraduate students represented by the union.
Along with this, there are 35 student representatives from each faculty that make up the SRA. These students are elected each year, based hopefully on their platform points.
With the diversity of functions that exist within the MSU, keeping track of the hundreds of members involved is more than a full-time job; hence, the existence of four full-time student jobs, the board of directors, dedicated to managing all these portfolios.
So, if a potential SRA candidate wants to grasp this wealth of information, it would require them to sift through an incredibly disorganized website, spend hours reading jargon-riddled meeting minutes and likely set-up meetings with a few SRA members.
It’s no secret that the SRA struggles with transparency. The point is, it is not easy to disseminate information about the MSU, let alone in a format that’s easily digestible by students.
But is this the reason why candidates continuously repeat previous or unfeasible platform points? I don’t think so.
The reason why the average student doesn’t understand the MSU has little to do with the disorganization of the information. Instead, students’ lack of awareness is due to the existence of the elitist culture rampant within the SRA.
During my time involved with the MSU, I’ve noticed several condescending statements released both publicly and privately ridiculing the SRA candidate pool.
For example, a current SRA member, on their public twitter stated, “If I hear extended library hours as a platform point one more time I’m gonna lose it”.
In a separate instance, during last year’s SRA elections, another heavily-involved MSU member wrote as their Facebook status, “Lol, @SRA candidate saying that the MSU should make job descriptions, we are doomed”.
These are only a few public statements made by elected members that dramatically contribute to the MSU bubble that many of the same individuals supposedly ran to help dissolve.
After releasing these statements, SRA members had the audacity to wonder why such a limited number of candidates reached out to consult their platform points.
It is important to note that while these factors alone don’t contribute to the unapproachability of the SRA, the public ridicule of students aspiring to volunteer their time is equivalent to schoolyard bullying and needs to stop.
While it is more than possible to develop comprehensive platform points without the help of current and previous assembly members, it is so much more difficult given the overwhelming disorganization of the available information.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to sort through the disorganized mess. The inaccessibility of this information can be easily tested by simply trying to figure out where to find the most recent SRA meeting minutes.
Candidates aren’t reaching out, not because they don’t want to, but because the assembly does not appear to be an approachable group. The MSU does not reflect the welcoming environment that it boasts, and as a result, candidates are more likely to run on limited information. Hence, the epidemic of repeated and unfeasible platform points.
Over the years, I have constantly heard the notion that the lack of student engagement within the MSU is a result of apathy on the student end. Maybe it’s about time the assembly made it worth students’ time.
Halfway through my term, I left my seat on the SRA. This was not because I couldn’t learn about the organization, but because I didn’t feel like being ridiculed for not knowing.