The problem with having no problems

You’ve heard about student apathy before — perhaps even here in The Cord.

Graphic by Joshua Awolade
Graphic by Joshua Awolade

You’ve heard about student apathy before — perhaps even here in The Cord. Nonetheless, student apathy is at an all-time high. Voter turnout is low — abysmal, even.

Some may think, “What does it matter?” Students aren’t engaged and it’s always been that way.

Apathy causes a huge problem for student associations. As a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University and a previous Graduate Student Association executive, I’m fed up with how no one is fed up with the GSA — and if you are, you sure are quiet.

In my past role as vice-president of finance and administration, I focused on feedback and transparency. Specifically, I tried engaging students with Transparent Thursday posts about our budget, which led to some change — but not enough.

Annually, each full-time graduate student pays the GSA $239.82 and part-time graduate students pay $162.40 for membership. The GSA has a population of about 1,500 students with 40 per cent being part-timers. This gives the GSA a budget of about $310,000.

The GSA is a service provider that serves the same group that has decision-making power. As constituents of the GSA, members presumably benefit from the association and are able to participate in it.

The operations team executes events, implements policies and advocates for our needs.

The operations team is led by the strategic decisions of the board of directors, who ensure the organization is doing what is best for members. Finally, the board reports to the members.

I believe most graduate students don’t understand how much weight their voice carries and may feel they cannot change how the GSA operates.

However the complete opposite is true — members have the ultimate decision making authority.

Although I believe the GSA is doing poorly on a general level, student apathy remains its core problem.

Filling positions was difficult for the 2014-2015 school year, with an acclaimed president and difficulty filling executive support positions.

Now, for the 2015-2016 school year there is once again an acclaimed president and I can only imagine hiring for other positions has been tough.

Even with the board there were acclamations for the present and past year terms. Why this lack of interest? You guessed it: student apathy.

Whether it is because students are not well informed or engaged, they either don’t know what the GSA is or don’t care about it enough to become interested.

This is extremely problematic, as the students who care can do as they please without consequences because many of those who would normally hold them accountable don’t care what happens.

Things like unfair compensation can occur. A large project that is good in theory could be undertaken, but if there’s no interest from students, it quickly becomes a waste of student funds.

How does the GSA know what the membership wants if the membership doesn’t care? Programs will be developed frequently, but oftentimes, entire programs will be disregarded due to little involvement.

Members don’t know whether the GSA is spending student fees appropriately.

The only reason the staffing compensation piece was changed was due to transparency.

I’d argue listening to members was one of the largest accomplishments of the operations team this year. Who is responsible for the GSA not meeting your needs? You are.

By not taking the time to understand the power your voice has, you have let it slip by the wayside. If you’re not happy with the way something is being done, you’re probably not the only one.

With five per cent of the student membership a referendum question can be called for anything. Do you think teaching assistants should be unionized so we’re compensated at least somewhat equitably to Teaching Assistants at other institutions? What if volunteers largely ran the GSA? Don’t think the GSA does enough? Call them on either their lack of effort or lack of communication.

If you speak up instead of muttering to yourself and others in your program, you could ensure you’re actually getting something from the GSA.

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