I’ve never taken much time to challenge the UNB Student Union. Really, it’s been a good year for them. The law school fiasco is about the only wild crisis that immediately comes to mind. Sadly, I am not going to start bashing them now.
For the record, though, I think the poster thing was a little bit silly. Posters aside, it’s been a pretty straightforward year. Most weeks I peruse through the SU minutes, and honestly, they’re boring. Definitely not of the calibre of this time last year with the strike.
And that’s alright. The SU isn’t there to provide a landscape for student drama, a platform for fame. The SU is there to provide students with vital services. It’s there to make students’ lives easier. Whether that’s SafeRide or providing oversight and offering resources to clubs and societies, the SU is there to do whatever it can with its budget.
I know I’ve said this before, but I am going to say it again: the SU works their asses off for a mostly ungrateful campus. Turnout for voting is meagre, typically below 20 per cent. In most countries, that’s not even enough to establish a government.
Every undergraduate student pays $57.50 per semester for the services of the SU. That’s nearly $120 a year. As a student you don’t only have a right, but an obligation to get out and vote and make sure that your $120 is properly used.
This year’s election is quite different from those of the past: there is more than one person running for president. You have more than one option on your ballet. While this isn’t true for some councillor positions, those running uncontested don’t automatically get the position. Rather, you also get the option of a no vote.
And yes, Student Union politics isn’t the most exciting thing. Going to the open forum isn’t a thrill. Reading the platforms of various candidates is not my idea of a Friday night. I hate to break the dream, but a lot of things are damn boring. That doesn’t matter; we still have an implicit obligation to do it.
Let me backtrack for a minute. It isn’t just a generally ungrateful student body that is the problem. It’s a persistent problem in student politics everywhere. Candidates need to work harder to reach out to students. I know that they try, but every year it always seems like the exact same things happen. In my memory, it seems like candidates keep using the same techniques and ideas over and over. If an idea doesn’t work 20 times in a row, stop using it.
The public forum is an obvious thing. Each year that I can remember, those running for executive positions get corralled into the SUB where they awkwardly sit and get asked questions by a moderator. Every year, it always seems like it’s the Bruns and maybe a couple of annoying and too frequently outspoken students show up and rail off some questions.
There has to be better ways to engage students. It’s just going to take some more creativity. Some imagination. We’re a fickle generation, but we’re also not a dumb one. We’re not an especially engaged generation, but we give a shit about certain things. It’s not so much that we’re lazy as we are not being engaged. We are often made to feel like our opinions aren’t overly vital or important.
Our opinions are extremely important. We are the ones who will be getting New Brunswick out of its despotic financial hole. It is our generation that will tackle the challenge of climate change and renewable energy. It’s us who will go on to see someone walk on Mars and figure out how to make the perfect iPhone.
Engagement isn’t a chosen skill; it’s a cultivated one. We learn how to engage, be critical, and produce opinions. The university is a space where we can do those things safely in an environment that will encourage us and correct us and help us develop. If you’re not learning to engage in university, I don’t feel confident that you ever will.
So, the open forum probably is going to go ahead. Go out to it. Get a question for the presidential candidates ready. Bring up something you’d like to see happen at our university. Suggest ways campus life could be improved. Ask for new services to be instituted to make your life easier. These people, whoever you choose, will be working for you. That’s their chief end. To serve the student body. Give them the chance to do it.
Everything’s online. You don’t have to go anywhere. It is literally one of the simplest things to go online and vote in the SU election. What’s your excuse not to? Whatever it is, it’s not good enough.