wMany Welcome Week representatives will do anything for a donation in their faculty’s name towards Shinerama. Typical activities include selling popsicles in the sweltering heat, a song or dance to entertain a Hamiltonian doing their groceries or even a back massage to a tired fellow-rep.
Shinerama is the annual campaign many Canadian universities fundraise for during their Welcome Weeks, with the money ultimately going to Cystic Fibrosis Canada
But while most of these creative fundraising techniques are sanctioned by the university, provided the person solicited for the donation provides consent, one common fundraising technique involving alcohol expressly forbidden by the university has been driven underground.
Shinerama Keggers are a lucrative enterprise. For a small entry fee (usually $5-$10 dollars) student houses provide unlimited beer from a keg until it runs out, or the police come to shut it down due to noise complaints or public drunkenness.
These events are promoted through Facebook, or more covertly through text or word-of-mouth of the address where it will be held.
I thought about writing a news article on this phenomenon, reporting on specific Shinerama Keggers held by specific faculties that friends or I have attended. But pinpointing any one faculty would be unfair. This practice is widespread among all faculties, it’s been normalized in university culture, despite attempts by the Student Success Centre to emphasize safe alcohol consumption.
I’m not here to be a party pooper. In fact, for some people parties are an integral part of feeling welcomed into the McMaster community. But Shinerama Keggers are not the way to go about this and are problematic in several ways.
Firstly, while the primary audience is usually faculty Welcome Week representatives (especially for the Shinerama Keggers that happen in the summer), it is not uncommon to hear of first years being invited to the ones that happen during Welcome Week. This contributes to constructing partying and binge drinking as a necessary part of the university social experience, which it isn’t.
Such events are also explicitly forbidden, meaning organizers go to extreme lengths to conceal them. Shinerama Keggers are sometimes referred to as “Apple Juice Parties” or “Charity Keggers” in order to have no official association with Shinerama fundraising. It is kind of ridiculous that mature university students feel that they have to host an “Apple Juice Party” in order to raise donations to compete for Faculty Cup glory that is quickly forgotten.
Finally, the irony of fundraising for a health cause, Cystic Fibrosis Canada, by profiting from selling alcohol is rich. Proponents of Shinerama may argue the ultimate goal of raising money for Cystic Fibrosis research justifies the means but many have questioned whether fundraising should even go to CFC or whether it could be more effectively directed.
I’m hoping this article will spark an open discussion on the extreme lengths students feel compelled to go to in order to raise money for Shinerama. Although this practice may gradually cease as university Welcome Weeks are increasingly scrutinized, they might also be simply pushed further underground.
It took 22 hours for the Student Representative Assembly to elect this year’s MSU vice-presidents– a meeting that might not happen next year if some students have their way.
Though there is almost unanimous consensus that the VP electoral system is flawed, exactly how the system should be reformed is a divisive topic that led to the creation of a VP Electoral Reform Ad Hoc committee.
“The way VPs are elected at the moment needs to change,” said Ehima Osazuwa, MSU President. But whether that change should be determined by a small committee of student leaders or go directly to referendum will be decided by the ad hoc committee.
A surprise motion was brought forward by SRA Social Science Representative Eric Gillis at the General Assembly on March 23, 2015 to hold a referendum for students to decide whether or not they want to elect the Vice Presidents, or want the SRA to continue to elect them. Although this motion passed, there were not enough people for quorum to be reached, meaning the SRA has the discretion to vote on it.
26 days after General Assembly, and a day before the vote on whether or not to have a referendum was held, the Speaker of the SRA ruled this motion out of order in a last minute email sent to SRA members. A Facebook event aiming to engage students at this meeting hosted public outcry and claims of a deliberate attempt to prevent the vote from happening.
Instead, the SRA passed a motion to create an ad hoc VP reform committee which will recommend what the SRA will vote on in Fall 2015. “Talking to a lot of SRA members they were either not comfortable performing the vote or they did not want the vote to happen at all.” said Shaarujaa Nadarajah, SRA member and member of the committee. She explained that SRA members were uncomfortable with voting on a referendum without the nuances of how the referendum would be framed.
The official document states “the recommendations shall include a formal proposal for a referendum, with an official breakdown of ballot options.”
The first meeting will be on June 7 at 2 p.m. in the MSU Boardroom and anyone interested is welcome to attend, although the Speaker and Chair of the committee, Inna Berditchevskaia, asks interested students to arrive five minutes early.
Osazuwa describes the purpose of the committee to elaborate on what options a potential referendum should include. “[The purpose is] to give students choices, because the current motion put forward didn’t have any choices,” said Osazuwa.
"I joined [the committee] because I was frustrated throughout this entire movement that people were making these sweeping generalizations about what students wanted" - Connor McGee, MSU committee member
Although, Osazuwa admitted that whether or not this referendum will happen is still unclear.
“The job of the committee is to decide whether it should go to referendum or not,” said Osazuwa.
“If students want it to go to referendum then it should go to referendum.” When asked if he anticipates students will want a referendum, he said yes.
However, critics of the committee wonder whether it is representative of the student body or simply of the “MSU bubble”.
“The committee is open to every single person so anyone can come” said Osazuwa. He says it’s important to represent the 22,000+ members of McMaster.
Others question whether the students at GA and those involved in the public outcry were representative of the student body. “I joined [the committee] because I was frustrated throughout this entire movement that people were making these sweeping generalizations about what students wanted,” said Connor McGee, MSU member on the committee.
The committee was selected during exam time and the MSU members on the committee were all acclaimed. It has been brought up that maybe because it fell during the exam period, it was difficult for students to come out to SRA meetings.
“People could have made themselves available and been nominated beforehand or have their speech read,” said McGee.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the MSU bubble representing itself,” said McGee. He also says there might be a self-selection bias in who joins the committee. “In a lot of cases it makes sense that an SRA member, or former SRA member or someone like that, would have an interest and more thorough understanding of what the position entails.”
A separate criticism is that this committee is redundant with work that has been done before.
“The committee itself, I understand why it was struck, but honestly, the democratic reform committee has existed in 2012 and 2013 from my understanding and did similar research to this committee, so I don’t think it will come up with anything new” said Sara Jama, SRA member on the committee.
The committee and its research will certainly contribute to the discussion on electoral reform and how students perceive the MSU. “Beyond VPs this is also a great opportunity to talk to students about the MSU,” said McGee.
However, it remains to be seen whether this committee will serve to perpetuate the status quo or create meaningful change.
Given the divisive nature of the topic, it is also unclear whether it will be productive.
“If someone’s personal bias does start to get in the way, I think that would obviously jeopardize the findings and entire point and integrity of having this ad-hoc committee. So in that case, I think it’s safe to say some kind of action would be taken,” said McGee. “There’s no point in having a committee if you’re purposely going to skew the results.”
“I see it as a stalling mechanism, but hopefully good discussion will come out of the committee itself,” said Jama.
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It’s the time of year when the tables are turned and students are asked to evaluate professors.
But what many students don’t know is just how important course evaluations are at McMaster. The Silhouette investigated the complex world of course evaluations, including the research showing systemic gender bias by students in general and some of the big changes coming including the publication of course evaluations results on the student portal in Mosaic.
McMaster is unique in many ways that don’t make university rankings.
Our faculty is non-unionized, meaning faculty are represented through the McMaster University Faculty Association.
Our institution also prides itself on its investment in teaching and learning.
McMaster’s commitment to teaching has been reinforced with the Strategic Mandate Agreement and Patrick Deane’s letter to the community, Forward with Integrity.
“I think [the SMA and FWI highlighting the importance of teaching] is sending a message to the community, which I think Patrick probably intended to do, to students that teaching is important to us and that they’re important and we take them seriously. It’s also a message to professors that the university takes teaching seriously,” said Rafael Kleiman, president of MUFA.
One way this commitment to teaching manifests is in the weight accorded to teaching evaluation. Teaching evaluation is comprised of peer evaluation and student evaluation.
As the policy on assessment of teaching outlines, factors range from teaching awards given to answers to feedback surveys.
One example of these is the teaching awards by the McMaster Student Union.
“The way teaching awards work is that you nominate your professor and once we receive an ‘x’ number of nominations it triggers an evaluation in that class, and that’s the score we use to consider who gets the award,” said Mina Karabit, coordinator of the MSU Teaching Awards Committee 2014-2015.
Both the Teaching Awards Committee and the student evaluation of professors face the same problem: participation rates.
For course evaluations, student participation rates have been extremely low since McMaster switched from paper to online evaluations.
The Teaching Awards Committee experienced a similar problem when they piloted an online only model for evaluations of teaching assistants.
When they go to classes with paper forms, they usually receive a 100 percent response rate. However, when they tried doing this online, one tutorial only had a 22.5 percent response rate.
However, Karabit acknowledges the many advantages of online evaluations. “There’s so many advantages to putting it online, it takes less time and you can do a lot more analytic stuff with the data a lot faster.”
Given the weight of teaching evaluations in tenure, promotion, and salary, the low response rate is concerning.
“One of the biggest concerns that faculty see is the low response rate,” said Kleiman. “If the response rate is low, it’s hard to know if it’s representative.”
Karabit says if reviews were done midterm, like some professors currently do, students might be more engaged.
“I’ve had a couple of courses where profs are now introducing their own version of online evaluations halfway through the term, as a means to gauge how the first half went and then changing it up for the second half if need be, or if the evals say everything is great then keep going. That’s just a professor-driven incentive, but it was really cool because at that point I think the class was more engaged because we felt we could actually make a possible change for the second half and the professor actually cares.”
Given the low response rate, it is unsurprising that the Provost has struck a teaching evaluation committee, led by the AVP Faculty Susan Searls-Giroux. MSU VP Education Rodrigo Narro Perez represents students on this committee, and the incoming VP Education will replace him in the spring.
Among many questions, the committee is examining the gendered bias that has been documented in the literature.
Studies have shown that female professors are ranked more harshly by students than their male counterparts.
Lilian MacNell is one of the researchers of a study from the University of North Carolina that showed when male and female profs lied about their gender in a course they taught online, students would mark them lower when they presented themselves as female.
“I think really the most important thing to take away from [my research] is that if you are considering these evaluations at your university, as you mentioned at your university they are really important, I think keeping that in mind from the administrative perspective is more important than for the instructors. I think if you ask female professors, if they ask themselves ‘what can I do to solve this?’ or ‘what can I do to overcome this?’ I think that’s… putting the solution on them when they aren’t the cause of the problem,” said MacNell.
Another study of RateMyProfessor.com also showed that female professors tend to be marked on more superficial criteria than their male colleagues.
“There are lots of variables that influence evaluations—the kind of course it is. Students favour lab experiences over lecture, for example. But yes, the literature does suggest that there is a ‘tax’ if you will for those faculty who deviate—in physical appearance—from dominant representations of cultural authority, which is still white and male,” said Susan Searls-Giroux, AVP Faculty, who chairs the committee examining evaluation of teaching.
This data leads some to ask whether course evaluations are given too much weight or whether the data should be adjusted.
Regardless of how this problem is addressed, there will be more transparency with the move to Mosaic as some answers to course evaluation questions will be published through the student portal.
“Typically the overall question that is asked to each student, that we are mandated by Senate policy to ask each student, is ‘overall what is your opinion of the effectiveness of this instructor’, and I believe the statistical data that comes from this question will be available to students,” explained John Bell, IT director in the Faculty of Humanities.
“We were involved in updating and upgrading that policy, mostly that was just to have it posted on the Internet instead of the library, so it would be much more accessible,” said Kleiman.
“We’ve heard though that as much as that happens, previously they weren’t accessed very much—we’d actually like them to be, I think there’d be a lot more conversation if they were accessed more and there’d be a lot more conversation about how they are being used and we could participate in that.”
Overall, students should realize how seriously course evaluations are taken.
“We take those evaluations seriously, they’re used throughout all of our processes, and the students have more influence than they might think. But they can only have that influence if they exercise it through these mechanisms,” said Kleiman.
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MSU President Teddy Saull has had a rollercoaster of a year.
Of Saull’s 14 projects, among the most awaited is the Peer Tutoring Network, which will be ready for a soft launch in May.
Off-campus safety was a platform point that Saull campaigned on in the 2013 election. In an attempt to improve the security of the areas around McMaster, Saull conducted a safety audit and is working with the City of Hamilton to make student well-being a priority.
Saull has also been working on several projects behind the scenes. One important example is the committee reviewing the university’s discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment policy.
And of course, Saull is still working on his most famous project: the year-end celebration.
“[It] was a lot of work leading up to it to get us to a place where we…felt comfortable and our staff on the back-end felt like it was something they could and wanted to pull off,” said Saull. “I try to keep the vision alive, but really the planning and all of the hard work is happening with our full-time staff and our campus partners.”
Though he has creative ideas, Saull was rated lowest on communication abilities in the November report card. Since then he has made modest strides; he continues to spend time with a whiteboard in the student centre to solicit students’ opinions, but has yet to re-activate his Facebook page.
“Overall I think year-end celebration has, as a whole, every piece of it from start to finish, has elevated the status of the MSU in people’s lives,” said Saull. “I think that has been an immense success with just getting people to think about what the MSU is doing.”
- Peer Tutor Network
- Review of the university’s discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment policy
- Increased Frost Week funds
- LINK conference
- Exam upgrades
- MUSC upgrades
- Off-campus safety audit
- SLEF promotion
- Perspectives on peace
- Year-end celebration
Jacob Brodka, MSU VP Administration, faced the most criticism in the November report card. Since then, he has been working to fulfill his platform points and turn things around.
A success this term is the ratification of the Women and Gender Equity Network. However, Brodka has still not managed to find a permanent space for WGEN.
Brodka has also instituted a new element of the Peer Support Line: text-based peer support. He has also begun the sustainability audit, although it has yet to be completed.
One criticism of Brodka from part-time managers in the last report card was his lack of communication.
Second term, Brodka says he’s improved.
“I have been very transparent in all discussions related to projects of student interest and actively worked to invite student feedback by holding office hours, online engagement, etc.”
However, even after The Silhouette highlighted Brodka’s failure to facilitate year plans for part-time managers, it has still not been done. Similarily, a sustainability audit that had been delayed when The Silhouette checked in November is currently in progress but has yet to be completed.
Overall, while Brodka has certainly improved in taking initiative since first term, he has room to improve in fulfilling his responsibilities before the end of his term.
- State of the Union
- Text-based Peer Support
- McMaster Student Leadership Conference
- Re-allocation of Welcome Week levy
- Hired 2015-2016 part-time managers
- Review and ratification of Spark and WGEN
- Supported investigation of need for an Abilities Service
- Change Camp Hamilton
In The Silhouette’s November report card, Mallon scored well on fulfilling his role, but low on keeping on time with his platform point projects.
Second term, Mallon focused his energy on changing the Welcome Week levy and creating an operating reserve to help the MSU survive future crises.
“We finalized the Welcome Week levy and faculty societies are getting an extra five percent. That’s a huge – that’s a 50 percent increase over what they got last year,” said Mallon. “That came out of SWAG from Welcome Week.” Students will now receive only the two t-shirts for welcome week, and will no longer get a laundry bag, umbrella, or pen.
Another addition to Welcome Week is new programming that addresses several issues relevant to students including substance abuse, gender violence, and mental health.
Mallon has also been working on setting up an operating fund for the MSU.
“[The reserve is] to make sure that if we ever fall on financial troubles we have money in there to make sure that services don’t get cut,” said Mallon. The fund can also be used to make a large purchase or expand programming.
When Mallon was asked about student engagement, he cited his active social media presence and open door policy as ways he increases communication with students.
“I always have the door open – I interact a lot more with part-time managers and people that are involved,” he said, “But there is the odd student that reaches out and wants to talk about where their dollars go,” he said.
Scott Mallon flies under the radar with many of his financial responsibilities being behind the scenes, but students will feel the effects of his work in the future.
- Re-allocation of Welcome Week levy
- New programming for Welcome Week including topics such as gender violence and mental health
- Creating operating reserve for MSU
- Negotiating with university to make Mac Farmstand sustainable
Rodrigo Narro Perez, MSU VP Education scored highest on The Silhouette’s report card. In second term he has continued this effort through municipal lobbying, improving the learning portfolio, and working with the university to develop the mental health strategy. He also completed a report on the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and recommended that the MSU leave CASA, which ultimately passed at the Student Representative Assembly.
One project is only partially completed, a database of courses called the “Course Wiki”. The wiki is active on the MSU’s website, but does not contain any comments.
Another project Narro Perez worked on this semester is improving support for teaching assistants, starting with the Faculty of Science.
“The Dean [of Science] is actually creating a culture shift – professors need to be a little bit more accountable to their TAs,” he said.
Narro Perez has continued to communicate clearly and engage the student body. Several initiatives include hosting the Ontario University Student Association General Assembly, creating a new part-time community engagement coordinator position, and running the Change Camp event with Brodka.
“We were second trending in Hamilton [on Twitter] that night.”
Even into the second term, Narro Perez continues to fulfill the VP Education role through advocacy, events, and community engagement.
- Assistance with launch of mental health strategy
- CASA report and recommendation
- Course Wiki
- Change Champ Hamilton
- Increased TA support
- Hosted OUSA General Assembly
- Municipal lobbying
- New part-time position called Community Engagement Coordinator
It’s never popular to suggest cutting services that anyone is invested in. So it’s unsurprising that the McMaster Student Union tends to add services rather than reduce them. However, although we have a growing student body with diverse needs, because of politics, we also have a redundant service situation.
The distinction between which issues receive an entire service and which ones are bunched together is haphazard. Why are aboriginal students, racialized students, and students with disabilities all lumped together under the one umbrella of Diversity Services? By contrast, three different leadership-oriented services (CLAY, Horizons, and Spark) each have their own unit and own part-time manager. I’m not saying either perspective is right or wrong, it just seems like the distinction is completely arbitrary.
Similarly, why do Shinerama and Terry Fox have entire services dedicated to their fundraising, when a plethora of other diseases and charitable causes are relegated to club status?
Some services should obviously fall under the mandate of the university. For example, the Teaching Awards Committee must be comprised of neutral, objective representatives of the MSU and oversight by the VP Admin and Services Commissioner makes sense. However, the reason why some services exist as services and not clubs is less clear.
Another question that should be asked is why we have so many more services than other universities of a comparable size.
This problem of historical institutionalism is studied in political science—it’s not new. This is epitomized by the yearly ritual of the token question asked to prospective VPs Administration during Vice-Presidential elections: “which service would you cut?”
Candidates have to answer strategically without isolating potential voters. Each year, one or two candidates actually suggest a specific service to cut, which generates drama, while others skirt around the question. The candidates have to ask themselves: which SRA members are tied to which services? Which answer would upset the fewest people?
Notably, the questions asked are not which services benefit students, or if not provided by the student union, which services would otherwise not exist?
The solution isn’t to necessarily cut excess services, but some services could be amalgamated and other services should be broken up into multiple services.
For example, both the Peer Support Line and SHEC offer peer support—there must be a way to reduce the redundancy of this overlap.
Other services like Marmor, the yearbook, which many students haven’t even heard of, should probably be abandoned.
Rarely do we ask tough questions about the services we’ve institutionalized a long time ago.
By contrast, adding new services as long as it’s on a trendy topic is a breeze.
When an issue becomes politically popular, a service is quickly conjured up by an eager leader. Sexual assault and gender-based discrimination have been around on campuses forever, and yet only now that it has become an issue popularized by the media did the SRA vote to create the Women and Gender Equity Network with almost no discussion prior to the final vote.
So I encourage the incoming Board of Directors to ask some tough questions. Why are certain services not clubs? Do we need to make a new service every time we have a new issue? What is the opportunity cost of an MSU so focused on student services? At the same time, why are certain causes lumped together when they cover very different issues? We need to look at the big picture and take a long-term approach.
Otherwise we risk continuing the status quo of a lack of critical thinking around why certain services exist.
A controversial, unexpected motion proposing the election of Vice Presidents by the student body passed at this year’s general assembly. Though the majority of students in attendance voted yes, the motion is non-binding as quorum had been lost when the vote took place. The final vote count was 500 in favour, 14 opposed, and 83 abstaining.
This means the SRA will have further discussion on whether the MSU Constitution should be amended so that all students vote for vice-presidents. Currently, each of the three VPs (Education, Finance, and Administration) earn their positions through a vote in April by the newly elected SRA.
The motion was put forward by Eric Gillis, SRA Social Science, was for the MSU Vice-Presidents to be elected by the general student body.
“Currently students have no direct say,” Gillis told the assembly. “Instead, the SRA, a small body of about 30 students, decides who they will be. That needs to change.”
A friendly amendment was then added for the motion to instead call for a referendum on whether Vice-Presidents should be elected by the SRA or by students at large.
It was clear that the motion was controversial with many SRA members and MSU members who were not present at the meeting, many of whom expressed their dismay on Twitter.
— Mike Gill (@MiikeGill) March 23, 2015
— Matt Clarke (@mattmclarke) March 23, 2015
Jacob Brodka, current Vice-President Administration, was one of few people in the room who voted against the motion. “I voted against it because I didn’t think it was appropriate to first, introduce a surprise motion like this that has a fairly big impact on the organization without any prior information and have no discussion,” He was particularly concerned the vote was called to question before any discussion happened. Other members of the Board of Directors expressed similar sentiments.
Not allowing students to discuss an important topic such as VP elections is not democratic at all. Silencing students =/= integrity
— Rodrigo Narro Perez (@RodrigoNarro) March 23, 2015
Incoming MSU President Ehima Osazuwa, set to start his term on May 1, disagreed.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in the SRA discussing whether we should send the procedure of how VP's are elected to a referendum. #McSU
— Ehima Osazuwa (@Ehimaa) March 23, 2015
“I just think there’s an appropriate avenue for thoughtful discussion for things like that, the basis of democracy is educating the membership and allowing them to make an informed vote,” said Brodka. Miranda Clayton, 2015-2016 SRA Science, seconded the motion. “When I was an MSU member, as an MSU I had no say in who my VPs were. If you look at this way, there’s one president and three VPs, and together the three VPs probably make more important decisions than the President does but I have no say in who those people are,” said Clayton.
Criticize away, trying to get students a say in deciding whether or not they should elect VPs is not something I will be ashamed of. #McSU
— Eric Gillis (@ericgillis) March 23, 2015
“I remember watching the livestream as an MSU member and just feeling angry, because there’s people talking but there’s no alley for me to put in my comments and actually have a say, it made me feel very powerless as an MSU member,” said Clayton.
She said that people are very misinformed, which is why we need to have a referendum to engage everyone in the conversation.
“It should be put out to the MSU body at large,” said Clayton.
Brodka anticipates a productive discussion at SRA.
“So this will go to the SRA and hopefully there will be more thoughtful discussion happening there,” he said.
When asked whether the diversity of the BoD in terms of gender and race would increase with reform, Gillis said “I sure hope so.”
Although many in attendance were impressed with the improvements from last year’s General Assembly, the fact that there was no discussion on this issue led some to question whether General Assembly itself needs to be changed to be more conducive to constructive discussion.
“I think we need more time to discuss things like this at General Assembly” said Osazuwa.
On March 22, your Student Representative Assembly will decide whether or not to abandon associate membership status in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
Although federal politics often seems like an abstract topic of no immediate relevance, in fact, student lobbying at a federal level can impact university funding, student financial aid, access to post-secondary education for aboriginal and international students, and a plethora of issues beyond student life.
The SRA’s vote might not affect you in an obvious way, but it will have a drastic effect on the MSU’s ability to make a national influence.
CASA may seem like another acronym for an arbitrary organization that receives an insignificant portion of your student fee. But it is actually a huge federal lobbying organization made up of 22 student associations that include over 300,000 post-secondary students.
Since 2011, the McMaster Student Union has been a full member of CASA, meaning we have been able to send delegates to take part in General Assemblies, and we have paid membership fees totaling $2.40 per student. However, last year the MSU switched to associate member.
Jon Champagne, executive director of CASA, says there are many benefits of being a full member for McMaster students.
“CASA provides a venue whereby the MSU has the ability to set national priorities for students across Canada,” said Champagne.
CASA also provides resources to the MSU on policy issues and election campaign promotion materials.
“Another area is… that we are the eyes and ears of students in Ottawa,” said Champagne. He explained that CASA played a role in ensuring McMaster was able to secure on-campus polling booths for the upcoming federal election.
Federal advocacy (along with provincial advocacy) falls under the portfolio of Vice President (Education) of the MSU. The Silhouette caught up with the past four VPs to get their perspective on this decision.
“My year as VP Ed was our first year as full members… in my experience the amount of money students pay for CASA is not worth what we are getting back in terms of dividends,” said Alicia Ali, VP (Education) 2011-2012.
The recommendation of the current Board of Directors to the SRA is to abandon associate membership status, but to stay affiliated as observers.
“When you’re an observer you don’t have a say in any of the directions the organization has, but you are able to participate in some conferences and do some advocacy,” said Rodrigo Narro Perez, the current VP education.
“The concept of observer within CASA is not actually a formal status of membership,” said Champagne. “Based on historical practice within CASA, a member that has left CASA typically has not come back as observer.”
Narro Perez ultimately believes CASA is the best long-term option, but right now we need to leave to send a message.
“I do think that what we’re saying is that we’re on a break, very à la Ross and Rachel. You need to listen to what we’re saying, we have faith, you have done things. We’ve listed some of the changes.” said Narro Perez.
Maintaining some sort of federal presence is important for McMaster University.
Federal government decisions are particularly important for First Nation, Inuit, Metis and international students.
“The MSU always said that students come first and everything else comes after, so SRA members have to mind their rationalization for what they would say to a hypothetical international student or aboriginal student—those are two underrepresented groups on campus that can only be represented at a federal level, so if the MSU does not have any representation or advocacy happening, how are they representing those students?” said Huzaifa Saeed, VP (Education) 2012-2013.
The criticisms of CASA by MSU members focus on two specific areas; the price of membership and the degree of influence the MSU is able to have relative to other schools.
The latter stems from the voting structure. CASA has 22 member schools, each with one vote. So despite McMaster’s student population being significantly larger than many other schools, as students we have a per capita smaller influence.
“The biggest problem with CASA… is that you have schools from coast to coast with very different interests,” said Ali. “The interests of a small school in New Brunswick are very different than a very large school in Ontario. It’s very hard to come to consensus to make sure everyone is getting what they want.”
The second criticism from the current BOD is the price of membership. Ali agrees.
“In terms of the amount of money that students were paying when I was a part of the MSU, I couldn’t see the value,” she said.
“We pay almost 10 percent of the fees compared to everyone but we only have 1 out of 22 schools’ vote,” said Osazuwa.
In total, if the MSU were to pursue full membership, we would pay $51,525, which is a smaller amount than what we historically have paid to OUSA.
The recommendation from the BOD to leave CASA stems from the need to make it clear these reforms are necessary for the MSU to contribute to CASA.
“Throughout the SRA meeting, throughout the report, we’re saying that CASA is an organization that is a good one in terms of federal advocacy, it’s just that right now they are not listening to some of the concerns that the MSU has in terms of the fee that we pay for the services that we get in comparison to other smaller schools that belong to CASA,” said Narro Perez.
However, some past VPs (Education) don’t share this concern.
“It seems that this year’s assembly is focused on a fee for service model, but the reality of external advocacy is a lot different than that. It’s hard to describe the service that you get for paying the fee. It is hard to quantify,” said Spencer Graham, VP (Education) 2013-2014.
Saeed, Graham’s predecessor, agrees. “In my years, the fee structure was never an issue because we just saw that as the price of advocacy.”
The arguments in favour of remaining with CASA emphasize the lack of viable alternatives and the support CASA would provide for promoting the upcoming federal election.
In 2011, when there was both a provincial and federal election, CASA’s support was a major asset.
“We were really helped by out CASA and [the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance] in 2011, the material that they gave us. From an economics perspective the cost savings are immense, because they can work on the website, they can work on the platform, they can work on all the handouts that you need,” said Saeed.
“Not being a member of any federal advocacy group is not something that I would like to see long term,” said Graham. “We have a lot of students… and I don’t think it’d be fair to them that we’re not engaging at the federal level as meaningfully as we could be.”
However, Ali thinks provincial lobbying is far more important than federal lobbying.
“Our resources are best placed, I think, with the province and that would be through OUSA,” said Ali.
But the SRA does not need to choose between provincial or federal lobbying; most schools do both.
If the MSU leaves CASA, we would have to decide whether it is okay to not be in any federal lobbying group or perhaps consider an alternative organization, like the Canadian Federation of Students.
But there is unanimous consensus among the past VP educations that The Silhouette talked to that CFS is not a desirable option.
“[CFS] is a road I don’t think the MSU needs to be going down. For a number of reasons, they violate student autonomy, they come to campuses uninvited,” said Graham.
CFS would also be a more expensive option compared to CASA.
However, the president-elect of the MSU and current SRA engineering representative Ehima Osazuwa says it is an option that should at least be considered.
“We shouldn’t shy away from having a discussion about CFS,” he said.
Meanwhile, although Narro Perez is recommending the SRA leave associate membership to simply become observers, he still thinks that long-term, CASA is the best option for the MSU.
“That would be the hope, that in one year [we would rejoin CASA], that [CASA] are willing to take us seriously,” said Narro Perez.
Another option is doing federal advocacy without being a part of a larger organization.
“I know in the past I’ve heard about people doing individual lobbying, so essentially as a student union booking a week to go to Ottawa, set up meetings with MPs, with Minister’s offices, with Canada Student Loans and lobby for the special interest of your university,” said Ali.
This debate also speaks to the bigger issue of how much advocacy the MSU should be doing.
“The MSU, by my understanding, actually has the most number of services than any other student union that I’ve seen, and I think that leaves the advocacy work falling on just a few individuals,” said Graham. “If we want to see meaningful change from the university or the city of Hamilton or the province or the federal government, then we need to be better supporting our advocacy wing.”
Other schools prioritize advocacy to a degree that they have a full time position dedicated to lobbying.
“I’ve seen [other schools] do pretty well at the CASA table because their full-time delegates have been at the CASA table for six or seven years at least, so I think that for me moving in that direction where either you split the portfolio into the position of VP University Affairs and VP External and/or add a full time researcher would still allow us to be an active contributor at all three levels of government,” said Saeed.
Osazuwa is also a proponent of the idea of reshaping CASA through heavier MSU involvement.
“Maybe the MSU can take a leadership role in CASA and run for president… because CASA has more credibility than CFS and maybe we can set the direction for CASA,” said Osazuwa.
However, any such plan is limited by the advocacy resources of the MSU.
“It boils down to the bigger question of, is the [VP Education] something we can split into multiple roles, and that’s something I will definitely, definitely look into as President.”
In order to justify increased resources, the MSU will have to prioritize showing the unquantifiable benefits of advocacy.
“That’s probably the biggest problem, is that people aren’t able to see the value. If there was a more effective way for whoever is going to these conferences to come back and show value, that would be very different, and I think people would have a different perspective,” said Ali.
The SRA’s decision to stay or leave CASA might fly under the radar in the face of a new Board of Directors election. But students should engage with their representatives if they care about continuing to have their voice heard at the federal level.
Canadian universities are supposed to be diverse and inclusive.
But just a few weeks ago at Ryerson University, a student union vice-president candidate had his poster defaced with “ISIS for life” scribbled across.
This incident of religious discrimination is just one among many across North America, like Swastikas sprayed outside Jewish fraternity houses and shootings of Muslim students near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
It’s easy to be apathetic about these events as they seem to pass quickly through the news cycle, simply appearing as a blip on your Twitter feed, just another event happening over there, to other people.
But these events are symptomatic of a wider pattern of religious discrimination and xenophobia that also appears at McMaster. Although many of us may not even notice it, religious discrimination is embedded in our university.
The Silhouette talked to four students to better understand the lived reality of religious discrimination.
Although many of us take freedom from religious discrimination for granted, some students experience it so much that they almost become immune to it.
“As a Jewish person you kinda grow up used to it and you become immune to it,” said Sean Haber, a fourth-year student at McMaster and an active member of the Jewish community on campus.
“Thank god [anti-Semitism] here hasn’t reached the levels it has reached in Europe and some campuses in the states. There has been anti-Semitism on campus, in some ways it’s subtle, in some ways it’s a lack of the university trying to understand the needs of Jewish students,” said Haber.
This subtle discrimination is also a reality for Muslim students.
Sabeen Kazmi, a fourth-year student and active member of the Muslim community says up front personal discrimination is somewhat rare. “Overall generally in my day-to-day life, I don’t really feel like I’m being discriminated against because of my religion. For the most part people have been very interested in learning about me and my religion.”
But religious discrimination does not only manifest in person-to-person interactions; it is also woven in to our academic system.
“On an academic level I’ve seen a lot of content that’s been oppressive in many ways. A lot of times professors will teach you things that are not okay. And you can tell right away they don’t have a training that allows them to be anti-oppressive,” explained Kazmi.
“The content, and materials and courseware can sometimes also be very limiting and restrictive, and you don’t really find your own ethnic group represented adequately in most course wares.”
Discrimination can also manifest in the form of not accommodating religious holidays.
“There are accommodations to deal with exams if exams fall on the Sabbath or on holidays. A lot of time that goes teacher by teacher. I can tell you I almost failed first year chem because my midterm was on a holiday and at first he was going to make me just fail it, and after fighting with him for a long time he let me put [that percentage] on the exam,” said Haber.
The problem is that students don’t always feel comfortable reporting this.
“Generally students would kinda be hesitant to go to someone from administration because they’re worried about how it will be handled or if they’ll face repercussions, so they’ll generally come to us and we’ll try to talk to administration, so it’s just important for us to keep those avenues open,” said Ammar Ahmed, President of the McMaster Muslim Students Association.
When asked whether she feels comfortable on campus, Hayley Goldfarb, a third-year student and member of the Jewish community said, “in general yes [I feel comfortable] but there have been specific instances where I definitely didn’t feel comfortable clearly identifying as Jewish on campus, whether that be wearing a Star of David or wearing a shirt with any kind of symbolism on it.”
There is also variation in tolerance and understanding based on faculty.
“From one faculty to the next there might be some differences, because in social science people are more aware of racial discrimination and gender based discrimination,” said Kazmi.
Systemic discrimination also manifests in terms of fewer food options.
“[Kosher food options] are not good at all. There are a few kosher snack options on campus, and bridges has a kosher salad bar,” said Haber.
But although these students say more overt discrimination is rare, McMaster has not been completely exempt.
More intense anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have existed at McMaster, when triggered by specific events.
For instance, Kazmi, a peace activist, says in her role advocating for social change, people critique her because of her religion, rather than her ideas.
“That kind of hate has only happened when I’m in a very particular context at the university… For example, I would be called ignorant, ‘your people are barbaric and therefore I am barbaric too and I should just be thankful that I’m in Canada, and stop stirring up trouble.’ Those are very targeted in that they are talking about my identity as a Muslim and they are not criticizing what I’m advocating for.”
But Kazmi was quick to add that many activists face some kind of discrimination.
“This isn’t something that is unique to my experience as a Muslim woman. I think that most activists or people that are advocating for something out of the norm experience it too,” she said.
Discrimination being triggered by specific events or contexts is part of a wider pattern.
“A lot of anti-Israel action on campus will lead to the silencing bullying and harassment of Jewish students,” said Haber.
In particular, Jewish students experienced anti-Semitism in relation to the Boycott Divestment Sanction vote at last year’s MSU General Assembly.
“I received anti-Semitic messages because of my support for Israel, from strangers. One of them calling me Jewish scum or Zionist scum or something like that and it was all connected to the BDS vote,” said Haber. “That’s a pattern that you see not only at McMaster but at campuses around the world.”
Muslim students also face discrimination when advocating for peace.
“When I’m advocating for anti-war initiatives that’s when people have been really aggressive towards me, and I don’t know why, but somehow it just feels like when I turn on that identity of mine, I become a free target for all, to come and say whatever they want to me,” said Kazmi.
However, preventing discrimination does not mean that critical discussions cannot happen.
“You can criticize the government of Israel and criticize Zionism but it is not okay to criticize people simply because they are Jewish,” said Kazmi.
Ultimately, students will need to feel empathy for their peers of different religious beliefs in order to foster a safer environmental for all.
Mac Hillel and the McMaster Muslim Student Association have already worked closely together to combat these issues.
“Hillel and the MSA have a great relationship, and that’s something that needs to go forward when combatting anti-Semitism and islamophobia,” said Haber.
In fact, Haber says there are many commonalities in religious discrimination.
“One of the reasons we’re targeted just in general is because we are different. We stick to our own customs and our own rules… We should be proud of how we make ourselves different and how we stick to whatever religious ideology we have,” said Haber.
The dynamic with interfaith collaboration can be positive and fulfilling.
“We do some work with Hillel, with P2C [Power to Change], and we’re having an event in about a week or so with the Atheist group. The thing is, when you’re working with groups everything is really good because everyone is on the same level ,and we all kind of get it and we like to discuss these topics,” said Ahmed.
“In general, as a student and as a member of society, it’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for everyone. So as a Jew I want to make sure all of my fellow students are comfortable whether that’s in their religion or political beliefs. So in the same way, even if you’re not Jewish, I hope that you would support those who are and hope that they feel comfortable,” said Goldfarb.
Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are not just minor problems; they are barriers to student success.
“For a student that is kind of facing this issue day in and day out it becomes a very suffocating environment for them. They can’t focus entirely on their academics anymore, they are more worried about these other things just because that environment is weighing down on them. It’s honestly a very serious concern if a student is going through that, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly,” said Ahmed.
Religious intolerance is not something you may expect to find at a university like McMaster. But as these students have shared, it is a reality many students do in fact face.
A hashtag, posters and a four-minute spoken word video, you might think the University was celebrating something drastic and important like reaching gender parity in pay equity or adding some portraits of people of colour other than white to Convocation Hall.
But this extravagant promotional campaign is actually for an information technology system change that began years ago.
McMaster’s move to Mosaic is not news. Students have been gnashing their teeth about the old system for years and have only been placated by the promises of drastic change come 2015.
Students have been especially keen to move beyond SOLAR, the course registration system to blame for stressful all-nighters to try to register for courses that ultimately end up full. Thankfully Mosaic does have some cool features to address this (like staggered registration times that means no longer having to stay up until midnight, or later if you’re in a different time zone.)
However, the University ultimately chose a system that will still require students to log in continuously if their course is full.
This means the stress and anxiety of trying to get in to courses will continue. The practice of course-trading and offers of bribery to get seats will also continue. So basically, one of the biggest problems with MUGSI will be re-introduced under the fancy guise of Mosaic.
This is just the problems for students.
With the move to Mosaic as the new HR system, faculty have been downloaded work that was previously the responsibility of trained administrators.
For example, the new financial system adds more work for faculty that run labs who now have to figure out issues like currency exchange and taxation. Under the old system, trained administrators would quickly handle these responsibilities. Some professors end up going to the accountants anyways, just to figure it out.
Even with all of these issues, McMaster still chose to celebrate the transition to Mosaic. The spoken word video, with a dramatic black background, intense piano music and sweeping camera shots frames SOLAR as a learning experience. It was made by seven people who probably invested a significant amount of time. Time that could be much better spent on informing students how the transition will affect them.
Mosaic had so much potential. It could have allowed the university to collect more institutional data on trends like hiring and promotions through a gendered lens. It could have allowed students to get in to courses without days of anxiety.
So is Mosaic worth celebrating with a specially commissioned spoken word poem and great fanfare? I’d say save the money and use it towards soliciting proposals for a better system.
Eugenie Bouchard asked to twirl by a male reporter, an entire university team suspended due to allegations of sexual assault and FIFA subjecting female athletes to a literally inferior playing field. It is apparent that women are not treated equally as men in sport. But The Silhouette wanted to find out, does this systemic discrimination manifest at McMaster?
“Well I’ve been around for 28 years and it’s never occurred to me until this second that male teams have been more successful than female teams at McMaster, and I can’t actually come up with a reason [...] they could have a half day retreat to think about [gender disparity] for the staff and coaches to sit down and say, ‘we seem to have this discrepancy, and what is it, and can we do something to address it?’”
- Philip White, Professor of Kinesiology, researcher on the sociology of sport.
“There’s no comparable women’s team to men’s football so it does throws the comparison a little bit out of whack, if you take football out of the equation it’s fairly balanced, in some sports, the AFA numbers are more heavily weighted to female teams. Football set aside it’s a fairly balanced picture.”
- Gordon Arbeau, Direction, Public & Community Relations, McMaster
“How do you try to balance things out with football? It’s an issue throughout sports, the gender equity issue… We try and fund women’s sport a little bit better than men’s sport, absent football. But we have limited resources. The next sport if we were to bring out a varsity sport would probably be women’s hockey”
- Glen Grunwald, Director of Athletics and Recreation, McMaster