Photo by Kyle West

When I started out as the Opinions Editor for The Silhouette this past year, I admittedly didn’t care much about student politics or governance. I was unfamiliar with the policies of the McMaster Students Union and had no idea what happened during Student Representative Assembly meetings.

Nowadays, I regularly watch the SRA livestreams and perform my due diligence to be aware of changes occurring within the MSU. A large part of that is for my job, but I’ve found that staying informed has benefits beyond finding something to write about.

The purpose of the MSU is to “represent you and to help build a better community for all students”. As the governing body of the MSU, SRA members have a responsibility to represent and lobby on behalf of their students.

It’s only fair then that we as students hold these members, and the MSU in general, accountable for their actions. In doing so, we are ensuring that any changes occurring are truly reflective of the needs and desires of students.

There’s many ways for students can hold these organizations accountable. They can attend SRA meetings, speak to their SRA representative, voice their concerns online or even protest for change.

Alternatively, you can do what I do, and write about your concerns for the campus newspaper. Perhaps some of my criticisms have been harsh or slightly misguided. But at the end of the day, I’m proud of the articles that I’ve written and edited for The Silhouette. Even if they have stepped on some toes, I’d like to think they’ve helped incite some positive changes on campus.

Whether these changes are a fully-stocked Union Market or investigations into MSU-recognized clubs, it’s evident that speaking out on issues is important.

Not everything the SRA or MSU has done has been negative. In fact, they have made some great, positive changes that are deserving of praise, or at the very least, of respect.

A few weeks ago, I had plans to write about the SRA’s contradictory playing of the national anthem and delivery of a land acknowledgment at their meetings. To my surprise, I found that they passed a motion to stop playing the national anthem at their meetings altogether. Things like these are positive changes that students should be aware of.  

Of course, there is only so much that students can do. Given the record eight students who attended the General Assembly on March 20, it is obvious that the MSU must do a better job at engaging with their student constituents.

But just because the MSU and SRA have much to improve doesn’t mean that students are off the hook for staying informed. Without student input and advocacy efforts, organizations are given too much power and can make decisions that negatively impact us all.

For example, without the efforts of a few brave survivors telling their experiences with sexual assault within the MSU Maroons, it’s unlikely that the service would be doing anything to account for the issue, much less propose developing a long-overdue sexual assault and harassment policy.

I encourage students to get engaged with their university’s politics. It might seem overwhelming, and the information is certainly not easy to navigate, but it’s important work.

Especially in light of the upcoming changes to post-secondary education made by the provincial government, it is in the best interests of all students to be engaged with their union’s activities.

My term at The Silhouette is reaching a close. I’ve learned a lot during my time working for the newspaper but my biggest takeaway is that student politics affects us all, including those outside of the MSU bubble. For our own sake, we ought to keep our student organizations accountable for their actions.

 

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Photos C/O McMaster Muslim Students' Association

By: Drew Simpson

The McMaster Muslims Students’ Association recently held Finding Your Momentum, a leadership and empowerment workshop specifically curated for Muslims. Its objective was to increase youth engagement to improve community involvement.

While MacMSA maintains a busy calendar, the process of organizing this event began well before the school year started. While decisions were being made around the structure of MacMSA’s exec-director team, the team realized a recent and significant drop in engagement with the association and the community.

Typically, directorship positions with the MacMSA would attract about 50 applicants each, in recent times however, these numbers have significantly dropped to one or two applicants. The senior executives became worried about MacMSA’s future leadership and lack of engagement with younger cohorts.

MacMSA leaders also saw a lack of Muslims being represented in leadership positions in the McMaster community, such as through the Student Representative Assembly.

Feedback gained from focus groups found a common rhetoric of Muslims opting out of leadership positions to focus on academics. They also found that many individuals were under the misconception that they are not needed by the community.

 

One workshop attendee and MacMSA representative noted that a lot of students experience a lack of confidence in their abilities and felt that they aren’t equipped with the appropriate skills to take on leadership responsibilities.  

The Finding Your Momentum workshop was created in response to these concerns. The MacMSA team realized that they needed to empower their members and create a space where attendees can have open conversations about bettering themselves as Muslims and leaders in the community.

While one of the aims of the workshop was to increase attendees’ engagement with the community, the MacMSA team had to first figure out a way to increase engagement with the workshop itself.

From previous experiences, the organizers found that many people needed someone to both encourage them to participate and attend the event with them. This was often facilitated through invitations by word of mouth.

The organizers of Finding Your Momentum took advantage of this promotion strategy, and it worked. One attendee noted that in order to facilitate empowerment, individuals need someone to give them a little push of encouragement and support.  

“When you hear ‘word-of-mouth’, you think of just going and telling someone ‘hey we have an event, just come’. But it’s actually investing in the Muslim community on campus…A part of being a leader is having a community that can look up to you and support your vision,” explained Faryal Zahir, MSA Director and Finding Your Momentum organizer.

“A big part of this year has been making that vision very very clear, and then having people inspired to support that vision.”

This workshop consisted of interactive activities and discussions that focused on introspecting on attendees’ relationships with themselves and others. There was also a focus on utilizing leadership opportunities to serve the community and building connections.

At every MacMSA event, building connections is a recurring goal. The team believes that building connections enables individuals into action.

Finding Your Momentum, like other MacMSA events, aims to break down the barriers that repress interaction, and encourage attendees to have one-to-one connections, first with themselves, then with their peers and greater community.

Time will tell if the MacMSA achieved its goal of encouraging workshop attendees to take on more leadership positions, but one thing is for sure – Finding Your Momentum created a much needed space for empowerment and meaningful engagement for Muslim youth.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Rida Pasha

I am a first-year student who wasn’t aware of the Student Representative Assembly until just a few months ago. I am not alone in this experience.  

Many first-year students only became aware of the presence of the SRA after the recent election campaign, with posters plastered around campus.

It is not news that it is difficult to find clear information about what the SRA does as the supposed voice of McMaster University students. There are plenty of upper years that are still oblivious to the SRA’s workings, so imagine being a first-year and all of sudden receiving dozens of Facebook notifications to like election pages and vote for certain candidates.

If you go to the McMaster Students Union website and search the SRA, you’re met with a very vague explanation of what this assembly does, and to someone who knows little to nothing about how their meetings work, it can be very confusing.

As first-year students make up a large percentage of the McMaster population, it is essential that the SRA increases its engagement with these students, especially considering that many are simply unaware of the function of student governance at McMaster.

This engagement should begin at the beginning of the school year at many students’ most memorable time of university, Welcome Week.

Welcome Week is dedicated to making first-year students feel comfortable and aware of the different clubs, services, resources and events available on campus.

The SRA should be heavily involved in Welcome Week so that first-year students at least have the opportunity to learn the basics of student governance and politics.

Not only would this be a great way for students to understand that the SRA works to improve the experience of all students, but it is also an excellent way for SRA members to build connections and truly represent the student body.

However, it can’t just stop there. While there needs to be more interaction between SRA members and all students, first-year students should be specifically targeted because they are a demographic that is often not given enough attention.

While upper-year students are at least able to have fellow SRA members in their years support and speak on their behalf, most first-year students are left out of the picture since apart from the few first-year representatives, rarely any first-year students attend assembly meetings.

Though all students have the opportunity to speak at a meeting in order to bring up an issue, what is the likelihood that the average first-year student is confident enough to speak up at a meeting with 35 upper-year students ready to debate, let alone know that the SRA is a service that they can turn to?

It is important that first-year students recognize that the decisions the SRA makes impact us the most. These are decisions that may directly affect us not just for this year, but for years to come.

Many SRA members will be graduating in one to two years so the decisions made won’t be affecting them later on. But as first-year students will likely be here for another three or four years, we need to be made aware of the issues, topics and decisions that are being made.

It is time that the SRA finds better ways to reach the students they are representing. While the SRA mailing list is a start in updating students, more has to be done.

This engagement has to go beyond emails and become a more interactive experience with first-year students that remains consistent throughout the year.

So for the newest elected members of the 2019-2020 SRA term, what will you do to build a connection with first-year students?

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Ashlynn Labinaz

The results of the recent McMaster Students Union presidential election were released on Jan. 24, with Josh Marando becoming president-elect. Jeffrey Campana came second in the polls, with Madison Wesley and Justin Lee placing third and fourth respectively.

Given our current state of affairs, these results beg the question: did social media impact the outcome of the MSU election?

The simple answer? Yes. When investigating the social media accounts of the candidates, all four individuals created Facebook and Instagram campaign accounts, posting platform content to build a larger following and campaign support.

When comparing the Instagram accounts of all four candidates, the winning Marando had 618 followers, Campana had 512 followers and Lee had 15 followers. Wesley’s deactivated account could not be used in this comparison.

Overall, there appears to be a clear association between the candidates’ social media presence and their election success.

I believe this correlation is attributed to the candidates’ engagement with their followers on social media. Marando, for example, created a new Instagram account dedicated to running his campaign. He posted ten different times over the course of the election, highlighting different events he attended and campaign promises he intended to fulfill.

Conversely, some of Marando’s opponents did not rely as heavily on their social media presence, posting only a handful of times on Instagram.

The MSU Elections Department also acknowledged the importance and presence of social media in the presidential election. On the elections page, there were two appendices: one with candidacy rules and another six-page Appendix A, containing social media regulations that candidates were required to follow.

This appendix was tediously written and included an explanation of how to post on every major social media platform to ensure that no candidate had an unfair advantage.

Clearly, the MSU Elections Department understood the importance of regulating social media during elections in order to avoid potential problems related to digital campaigns.

One increasing problem on the world stage, for example, is the propagation of “fake news” — that is, disseminating information that is intentionally wrong with the goal of swaying thought and opinion. Clearly established social media regulations for candidates is therefore an important step towards addressing election misinformation.

Despite any potential negative consequences, social media platforms have important benefits during elections. Specifically, social media allows voters to make more informed decisions.

In a digital age where information can be retrieved in a matter of seconds, many have become apathetic towards researching electoral candidates. Social media then provides a fast and easy way for voters to learn about candidates’ platforms.

For example, Marando featured an Instagram post highlighting the key points of his campaign. This post took less than a minute to read and provided a basic understanding of his platform, allowing students to easily inform themselves.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bs0tWePBOU6/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

The easy access to this information also facilitates one’s ability to compare different candidates and their platforms.  

Social media in elections also provides a platform for direct dialogue between candidates and voters. Throughout each campaign, the MSU presidential candidates were posting, tweeting and sharing. Every social media platform allowed candidates to receive messages from the public, which ultimately encouraged political discourse.

Overall, I strongly believe that social media acts as a useful campaign tool in elections that future MSU presidential candidates should definitely take seriously.

Although some may argue that his popularity won him the election, I attribute Marando’s success to his effective social media strategies. By consistently posting succinct summaries of his campaign goals, Marando was able to spread his message to students in a simple and accessible manner.

In addition, with the increasingly influential nature of social media in elections, students should become more informed and equipped users of these platforms.

Marando used social media to his advantage to help him win a presidential election. Similarly, students should recognize social media’s extensive and far-reaching value as a necessary election tool in this new digital age.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Tanvi Pathak

In March, McMaster Students Union is slated to release its second annual municipal budget submission to Hamilton city council.

According to Shemar Hackett, the MSU associate vice president (Municipal Affairs), the budget submission will prioritize transit, student housing, student employment, bylaws and enforcement and lighting.

After consulting students and reviewing data from The Your City survey, the MSU decided these key areas were ones that stood out as issues that needed immediate attention.

The committee’s decision to focus on these areas is also linked to the rising demand for off-campus housing.

According to Andrew Parashis, a property manager at Spotted Properties, the largest property management in the McMaster community, demand for student housing has soared in recent years.

Parashis notes that with the increase of local and international students attending McMaster, the waiting list for students seeking accommodations through Spotted Properties has tripled in the last year alone.

The municipal budget submission will also focus on accessible employment opportunities.

The union’s education department and municipal affairs committee’s recommendations aim to offer proactive solutions for each issue and improve Hamilton’s attractiveness to students and recent McMaster grads.

One of the committee’s recommendations is for the city of Hamilton to implement a lighting audit across Ward 1.

Hackett emphasized that there are neighborhoods off-campus substantially lacking in visibility. As a result, many students do not feel comfortable walking home late at night after classes.

A lighting audit would reduce these issues in these neighborhoods and identify priority locations for new street lights.

The committee reached out to the Ward 1 councilor Maureen Wilson, who was receptive to the committee’s recommendation and is confident that the proposal will be valuable to McMaster and Ward 1.

Another recommendation calls for city council to move forward with the landlord licensing project discussed in December.

Hackett and Stephanie Bertolo, MSU vice president (Education), articulated their stance on landlord licensing to Ward 8 city councilor Terry Whitehead, who sits on the Rental Housing sub-committee.

Since then, the motion to implement a pilot project was brought to council and endorsed by many councilors.

Prior to the development of the budget submission, the committee consulted city officials.

The committee plans to continue to meet with the city staff and councillors to push for their recommendations and make them a priority for the council.

Thus far, they have met with Terry Cooke, CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation, to discuss student engagement and retention and the ways in which organizations can support one another in the future.

The municipal affairs committee has also been successful in implementing its Landlord Rating system, a platform developed by the MSU education department.

The landlord licensing project, which the committee has also been lobbying for, got the Hamilton city council rental housing sub committee’s stamp of approval and will be put forth into discussion during the next city council meeting.

“The council has been extremely receptive to all our points about the agreements we put forth,” said Hackett, adding that the MSU budget submission has proven to be a valuable resource for lobbying municipal stakeholders.

Over the next few weeks, the municipal affairs committee will meet with city councilors and community stakeholders to advocate for their budget submission proposals.

 

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Photos by Catherine Goce

By: Donna Nadeem

On Jan. 22, Arig al Shaibah, the associate vice-president (Equity and Inclusion) with the McMaster equity and inclusion office, held an event in the Mills Library Connections Centre centered around McMaster’s “Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Framework and Strategy.”

During her term, al Shaibah plans to engage with local and historically underrepresented and marginalized communities to understand and learn about their challenges.

She hopes this awareness will enable her to build strong ideas and strategies to advance the equity and inclusion goals at McMaster.

The event begin with al Shaibah’s presentation on McMaster’s EDI framework and strategy.

McMaster’s EDI framework is broken down into four pillars: institutional commitment and capacity, educational content and context, interactional capabilities and climate and compositional diversity and community engagement.

 

The first pillar aims to “mobilize McMaster’s commitment and capacity to advance inclusive excellence by establishing and resourcing structures, systems, policies and processes that facilitate equity, diversity and inclusion leadership, governance and accountability.”

The second pillar seeks to strengthen academic programs, practices and scholarships to ensure they “demonstrate relevance… to diverse local, regional, national and global communities.”

The third pillar focuses on improving the McMaster community’s ability to foster a culture of inclusion and an environment where members feel “a sense of dignity and belonging.”

The fourth pillar aims to engage marginalized communities on campus, enhance employment equity, and improve student access and success amongst historically underrepresented students and community members.

“Not everyone here feels included, so even among our diverse [community population], some of us may feel included and others not, in part because of inequities that exist,” said al Shaibah.

Al Shaibah explained an action plan that would help facilitate the development of the EDI plan.

Some of the points included developing goals across the institution and faculties and integrating the EDI into academic programs and self-reported student experiences, strengthening complaint resolution from harassment and discrimination complaints and increasing training for McMaster community members and committees.

Throughout the presentation, al Shaibah spoke in abstract terms, not outlining specific initiatives that the university will undertake take to improve student access and success amongst marginalized students and training for McMaster community members.

After the presentation, the floor was open for students to express concerns and feedback.

Students asked for more clarity about McMaster’s plans to meet the objectives stipulated in the EDI.

Even after students pressed further, Shaibah still failed to clarify what in particular she would do to work to combat the problems she raised.

One student expressed concern over the fact that his friend who is of Indigenous descent was not able to obtain a Teaching Assistant position for an Indigenous course while a student who was not of Indigenous heritage successfully secured the position.

Al Shaibah responded that if the candidates’ qualifications were equal, the Indigenous students’ application should have been prioritized.

Students also asked about whether other universities have implemented this EDI framework and whether it has been successful for them.

Al Shaibah said that some schools have explored strategies similar to this, but have not pursued an ‘across the board’ strategy that applied to faculties across the entire institution.

In addition, students asked how they could get involved with the implementation of the strategy.

According to Al Shaibah, McMaster students can promote the EDI framework through clubs and the McMaster Students Union. Students can also contact McMaster’s equity and inclusion office at equity@mcmaster.ca.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

On Jan. 26, two days after Josh Marando was elected the next McMaster Students Union president, The Silhouette sat down with Marando to discuss his campaign experiences and goals for the future. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

First thing, how are you feeling, and how have the past few days been?

I think I'm still a little bit in shock. The past few days have been a bit of a wild whirlwind. I wasn't expecting to hear as soon as we did. Last year, I knew that they heard at, around 3:10 a.m, so when Ikram called me at 9:00, I wasn't really sure. I thought she was joking at first. I really expected her to say, ‘Just kidding.’

 

What did Ikram say?

I just remember her saying, ‘Congratulations to the president-elect,’ and then I said, ‘You’ve gotta be freaking kidding me today.’ I really just needed to make sure that she was right…  that she got the right number [and] she got the right person.

 

Who did you tell after? Who was the first person outside of the team?

The first people I told outside of the team were my parents. I sent a nice little text in our group chat just saying that I won. And then after that, a lot of phone calls kept coming in.

 

Was running for president something you’ve thought about for a few years?

So it's definitely something that's always been in the back of my mind. Before I decide to run, I talked a lot to the MSU vice president (Administration) Kristina Epifano. I was like, "What do you think I should do? If I don't run for president, I would likely run for vice president (Administration)." But then I was talking to MSU president Ikram Farah and she said, ‘It just like seems like your goals are bigger than that. It seems like you would really benefit from being in this role and it seems like your ideas would really benefit the students by being in this role.’

 

Over these 12 days of campaigning and several months of planning and deciding that you wanted to do it, what did you learn about yourself?

I learned that I'm more capable than I think. I remember the biggest thing that made me nervous was making a platform. But I think when that started to come together, that's when I really became confident in the idea that I could do this role.

 

Why do you think students voted for you? What about your platform or you personally appealed to them?

Something that we really try to do is just talk to students and see what exactly they wanted, and also some things that they would have wanted when they were in first year. Because in reality, I think that's something that's said very often. People are like, ‘Oh, the MSU president doesn't really do much.’ But that's really not true. They do a whole lot. It's just that there's very few things that can happen in one year. Often times, you see the changes made by a president the next year or the year after.

 

What are the first platform points that you’ll address after your term starts?

Obviously there are some projects that are easier to do than others. I have no doubt that we'll be able to make the MUSC student lounge and I would love for that to happen by the start of next year, so I'm probably going to start working on that.

 

What is your message to students now?

The first thing is, thank you to the students who did vote. Even if they didn’t vote for me, I’m still happy that students were engaged and I just want students to know that my care for students didn’t end when election night ended. Now that the election is over, that’s when I feel like I need to talk to students even more because, in reality, I’m here to represent them, not only during the election, but for the rest of this year and next year.

 

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Photo C/O Madeline Neumann

By: Ran Ren

It is strange how moving from a high school with 1000 students to a university populating over 30,000 can feel far lonelier. For how much high school is negatively tied with cliques and social hierarchies, there exists a certain stability in its tribalism in sharing classes and cafeteria tables with the same people every day.

The fact that you can choose your friends in university is liberating. But there is an inherent hurdle to tackle: an increased difficulty in meeting new people. In a lecture hall of hundreds, friends are no longer whom you sit beside. Gone are the arranged seating plans that forced friendships throughout high school. It is disheartening when after all the handshakes and exchanges of names, your newly-made friends are nowhere to be found the next lecture.

A 2016 survey by the National College Health Assessment found that 68 per cent of Ontario students felt “very lonely” within the past year.

For all the glitz and glamour of constant parties and freedom from parents, the reality of university can be lonely and depressing. With the known links between isolation and other health problems, it is unsurprising then that 61 per cent of students also reported feeling “things are hopeless” and a greater 89 per cent feeling “overwhelmed”.

Social isolation is fundamentally a personal struggle. But so long as it results in mental health issues within students and a resultant strain on campus healthcare resources, it is McMaster University’s struggle as well. With the amount of money McMaster spends on fixing what’s already a problem on counselors or therapy can they afford to ignore the root cause of social isolation?

Implementing stronger support networks can help students. Friends can aid with studying, edit assignments or share notes for missed lectures. Socializing also provides a much-needed outlet for feelings of stress, frustration and sadness. Students who take care of their relationships also take better care of themselves: they exercise more often, eat healthier and sleep better.

Above all, McMaster as a higher education institution has a vested interest in creating students who will become the next generation’s politicians, doctors, engineers, artists, teachers and many more careers which require soft skills, especially social skills. In our current market, workers need to be effective in dynamic group settings. And no one ever became charismatic by spending months studying alone in their dorm.

Of course, words are easier than actions, especially with such a difficult, pervasive issue. It’s not as though McMaster can hunt down lonely students and give them a pep talk.

So what can students do to expand their social circles? The easiest way to make friends is to be around people who share common interests. Every McMaster student automatically pays fees that support the McMaster Students Union, which hosts hundreds of diverse clubs across a wide range of topics including culture, recreation, academics or social issues. Finding new friends can be as easy as finding a club that matches your passion. Even outside of clubs, there are opportunities to meet others through athletics or volunteering.

McMaster has a responsibility to support, advertise and encourage new students to become involved in their community. They ultimately reap the benefits by creating students who are more engaged and with stronger soft skills. Most importantly, they’ll have a student body who are happy and healthy throughout their time at university.

Failing everything else, the simplest solution on the individual basis might be to merely introduce yourself to those sitting beside you during lecture or tutorial. In the end, we all need somebody to lean on.

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