The Student Choice Initiative has placed many students in a difficult position. How much choice is there when students are forced to compromise supporting student services so that they can save money to mitigate the consequences of OSAP funding cuts and increased financial stress, or vice versa?

The answer is that there isn’t much choice, and unfortunately, it’s still one that students across Ontario will have to make.

The Silhouette has been deemed a non-essential service under the Ontario Government's Student Choice Initiative, putting our funding in jeopardy. As McMaster’s independent student newspaper, we have made a commitment to providing a platform for student voice, expression, criticism and celebration for 90 years.

As students make decisions about which fees to opt-out of, we ask that our McMaster community take into consideration the effects their choices will have on services.

 

Ontario government releases Student Choice Initiative guidelines

 

In the wake of the Student Choice Initiative

 

Vital services, campus activities at risk as Mac students choose what fees to pay | CBC News

The fate of many of McMaster University's clubs hangs in the balance over the next week as students decide whether to fund the clubs and other student activities. Student leaders say the process endangers important student services and could fundamentally change the nature of student life. From Sept.

 

By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele

The Student Success Centre and Graduate Studies have introduced new positions for 2019-2020 to support the academic, personal and professional success of international students.

“Enhancing the experience and academic success of our international students is a shared responsibility, which is why we are excited about creating a campus-wide support network around our students,” says Gina Robinson, assistant dean of Student Affairs and director of the Student Success Centre. “We want international students to know that we all care about their individual needs and are working together to get them to the right services on campus.”

 

Learn a little bit about the different roles and how they can support students:

International Undergraduate Students Program Coordinator

Ana Pereira has supported McMaster’s international students for eight years. In this role, she helps students adjust to their new lives at McMaster and in Canada through transitional services, personal development and the International Student Buddy Program.

“Being an immigrant myself, I understand many of the challenges facing students and love helping them feel comfortable in this new place they now call ‘home’,” Ana says.

 

International Graduate Students Program Coordinator

Francesca Hernandez joins the team in this role and will focus on establishing campus-wide partnerships that can support and contribute to the development and success of international graduate students.

“We want to ensure that the academic, social and cultural needs of international graduate students are met through new programming and engagement opportunities,” Francesca says.

“We also want to expand promotion of existing programs and services so that students and their families are aware of supports offered by McMaster and the broader community. We want them to enjoy a successful journey in their new country.”

 

Student Success Coach

In addition to programs and services, one-on-ones are also available. Andrew Staples, student success coach, will support both graduate and international students with their academic concerns, financial difficulties, transition, and navigation of university life. This position will support students on an individual basis and provide a more seamless support system.

Andrew shares, “We want to make sure students feel supported and welcomed during their time at McMaster, so we are encouraging students to ask questions and share any concerns they may be experiencing.”

 

Immigration and Mobility Advisor

Lajipe Sanwoolu, immigration and mobility advisor, can provide immigration consulting from both an inbound and outbound perspective, including international and domestic students who are interested in working in Canada or abroad.

“International students contribute greatly to our community,” says Lajipe. “It is important and beneficial that we continue to provide them with opportunities to contribute and develop themselves.”

International students provide an invaluable knowledge and perspective, both in and outside of the classroom. Lajipe’s role will support developing relationships between international students and employers, providing education about international hiring and dispelling hiring misconceptions.

Appointments with Andrew Staples and Lajipe Sanwoolu are bookable through OSCARplus.

For those interested in collaborating on initiatives to support international student success, email iss@mcmaster.ca.

 

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Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Areej Ali

This past November marked the launch of “Tax-Free Tuesdays, an initiative proposed by McMaster Students Union president Ikram Farah during the 2018 presidential election.

The pilot project, created in collaboration with McMaster Hospitality Services, entailed offering students a 13 per cent discount at La Piazza during the month of November.

Farah initially created the initiative in effort to promote food affordability on campus.

“Food insecurity is real. The MSU invests in the operations of the MSU Food Collective Centre to offer immediate food support to students,” said Farah in a Silhouette article about the project from November.

With the winter semester coming to an end, McMaster Hospitality Services director Chris Roberts has confirmed that “Tax-Free Tuesdays” project will not continue in the future.

The aim was to have increased traffic flow in La Piazza, which would offset the financial losses resulting from giving students the discount.

According to Roberts, La Piazza did not see increased traffic in November.

“The data clearly showed that our transactions on the Tax-Free Tuesdays were no different than previous Tuesdays ,which resulted in a significant loss in revenue over the course of the pilot,” said Roberts. “This indicates that students continued their usual habits regardless of the discount.”

He cites Union Market’s elimination of their boxed water, suggesting that McMaster Hospitality Services must continue to operate in a financially responsible manner.

As such, the “Tax-Free Tuesdays” project will likely not resurface next year.

When asked for her comment on McMaster Hospitality Services’ decision, Farah did not provide a response to The Silhouette.

There is a lack of clarity with respect to McMaster students’ feedback from the project, including whether or not they believe there was sufficient advertising from the MSU.

Farah and the MSU have also yet to publicly respond to Roberts’ comments and McMaster Hospitality Services’ decision.

“I believe there are other initiatives that we could look at that serve the needs of students who are financially challenged that will not affect our financials in a negative way,” said Roberts.

An example of one such initiative is Bridges Cafe’s new “Cards For Humanity” program, a pay it forward initiative through which students donate to other students.

According to Roberts, students can expect to see various food accessibility initiatives emerge, but “Tax-Free Tuesdays” will no longer be one of them.

 

Graphic by Sabrina Lin

With International Women’s Day just behind us, several Hamilton organizations are taking the time to show their appreciation for the women in our community. One such organization is Never Gonna Stop, a youth initiative that is hosting Empower Me: A Women’s Appreciation Brunch on March 16 at the Hamilton Plaza Hotel and Conference Center.

In addition to brunch, the event will feature games, raffle prizes, a variety of visual and performing artists and speakers. The event is open to all ages and genders. It was important for the organizers that this communal appreciation of women be done by not just other women.

“[I]t's really important to have men to support women in our community. Men's voices are heard a lot more than just women’s [so] we're trying to get men to align with women… [W]hen we hear [about] domestic violence, usually it's men doing violence towards women, so… that's what I mean when I say we try to align men with women to support each other,” explained NGS member Gonca Aydin.

The brunch, which is now sold out, is free of cost. Making it free allowed the event to be accessible to everyone in the community. Reducing financial barriers is important for this organization, which is catered towards helping low-income youth.

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NGS was created by David Lingisi, Saifon Diallo and Joshua Kiena, all of whom come from low-income backgrounds. They wanted to create an initiative that would provide physical and mental health-related activities for youth from the ages of 13 to 29.

“[W]e've seen how there's a lot of older people… that have talent basically wasted because they didn't have an opportunity… [A]s the younger generation, we basically want to help [youth] out to make their dreams come true. I want everyone to provide a platform for them, to give them an opportunity to… go to the league, allow them to become doctors and [whatever] they want to do,” said Lingisi.

Lingisi was born with sickle cell anemia and has spent his life in and out of the hospital while still working towards his dream of being a music producer. Each of the co-founders have underwent personal challenges, which fuel their desire to help others overcome obstacles. Growing up in immigrant families, they all faced culture shock in addition to financial barriers.

The initiative hopes to provide the support for low-income youth that they feel is missing in Hamilton. They want to support the artistic, athletic and academic talent of today’s youth by providing them with opportunities and the knowledge to succeed.

Since the creation of the initiative last summer, NGS has hosted a youth panel, a holiday food drive, an All-Star weekend basketball tournament and a talent and fashion show for Black History Month among other events. They are continuously planning new events in partnership with other organizations in the city.

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They took on the Women’s Appreciation Brunch because it fits within their goal of creating community. NGS is proud to call themselves inclusive to all genders, races, religions or economic statuses. Setting aside space and time to celebrate women and promote the resources that women can access within the city fits within that mandate.

Most importantly, the Women’s Appreciation Brunch delivers the message of persistence directly to Hamilton’s women. They named the event Empower Me because they want women of all ages to know that they can accomplish any goal that they set out to reach.

“[K]eep following your dreams, whatever it is, don't ever stop, don't let anything stop you. You are able to make it no matter what you're going through, it doesn't matter the situation, just keep going as long as you get one more day… I just want to [say] that everybody's a part of NGS. I'm NGS, you're NGS, anybody going through anything but still fighting is NGS,” said Lingisi.

That is why they named themselves Never Gonna Stop. More than a name, it is a movement and source of encouragement for those involved. Knowing how hard life can be, NGS is focused on motivating others to work hard in order to achieve their wildest dreams.

 

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Photo C/O Kyle West

By: Donna Nadeem

In the fall, An’am Sherwani, Asha Smith and Garry Vinayak, three students taking the SUSTAIN 3S03 course, conducted a new study on food insecurity on campus.

The results reveal that 39 per cent of the 204 student respondents have experienced moderate food insecurity and 12 per cent have experienced severe insecurity.

Food insecurity refers to the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

Meal Exchange is a nonprofit organization that tackles issues such as student food insecurity in Canadian post-secondary institutions.

In 2016, Meal Exchange worked with university campuses including Brock University, the University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, Lakehead University and Ryerson University to survey students using the “Hungry for Knowledge” survey guide and framework.

The objectives of the study were to determine a ‘prevalence estimate’ of students experiencing food insecurity, identify key factors that contribute to student food insecurity and raise awareness about various services that address and help reduce the issue of student food insecurity.

As part of the course, Sherwani, Smith and Vinayak created an online survey for the McMaster student population to collect information about students who are at most risk of food insecurity.

The survey also asked respondents about the various barriers and factors that influence and contribute to the emergence of student food insecurity.

The goal of the project was to use the survey data collection to gain knowledge and a deeper understanding about the social issue of student food insecurity.

The team advertised the survey through social media, posters around campus and class talks. They obtained 204 partial responses and 185 complete responses.

Their findings indicate that 39 percent, or 71, of respondents have experienced ‘moderate’ food insecurity while 12 per cent, or 22 respondents, experienced ‘severe’ food insecurity.

Respondents indicated that their food insecurity was largely the result of factors including financial barriers, having limited time to cook and the lack of healthy and diverse food options on campus.

They also reported that food insecurity impacted their physical health, mental health, social life and grades.

The most common experiences amongst those dealing with food insecurity included relying on low-cost foods, not eating healthy balanced meals, and prioritizing other financial needs before securing adequate food.

The study also suggests that food insecurity also results in skipping meals and sometimes not eating the entire day.

Of those who identified as food insecure, only 24 per cent utilized programs and services at their disposal, such as the McMaster Students Union Food Collective Centre.

Nonetheless, as there is a stigma associated with these services, it is unclear the extent to which respondents underreported their use of them.

After analyzing the results of the survey, the team shared their findings were shared with MSU student clubs and services.

These groups can use the results of the study, particularly the one about students’ use of food services, as a springboard to explore new ways of outreach to McMaster students experiencing food insecurity.

The increased usage of these services and clubs may aid in the reduction of food insecurity at McMaster.

The SUSTAIN 3S03 team has sent their study to a graduate student, who will continue to pursue and examine the research. Further exploration and follow-ups are currently in progress and the study will be continued into 2019.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

On Jan 17, the provincial government announced plans to change the Ontario Student Assistance Program and cut tuition by 10 per cent.

The OSAP changes include requiring students to take out a loan when receiving an Ontario Student Grant, lowering the threshold to receive financial assistance, and eliminating the six-month interest-free period after graduation.

On Jan. 31, more than 75 student associations across Canada released an open letter demanding the government reverse the changes to OSAP.

Since the announcement, multiple protests have been held across the province, including in Hamilton.

Students at McMaster are also being affected by the changes, with more than 17,000 full-time students having applied for OSAP.

Many students are concerned about the shift in financial assistance towards loans instead of non-repayable grants.

First-year social sciences student Bryce Lawrence does not get money from her parents for tuition and says she would not be able to go to school without receiving grants and loans through OSAP.

This past year, Lawrence qualified to receive a higher proportion of grants compared to loans. Going forward, she will receive more money in loans and less in grants.

“The 10 per cent tuition decrease is nothing compared to the amount that we are not going to be getting anymore and it is going to be harder for a lot of students,” Lawrence said.

During the school year, Lawrence works three days a week, with the money going directly to basic expenses like groceries, gas and her phone bill.

“I worked hard in high school to get here and I need that money to get myself through it so that in the future I can get myself a good career that will help support a family,” Lawrence said.

Looking forward to next year, Lawrence says the money she gets from OSAP probably will not be enough to cover additional costs on top of tuition.

“It’s just frustrating,” She added. “It is going be weird not having the amount of money I need. Literally nothing is free in school. It is so expensive, and once the money goes into my tuition, I will not have enough to pay for my textbooks and stuff.”

Second-year political science student Zack Anderson said the elimination of the six-month interest-free period is especially harmful.

“It is already stressful enough once I do graduate to try and find a stable income, but I always kind of knew that that six-month cushion was going to be there for me and now that rug’s been pulled out from under me,” he said.

Anderson has relied heavily on OSAP. However, even with OSAP, Anderson still struggles to cover school and living costs beyond just tuition.

This year, he was forced to take a reduced course load and work three jobs to pay for tuition and living costs.

Over the summer, Anderson was working 70-hour weeks to save up for school.

“I have had to take out loans off the bank, I have maxed out credit cards before, done all these kinds of things to try to survive and you take it day by day, week by week,” Anderson said.

While there have yet to be any announcements since Jan. 17, the Ford government’s plans are expected to be in place for the 2019-2020 academic year.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

On Jan. 25, The Silhouette sat down with Ontario New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath to discuss the Ford government’s recently announced changes to Ontario’s tuition framework, financial aid system and student fees.

On Jan. 17, the Ford government announced a 10 per cent reduction in the up front cost of tuition in Ontario. This came alongside a plan to tighten the eligibility requirements for the Ontario student assistance program, reduce grant money offered by OSAP and eliminate the six month grace period before loans must be paid back.

Additionally, the ministry announced that post secondary institutions will be required to allow students to opt out of paying non-tuition fees deemed “non-essential.”

According to Horwath, the 10 per cent tuition cost reduction will end up harming students.

“This decision that the government's made is deceitful first and foremost because the 10 per cent sticker price announcement really means nothing for affordability for students,” she stated.

Horwath said the proposed changes would cause students to graduate with more debt and pay higher interest fees.

The McMaster Students Union has expressed similar concerns.

“Grants are a far more effective form of student financial aid than loans. Rolling back OSAP eligibility and increasing the loan threshold will increase the debt load on many students,” said Ikram Farah, MSU president.

According to Horwath, the requirement of an opt-out for non-essential student union fees is a strategy to silence the voices of students.

I think a lot of what the government is trying to do is weaken the student movement to silence the voices of young people,” she said.

The MSU released a statement saying that this provision might impact the advocacy abilities of student unions and provision of services and supports.

“The potential of optional fee structures for services could severely undermine the ability of students to organize and maintain robust student-oriented provisions, along with their representation to all levels of government,” stated the release.

According to Horwath, the proposed changes to tuition, fees and OSAP will impact more than just students because all Ontarians benefit from well-functioning post secondary institutions.

“It is going to affect everyone,” she stated. “It is going to affect families. It is going to affect the economy. It is going to affect the educators.”

She explained that weakening the student experience on campus, lowering the quality of education and burdening students with more financial distress mean that young people will not get the education that they need in order to participate in the workforce.

The Progressive Conservative party holds a 60 per cent majority, meaning that they have enough seats to pass legislation without the assent of other parties.

Despite this, Horwath believes it is still possible to advocate for change.

She noted that as a result of public outcry, the Ford government recently backtracked on a proposal open up the Greenbelt to developers.

According to Horwath, this demonstrates that broad resistance from Ontarians is key.

I think this is a glimmer of hope to say that notwithstanding that it is a majority government, if you have a broad enough resistance and if you push hard enough […] then you have an opportunity to engage.”

 

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By: Emma Mulholland

With the end of the academic year approaching, students are beginning to look for summer jobs and employment opportunities in places ranging from retail to research. The government of Ontario, however, wants to give students the opportunity to become entrepreneurs over the summer, through a program known as Summer Company.

“The goal of Summer Company is to introduce students to the world of entrepreneurship … to [help students] turn a hobby into a business idea … [and] to provide training and mentoring to the students so that they get a greater understanding of the business world,” said Dragica Lebo, Business Development Officer with the Hamilton Small Business Enterprise Centre.

Students apply to the program with a potential business idea and can receive up to $3,000 of funding from the provincial government to support their business. In the application process, students state how much money they initially require to start their business. According to Lebo, “no matter what the business is, all students have the same rules and regulations … the province will only give $1,500 so anything beyond that has to come from the student … if a student needs more … they will need to supply it themselves, or prioritize what they need … they have up to $1,500 [though], so we really try to help them take advantage of the whole $1,500.”

 “Most of our students who participate in this program have never taken a business course before. Most of them just have a hobby or an idea … and want to see if it can be a viable company.”

After successfully completing the program, which requires students to attend training sessions, meet with local business mentors and properly keep track of receipts and invoices, students can receive an additional $1,500. Whether or not students decide to continue their business after the program ends is usually dependent on the situation, says Lebo. Many students who participated in the program in Hamilton continue part-time during the school year, and then pick it up again the following summer.

Several McMaster students who went through the program have also continued their businesses, either full time or part time. “The most helpful part was probably the connections that [Summer Company] helped us to establish … they put us in contact with people that could help with the legal aspects [of the business],” remarked Dylan Kiteley, a former participant who used the support of the program to establish a permanent retail location for his company, Oracle Nutrition.

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In addition to providing financial support for students, Summer Company also aims to provide students with mentorship and business literacy skills. Summer Company itself sees a wide variety of business plans, but a common theme is that many students applying to the program do not have business backgrounds.

“Most of our students who participate in this program have never taken a business course before. Most of them just have a hobby or an idea … and want to see if it can be a viable company. This program gives them the opportunity to test the waters out,” explained Lebo. Bi-weekly meetings with community business leaders offers students everything from moral support and encouragement, to practical advice on navigating the business field. “[The mentor’s] role is to assist and guide the students from beginning to end of their companies within the program … to encourage the students in the world of business … and to help them through each phase and ensure that the [students] are on the right track,” said Lebo. Several prominent community leaders from a variety of fields, including McMaster professors, have volunteered time during the summer to work as mentors in the program.

Summer Company has been running in Ontario since 2001, and while it is open to students from age 15 to 29, Lebo notes that an interesting demographic shift has been taking place in the past few years. “About five years ago [the program] was very college or university [student] dominated … but in the past few years it’s been very 50/50 [between high school and post-secondary students] … I think that the entrepreneurial bug is embedded in students in a younger age … there are more business classes in high school than before … a lot of [high school] students are showing interest … they see that they can apply what they know, try something different, and see what it’s like operating a business.”

As classes come to an end and the hunt for summer employment begins, with a little help from the Ontario government, some students will be spending the summer hoping to break into the business world.

Photo Credit: Kareem Baassiri/ Photo Contributor

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On Jan. 14, the McMaster Students Union held its annual State of the Union in the student centre.

The State of the Union is held every year for the Board of Directors to update and inform both the full-time, undergraduate students that make up the MSU as well as the general population at McMaster.

"Our mission statement is to draw into a true society, all undergrad students here at McMaster; so basically our job is to enhance the student experience at Mac," outlined MSU President Ehima Osazuwa in his opening comments.

In a way, the State of the Union is an avenue for the Board of Directors to highlight some of the key successes of the MSU over the past year. A few of the highlights noted by the BoD include an emergency bursary fund at $500 for any student, up to $12,000 in total, as well as several expansions to the management of the clubs system, including the addition of a second Clubs Assistant Administrator and the movement to an online booking format for rooms in Clubspace.

VP (Administration) Giuliana Guarna highlighted some of the important updates to MSU services during the past year as well, including the creation of new MSU service Maccess and the closure of MacGreen following the 2015-16 academic year.

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Despite this, while the BoD have been successful in a number of initiatives, it's worth noting that some projects, including the Light-Rail Transit system announced for Hamilton, have been in progress for years.

The MSU Course Wiki is another project that has been in the works for several years and has experienced some delays in taking off, but VP (Education) Spencer Nestico-Semianiw noted that it is expected to launch over the next couple of months.

The MSU also remains financially healthy, generating over $13 million in revenue in 2014-15. From its day-to-day operations, the MSU continues to operate on a slight surplus of $60,000, and D'Angela emphasized the efficiency at which student dollars were being utilized.

"From our operations, we collect about $2.6 million in fees, but spend around $9.6 million in supporting student life through advocacy, programming, services, etcetera," explained D'Angela.

D'Angela also noted that a second Budget Town Hall would be held by the MSU during February. The Budget Town Hall is one of several platform points that D'Angela promised to introduce during his term as VP (Finance), and the upcoming Town Hall will be focused on gathering student feedback on the focus of future MSU budgets.

You can download a copy of the 2016 State of the Union here or view the Prezi below.

In-article Photo Credit: 93.3 CFMU

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After paying a couple grand for course enrollment per year, students have to dole out another hefty sum to purchase courseware. Many classes require textbooks, with midterm and exam questions being drawn from their pages. Reluctant to spend what is often upwards of $100 on a textbook that is likely to be only opened once or twice, students are forced to either forego the textbook marks or pay the cost and walk out of the campus store textbook in hand.

MSU President Ehima Osazuwa has been very vocal about his hope to reduce tuition, and now he turns his attention to the other major absorber of student funds: courseware.

“We tried to see if we can tackle the issue by having more courseware printed at Underground, because right now the majority of courseware is printed by the University and it is significantly more expensive than printing through Underground,” Osazuwa explained.

Printing through Underground, a full service media and design center located in the Student Center, would reduce costs per textbook by around $20 according to Osazuwa.

Ultimately, however, it is at the discretion of professors to decide to make the switch. The biggest challenge lies in incentivizing professors to print through Underground.

“We are trying to tackle the issue as a one-on-one relationship with the professors, especially those who teach big classes and have a lot of students.”

Implementing this philosophy is up to the President of VP Finance Daniel D’Angela as well as Underground employee Justin Barnes, whose goal has long been to increase courseware printing.

“Last year we ended up with $19,000 in sales from courseware, with the first semester making up only $3,000 of that portion,” said Osazuwa. He hopes that the increase will continue in the years to come.

Yet Osazuwa does not want to stop there. “The second thing was to make a Materials/Textbook Committee, because in my opinion the future of textbooks is online.”

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