When former MSU President Mary Koziol read the list of candidates running this year, her first instinct was to e-mail Suzan Fraser, who was president in 1988.

“Seven people running, not a single woman” was the gist of the message.

The lopsided ratio this year has raised eyebrows, but it’s not extremely unusual at this university. Historically, more men than women have run in MSU elections, and there have been other years when no women ran—1994, for example, saw 12 candidates vying for the position, all of whom were men.

When Koziol won in 2010, she was the first in 22 years to break a streak of male presidents - something she still feels is an important accomplishment.

“I thought, we need to break the streak but we also need different models of leaders out there. People need to see that you don’t have to fit a certain mold - and it’s not just about being male. A lot of people think leaders must be very outgoing, aggressive, assertive, charismatic - none of which I particularly identify with,” she said.

When she was involved in student politics, Koziol was often described as being passive.

“I think it was very assumption-based. At the SRA table, for example, I didn’t speak a lot, but that’s not because I didn’t have opinions. That’s not the same as being passive. I’m a very passionate person - I’m very assertive when it’s called for.”

Koziol is among only four women presidents elected in the history of the MSU. The three others are Ann Blackwood (1979), Suzan Fraser (1988) and current president Siobhan Stewart.

Like Koziol, Stewart has noticed the buzz around the skewed ratio this year.

“I’ve had people bring it up to me—both men and women,” she said.

The issue was also raised at the debate held in the Student Centre on Tuesday.

“People are excited when you represent them. If the electorate is diverse then you would want to see candidates being diverse,” Stewart said.

But the shortage of women running doesn’t mean there’s a lack of interest among potential female candidates.

“I know women who have considered running and in the end chose to back a male friend,” said Stewart. “Anybody can technically apply, but there are other barriers.”

It’s hard to pinpoint why more female students at McMaster don’t go out and get signatures for nomination.

Various factors could be at play in the choices women make, or don’t, about running: how women are socialized to deal with public scrutiny and view positions in political office is one of them.

“The student body has demonstrated that people are willing to vote for a strong female candidate – I don’t think there’s discrimination there necessarily,” said Koziol.

“I think the larger problem is the way we socialize men and women that leads to more men running. When women run, they have a really good chance of being elected - but they don’t [run].”

Koziol and Stewart were each the only woman running in their respective elections, which were a year apart.

“I was told repeatedly not to put women’s issues at the forefront of my platform,” said Koziol “I think that’s an interesting dynamic — that it’s okay to be female and run for an election, but you have to be careful about how proud you are about being female.”

Both she and Stewart recognized that running or being known as “the girl” in an election can lead to tokenization, although being the lone woman didn’t deter them from winning.

Stewart said she knows why she gets recognition for being a black female president, but she wants it to “not be noteworthy.”

“I’m not sure I want to be ‘the female representative’ or ‘the black representative,’ said Stewart. “You should pick your candidates based on platform and values, not gender.”

Stewart and Koziol agreed on the notion that an MSU policy to increase female representation may not work in practice, the idea being that a woman could be criticized for winning a seat because she was a woman and not because she was deserving of the seat.

“For me it doesn’t solve the bigger problems,” said Stewart.

The underrepresentation of women extends beyond the MSU to all levels of government. In Canada, women occupy roughly 22 per cent of seats in the House of Commons. The percentage is marginally higher (about 23 per cent) on municipal councils and in provincial legislature.

“I don’t think the discussion [of underrepresented women in student politics] would occur naturally within the student body. The broader society would need to change first,” noted Koziol. “I think the most important work the MSU can do is through forums.”

For women who’ve thought about or are considering running for MSU president, Koziol has some advice to offer.

“I would say, number one, seek out a mentor. You need a support system,” she said. “I’d like to see women really question why they’re not going for stuff like this. I think it’s a tricky thing to navigate: could you actually not do this, or do you just think you don’t fit the mold?”

 

Exploring how a “class-free week” and community-based learning could enhance McMaster’s overall student experience

Campus is often viewed as a community of its own. But Forward with Integrity (FWI) urged the campus to look outside McMaster to understand what constitutes our commitment to community.

Campus has been abuzz with various initiatives that seek to enhance our internal, local and global engagement. The Community Engagement (CE) Task Force Report noted the need for reciprocity in community partnership, fostering bilateral and mutually beneficial relationships between McMaster and community agencies.

Specific initiatives mentioned in the report include establishing a community opportunities infoshare database, a network of community champions and a possible CE course.

 

Student experience in the community through flexible learning

The Student Experience Task Force (discussed in last week’s FWI feature article) also proposed a “class-free week” which would feature community-based learning experiences.

The “class-free week” concept comes on the cusp of recent student interest and concern over the attempt by the MSU to secure a Fall Reading Week for students in 2013.

While the Fall Reading Week was part of Siobhan Stewart’s electoral platform, the Class-Free Week was proposed independently by the CE Task Force as a method to more flexibly approach student learning and ensure opportunities for community-based learning.

Susan Denburg, VP Academic (Health Sciences) and Strategic Advisor to the President, noted that this week would eliminate classes but provide supplementary opportunities for student learning, through seminars, service-learning and other activities.

“We want to increase opportunity for students to expand their horizons, we want the environment to be flexible, people learn in different ways and at different rates. So we want to create that flexibility so students can get to where they want to go, in different ways.”

Denburg mentioned that the goal is to eventually guarantee 100 per cent student participation. She noted that the faculties have been receptive to the idea of a class-free week with supplementary and possibly accredited activities outside of the classroom.

“We want to have this week, want you to step back, think about how could you use a week? What do you want to experience in that week and how would it enhance your learning…and what skills might it enhance?” said Denburg.

 

Where McMaster Stands

McMaster has been increasingly more involved in the community, with events such as MacServe, providing opportunities for thousands of students and staff. However, long-term exposure and involvement in the community has not been an institutional priority at McMaster.

Mary Koziol, Assistant to the President, Special Community Initiatives, explained that community engagement is a slow-moving and long-term process, because of the need to both protect the University’s brand and to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.

“Making sure that community engagement is mutually beneficial is at the forefront of the decision-making process. Especially when we ask community partners and consult with them before simply creating things,” she said.

Generally, McMaster has strong elements of short-term service learning and industry partnerships but has lagged behind other universities in community-directed research and community-based education. Most students have limited awareness of Hamilton’s realities.

Huzaifa Saaed, MSU VP Education remarked upon this trend. He stated, “ I don’t feel that…we’ve made a strong commitment to the City of Hamilton, as our city and that’s what we need to go towards. It’s more of a culture shift.”

The CE task force has looked to examples of American schools to model a strong long-term, community-university partnership from.

At the University of Minnesota, the Public Engagement department tracks all the various initiatives and tries to quantify and evaluate the levels of engagement.

McMaster is part of the Canadian Association for Service Learning (Ontario Branch), which has allowed McMaster to exchange ideas with other universities about their best case practices.

McMaster does not stand-alone in its commitment to the community. In the latest Strategic Mandate Agreements submitted to the provincial government, University of Guelph and Queen’s both pledged to incorporate community engagement into their institutional priorities.

While McMaster is still in the brainstorming process, Guelph has pledged to create a certificate in Civic Engagement and establish a School of Civil Society. Queen’s is in the process of developing a Co-Curricular Opportunities Directory to capitalize on student involvement in community and experiential learning opportunities

Other universities such as York and UBC have reallocated resources and received significant funding to create community engagement centres and departments.

 

What comes first?

A major priority for the CE task force has been finding a channel to share and discuss the various community initiatives. McMaster hosted an “Idea Exchange” day where faculties were invited to share how they were engaging with the community.

The current focus is to familiarize all units of the university with all the ongoing projects. The Task Force report proposed creating an infoshare or database of community opportunities to organize the information for both faculty and students.

The report also proposed both a network of community champions and a community engagement course. However, both of these are fairly intertwined initiatives and on some level may vary faculty to faculty.

The network of community champions could be part of a larger community engagement office. Alternatively, these could be designated individuals within faculties.

A community engagement course would seek to immerse students across the University in community learning and meeting community members. Koziol noted that the University is currently contemplating, “what are the big initiatives which would allow a cascade of ideas.”

Koziol reiterated that it was equally important to ensure meaningful engagement and a certain commitment to the community.

“The crux of community engagement is that you are trying to both create and strengthen a network which can be difficult to measure.”

A conference attendee makes her pledge at the 2012 Leadership Summit for Women.

It’s rare to see an all-woman panel filling the seats in the City of Hamilton’s council chambers, but that was the sight on Saturday at the Leadership Summit for Women.

About 200 people attended the conference, which was held this year at City Hall rather than on McMaster’s campus, where attendees convened last year.

“We wanted to extend the discussion to the community,” said Alicia Ali, conference organizer and former VP (education) of the MSU.

A lineup of women leaders took to the mic to share their experiences and to facilitate discussion on how women can advance themselves professionally.

Ann Decter, director of advocacy and public policy at Hamilton’s YWCA, opened the discussion by pointing to a reversal of the ‘gender gap’ in higher education.

In 1971, women comprised 32 per cent of Canadian university graduates aged 25 to 29, and by 2006, the number had shot up to 60 per cent.

“Boys are not falling behind or even declining in education - they are improving,” she added. “But they are outpaced by girls. This is not cause for hysteria.”

The morning panel had a strong McMaster presence, and included Theresa Burns, head coach of McMaster’s women’s basketball team, Susan Fast, director of McMaster’s graduate program in gender studies and feminist research, Dawn Martin-Hill, co-founder of the Indigenous Studies program, and Anisa Mirza, former president of the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice organization.

While the overall mood of the conference was optimistic, concerns were raised about the challenges women still face in Hamilton and beyond.

“I want to see female athletes have a voice,” said coach Burns, who said the women she coaches often get less media coverage than their fellow male athletes.

Fast, who served as panel moderator, pointed out that only 20 per cent of female faculty at Canadian universities are at the rank of full professor.

Evelyn Myrie, executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, spoke highly of the diversity among women leaders in Hamilton, but also said they are underrepresented in the city's leadership.

“Hamilton is ascribed as a male-dominated town in all areas except in the social service sector, where at some level there are [more women in leadership]. We do have a long way to go,” said Myrie.

The conference generated significant buzz on Twitter, with several community members weighing in on the discussion.

Attendees were asked to share their pledge “to help more women become leaders in their community,” and many took to Twitter with the hashtag #LSW2012.

MSU president Siobhan Stewart, who was on the conference's planning committee gave the closing statement.

“In my work, it’s often noted that I’m the first black female president of the MSU. My hope is that we will one day live in a world where that would not be notable,” she said.

McMaster alumni on the planning committee include former MSU president Mary Koziol and the Student Success Centre's social media manager, Kathy Woo.

The same day, young professionals met to talk downtown renewal at the Hamilton HiveX conference one block away at the Sheraton Hotel. Both HiveX and the Leadership Summit for Women are in their second annual run.

By: Jaslyn English and Mary Ann Boateng

 

McMaster students and Westdale residents take advantage of the diversity of vendors and community groups along Sterling Street.

On Sunday Sept. 23, McMaster hosted its first Open Streets event - a day in devotion to the idea of closed off streets making a more open community. The event lasted from late morning to late afternoon, running in conjunction with Open Streets Hamilton happening on James St N.

Open Streets Hamilton brings together different communities within the city in an attempt to bridge the gap between residents, small businesses, cultural organizations and special-interest groups.

The McMaster event featured a closed off portion of Sterling Street, turned completely pedestrian for the day, as well as a campus section stretching the length of University Ave. from the student center to the edge of the BSB field.

The Hamilton event is part of a broader movement in various cities across North America. According to its website, openstreetsproject.org, the object of Open Streets is to “temporarily close streets to automobile traffic, so that people may use them for walking, bicycling, dancing, playing, and socializing.”

Hamilton has been running the event biannually on James St North since spring 2010, and this is the first time it has come to the McMaster campus.

Mary Koziol, former MSU President and Assistant to the President on Special Community Initiatives, was one of the organizers of the event.

“We started the project because we wanted to eliminate some of the barriers people perceive to be around campus,” she said of Open Streets. “We wanted a way to welcome community members onto campus and vice versa.”

University Ave. was lined with booths representing several clubs, organizations, and events within McMaster itself. The campus was also equipped with a stage for live performances.

The festival continued down Sterling Street, where booths of many Westdale shops as well as community-based organizations were located. This area of the event promoted the idea of outer-campus community that Westdale provides for McMaster’s students.

“I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces,” said the vendor at the Hotti Biscotti table, commenting on the similarities between this event and Clubsfest, hosted during Welcome Week on the McMaster campus.

Nate Walker, owner and operator of Nate’s Cakes, an eco-friendly alternative to the food truck, explained how vendors benefit from a festival like Open Streets.

“The event provides me the opportunity to know all the university students, he said on Sunday. “Festivals like this are where it’s at… If [it] happens again, I will definitely come back.”

Vendors and community members alike remarked that the event brought the community together, a notion mirrored by McMaster president Patrick Deane’s message recorded before the event took place.

The president saw the event as “bring[ing] down the boundaries between the university and the community” and was hoping for a “cross-pollinating effect” between McMaster and the broader Hamilton area.

While there was a diversity of age groups and walks of life from both the university and neighboring communities, the event failed to grasp the attention of the “broader Hamilton community” that the President was seeking to attract.

“It’s too bad there aren’t more people,” remarked a Westdale woman to her family, two hours after the event had started.

Yet after using one of the every-half-hour shuttles equipped with its own student tour guide, and taking in the atmosphere of the downtown portion of the event, it became evident that a crowdless, laid back vibe was as much a part of the Open Streets project as were the street vendors, and added to the neighborhood feel of the event.

McMaster participated in Open Streets as part of its celebration of the University’s 125th anniversary, but Koziol hopes the festival will continue in the coming years.

“What we are trying to do is a better job of opening our arms and welcoming the community and creating more and more partnerships and a broader network so that people don’t see McMaster as a community in itself but as just one part of this broader tapestry.”

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