What went down at the General Assembly Students call on the MSU to push the university to abandon its freedom of expression guidelines

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On March 20, 47 students filed into Burridge Gym for the 2018 McMaster Students Union General Assembly. After a lengthy discussion, the assembly voted in support of a motion aimed at condemning the freedom of expression guidelines released by the university earlier in February 2018.

The GA is an MSU constitutionally-mandated meeting that provides full-time undergrad students with a platform to submit, discuss and vote on motions. Nevertheless, over the last few years, the GA has been poorly attended, with the 2017 and 2016 meetings seeing respective turnouts of only 16 and 27 voters.

The last time the GA saw a relatively high turnout was in 2015, when 727 students voted in a contentious boycott, divestment and sanctions motion.

This year’s improvement from last year’s turnout is likely a byproduct of increased MSU social media promotion and the submission of the “anti-disruption” motion.

The motion was put forward by Michelle Xu and called for the MSU to advocate for the abandonment of the implementation of the guidelines and acknowledge that the guidelines limit dissent and activism, creating a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable forms of protest and disproportionately affecting marginalized students at the university.

The GA is an MSU constitutionally-mandated meeting that provides full-time undergrad students with a platform to submit, discuss and vote on motions. 

The motion generated debate and scrutiny, garnering support from the majority of student speakers but drawing criticism from a few who sought to amend or reject it.

“Protest is not meant to be acceptable to institutions on the receiving end.… Marginalized students have expressed concerns over tangible threats to their safety,” said Xu, who explained that organizations such as Canadian Union of Public Employees 3906, the McMaster Womanists and the Revolutionary Student Movement are in favour of the motion.

A student speaker voiced the complaint the ad hoc committee on protest and freedom of expression was overwhelmingly white and male, being unreflective of the campus community. As such, the motion was amended to include calls for increased transparency, representation and consultation with students.

Students on the other side argued that the freedom of expression guidelines improve free speech, invoking McMaster’s low score on the Campus Freedom Index as evidence for the need for the guidelines.

Nevertheless, the motion passed by 85 per cent.

Nevertheless, over the last few years, the GA has been poorly attended, with the 2017 and 2016 meetings seeing respective turnouts of only 16 and 27 voters.

In addition, the assembly voted in favour of a motion aimed at advocating for improved access to mental health care for students and asked that sexual assault response training be extended to special constables and security.

“My motion stems from not only my own experience but that of many others I’ve spoken to from different years and from different faculties who all expressed frustration and hopelessness in trying to seek help for their mental health issues,” said Marley Beach, the student who submitted the motion.

The assembly also passed a motion pushing the MSU to work with the Graduate Student Association and McMaster association of part-time studies to create a club system that is not constrained by membership rules.

“I’ve been starting a club called the McMaster Mars Rover Team, and we decided to be a part of the McMaster Engineering Society and not the MSU so that grad students and high school students can participate,” said Max Lightstone, the student who put forward the motion. “But the MES has its own issues, namely that 75 per cent of members need to be MES members, which prevents students from other faculties from participating fully.”

It should be noted that, although the GA passed a few motions, all were non-binding as they didn’t reach the 683 votes needed to meet quorum. The motions will be discussed and voted on by the Student Representative Assembly.

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Author: Cassidy Bereskin

Cassidy is a second year Political Science student. She loves bubble tea, coffee, Hamilton (the musical AND our city) and reading through Twitter threads.