Attendance at the annual McMaster Students Union General Assembly hit a new low this year, with a total of eight members showing up.
Eight students represent 0.0293 per cent of the MSU’s student membership. The number of students needed to reach quorum this year was 724.
We're here at the annual MSU General Assembly! The assembly officially started at 4pm, but there are <10 attendees (including the full MSU board of directors) pic.twitter.com/Kf9YvrJQLL
— The Silhouette (@theSilhouette) March 20, 2019
MSU president Ikram Farah delivered an address at the start of the assembly, speaking about the recent Ontario government cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program and new Student Choice Initiative guidelines.
Following Farah’s remarks, a motion to adjourn the meeting passed unanimously.
The assembly lasted a little longer than five minutes.
Still, this year marked a sharp decline in attendance.
Moreover, unlike in previous years, no GA motions were submitted to the MSU by the March 13 deadline.
The low turnout raises questions as to whether the MSU sufficiently advertised GA, which is the main constitutionally-mandated meeting for students to pass motions affecting the entire student body.
MSU speaker Elizabeth Wong said that many channels were used to promote GA, including social media pushes, text messages and posters and banners in public spaces.
However, Student Representative Assembly social science caucus leader Fawziyah Ali said that promotion this year was less effective than in previous years.
“In terms of Facebook promotion, poster promotion, I don’t think it was as advertised as it could be, so people didn’t know that it was happening,” Ali said. “There should have been better promotion, because MSU GA is an important event, especially to bridge that gap between the MSU and students.”
Student engagement with the MSU, particularly regarding elections, has been relatively positive this year, with a record number of students running in the SRA general elections and increased candidate turnout for first-year council elections.
These increases in MSU engagement have been largely attributed to improved promotion efforts from the MSU.
This year, the GA event page on Facebook page was created only one night before the event, and a total of 164 students were invited.
For comparison, last year’s event page included 212 invitations and was created more than a week in advance.
GA has hit quorum before, most recently in 2015 and 2012. While this was largely due to the boycott, divestments and sanctions motion in 2015, the high attendance in 2012 is considered to have been the result of an extensive promotion campaign run by the board of directors.
“It’s not like you want contentious issues to happen so people come out. That’s not at all what it is. You hope that there are no contentious issues, but there is always something to talk about,” Ali said.
Vania Pagniello, an incoming SRA representative, noted there may still be a significant gap when it comes to educating students about how GA works and why it is important.
“I think the average student doesn’t even know what a motion is,” Pagniello said.
Ali speculates that students may also be looking to non-MSU networks, such as the Hamilton Student Mobilization Network, to raise awareness of social issues.
“I think there’s some disenchantment in terms of students and their relationship to the MSU,” said Ali.
Until more is done, it seems that GA will continue to be an under-utilized tool for effecting change on campus.
On Feb. 2, Sonia Igboanugo, a fourth-year McMaster biomedical discovery and commercialization student and co-founder of Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster, received the Lincoln Alexander scholarship at the John C. Holland awards, which celebrates African-Canadian achievement in Hamilton.
Igboanugo and McMaster grad student Kayonne Christy launched BAP-MAC during the 2016-2017 school year to support Black McMaster students striving to become physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Igboanugo was inspired to create the club following her attendance at a University of Toronto summer mentorship program geared towards Indigenous and Black students interested in health sciences.
“I felt like that program changed my life in terms of inspiring me in what I thought I could do and what my capacity was as a potential health care professional,” Igboanugo said. “I felt very empowered and I felt very interested in this in bringing the same experience to McMaster.”
Since then, BAP-MAC has steadily grown. Currently, the club has over 100 members, proving a variety of resources to its members.
As part of the BAP-MAC mentorship program, younger students are paired with a mentor who provides academic and career guidance.
Throughout the year, BAP-MAC also arms students with information about research opportunities and hosts workshops and talks led by healthcare professionals.
At its core, however, BAP-Mac simply serves as a community for Black students on campus.
“For me, the biggest part has been connecting with older students who can help me navigate through university,” said first-year kinesiology student Ida Olaye, who aspires to go to medical school. “BAP-MAC gives you that support group, to know that you’re not alone, that there are a lot of people trying to pursue the same dream that you are pursuing and it is very doable.”
This past year, BAP-MAC received a three-year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The grant has allowed BAP-MAC to host a conference for the first time. The event is scheduled for this upcoming May.
The grant also allows the club to expand its vision to empower Black youth on a larger scale.
“Because we have a pretty good campus presence, I would say, but the goal was to address the issue of lack of diversity on a more systemic front,” Igboanugo said.
Part of that is a new initiative aimed at incorporating high school students into the BAP-MAC program by connecting them to undergraduate student mentors.
Second-year human behaviour student Simi Olapade, who is also the associate director of multimedia for BAP-MAC, sees a lot of value in the initiative.
“Reaching out to those high school students is an opportunity that I even wished I had to be honest. Seeing someone like you in a place where you want to be helps so much in terms of making you focus more on achieving that goal, making you more goal-oriented and making you more focused,” Olapade said.
Reflecting on the award she recently received, Igboanugo says the work she does as part of BAP-MAC only reflects how others have helped her.
“It was very humbling to actually be recognized for the work because it is the greatest thing or greatest privilege I have to always serve my community or use my strength to better my community and the people around me,” Igboanugo said.
Students wishing to get involved with BAP-MAC can learn more about the group’s initiatives on BAP-MAC’s Facebook page.