#thetimeisnow

What is the point of student politics? The Student Representative Assembly needs to do a better job at engaging first-year students

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Rida Pasha

I am a first-year student who wasn’t aware of the Student Representative Assembly until just a few months ago. I am not alone in this experience.  

Many first-year students only became aware of the presence of the SRA after the recent election campaign, with posters plastered around campus.

It is not news that it is difficult to find clear information about what the SRA does as the supposed voice of McMaster University students. There are plenty of upper years that are still oblivious to the SRA’s workings, so imagine being a first-year and all of sudden receiving dozens of Facebook notifications to like election pages and vote for certain candidates.

If you go to the McMaster Students Union website and search the SRA, you’re met with a very vague explanation of what this assembly does, and to someone who knows little to nothing about how their meetings work, it can be very confusing.

As first-year students make up a large percentage of the McMaster population, it is essential that the SRA increases its engagement with these students, especially considering that many are simply unaware of the function of student governance at McMaster.

This engagement should begin at the beginning of the school year at many students’ most memorable time of university, Welcome Week.

Welcome Week is dedicated to making first-year students feel comfortable and aware of the different clubs, services, resources and events available on campus.

The SRA should be heavily involved in Welcome Week so that first-year students at least have the opportunity to learn the basics of student governance and politics.

Not only would this be a great way for students to understand that the SRA works to improve the experience of all students, but it is also an excellent way for SRA members to build connections and truly represent the student body.

However, it can’t just stop there. While there needs to be more interaction between SRA members and all students, first-year students should be specifically targeted because they are a demographic that is often not given enough attention.

While upper-year students are at least able to have fellow SRA members in their years support and speak on their behalf, most first-year students are left out of the picture since apart from the few first-year representatives, rarely any first-year students attend assembly meetings.

Though all students have the opportunity to speak at a meeting in order to bring up an issue, what is the likelihood that the average first-year student is confident enough to speak up at a meeting with 35 upper-year students ready to debate, let alone know that the SRA is a service that they can turn to?

It is important that first-year students recognize that the decisions the SRA makes impact us the most. These are decisions that may directly affect us not just for this year, but for years to come.

Many SRA members will be graduating in one to two years so the decisions made won’t be affecting them later on. But as first-year students will likely be here for another three or four years, we need to be made aware of the issues, topics and decisions that are being made.

It is time that the SRA finds better ways to reach the students they are representing. While the SRA mailing list is a start in updating students, more has to be done.

This engagement has to go beyond emails and become a more interactive experience with first-year students that remains consistent throughout the year.

So for the newest elected members of the 2019-2020 SRA term, what will you do to build a connection with first-year students?

 

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