Last week, I attended the New Brunswick Student Alliance’s post-secondary education forum. At the event I counted 60 students. There are about 12,500 students on the UNB and STU campuses and many more in Fredericton when NBCC, NBCCD, and other colleges are considered. That means that about 0.0048 per cent of the student population attended. And yes, they live streamed it. However, I’d be willing to put my free 10th Sodexo coffee on the table to bet that not many students watched it.
I don’t blame a single one of you for not attending. Whether you were studying, drinking, fornicating or sleeping, I don’t blame you. I’ll even forgive the fact that you should have been there. That you have a vested interest in what these men have to say. I’ll even go so far as to say you shouldn’t have come. These events aren’t made for students. They are made for the opportunity to say that this event was put on.
Organizing the event was the NBSA, a provincial organization of four universities who advocate for a post-secondary system “where any qualified student can attain a high-quality education while enjoying an exceptional quality of life.” High calling for an association that can barely keep its membership steady. The event, attended by a candidate representing each party, was meant to give students the opportunity to educate themselves on each party’s stance on post-secondary education. After 50 minutes of the candidates speaking the floor was opened up for questions.
Three students asked questions. The second two were so rushed by the moderator that it sounded more like an auction than a forum. The candidates were given one minute by the moderator to answer. Their answers were riddled off faster than Eddy signs diplomas. Maybe students shouldn’t be expressing themselves at these shows. We’re just university students at academic institutions being taught critical thinking. When the mics are opened, it takes time, people get bored, and when they get bored, they leave. After you’ve watched four middle aged men (the People’s Alliance candidate was younger) say the words ‘accessible’ and ‘jobs’ as many times as they can, hearing students rattle on at a mic is the most disappointing performance.
It’s best to leave us sitting quietly in the audience. To open an event based on our input, you might have to get a larger auditorium. You’ll probably need to make the evening longer than one hour. There’s even a chance the people on the stage might get uncomfortable. If we based events on student voice, the PC or Liberal government that gets elected (because if we think the NDP will get in on youth vote, we are vastly underestimating the number of boomers in NB) might feel like they are forced to eliminate interest on student loans. We can’t count on our ballot, we need to establish our voice. With a voice, the government would have to start taking us seriously. And for the government, that would be the worst.
There is a reality that has remained true: when people put themselves together in a mass and challenge the status quo, governments are unable to refuse their political voice. This has even happened at UNB in the past. Research the STRAX affair. However, the current generation in NB doesn’t often show up in huge numbers. You’ve heard the phrase: we’re apathetic. That apathy is perpetuated by the way events like the NBSA forum are organized. At these events, when we are able to ask questions, it’s like a cute little act we put on.
It wasn’t only students missing. AUNBT, the faculty union, was nowhere to be seen in any official capacity. As someone who aligned with the Union through the strike and still does, I learned that the foundational motive they sought to communicate was that the professor’s struggle was the student’s struggle. That we are on the same side, fighting for the same integrity of education, battling to have our shared space in the university recognized and respected. So, why wasn’t AUNBT officially represented to add their experience and support?
Imagine if just half of the student population showed up alongside half of the Union membership. Then, it wouldn’t be long before we saw interest-free loans which are already given to homeowners and business. Students’ mental health would be addressed in a meaningful and productive way. If that happened, we might even have a province where half the population wasn’t functionally illiterate.
There is a problem on all sides. We are in dire need of a cultural shift in how we act within the institutions we create. The student body, AUNBT, and the NBSA have all shirked some responsibility. The whole situation leaves me with a single question: why don’t you give a shit?