Most students in paid MSU positions have volunteered for the MSU in the past

C/O Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

Every year around February and March, the McMaster Students Union begins hiring for paid student positions. Whether it’s being a part-time director for an MSU service, a research assistant for MSU Advocacy or working for the Silhouette, there are many ways to get involved and actually be paid for your work.

In addition, the MSU highlights that prior employment or volunteer experience within the MSU is not required to apply for these positions. While that may be true, the odds of actually landing a position in the MSU without prior volunteer experience are very unlikely.

But if they’re saying you can apply without prior experience in the MSU, why would they not also hire students who don’t have prior experience? I’m not saying it’s impossible to be hired for a paid role, I’m just saying it’s not likely you will be hired for a paid role.

Why is that? Because in the four years I’ve been at McMaster University, most people I know who have been hired for paid roles had previous volunteer experience within the MSU.

Because in the four years I’ve been at McMaster University, most people I know who have been hired for paid roles had previous volunteer experience within the MSU.

Let’s highlight the part-time director positions first, shall we? Director positions are student positions that manage an MSU service. For example, services such as the Women and Gender Equity Network, Spark, the Student Health Education Centre, Diversity Services and Maccess all have a director.

Currently, all of these directors used to be volunteer executives for their respective services. Volunteer executives have to commit a large amount of time to the service — around 5-10 hours a week — typically for a whole year. If we open it up even further, most part-time directors have at least been a general volunteer for their service or the MSU as a whole. 

Evidently, most directors have volunteered for the MSU in the past. This can make sense in many ways, as they are managing a whole service and obviously need to be qualified to do this — so volunteering is an asset, right? But what about paid positions that don’t involve directing a whole service?

Even for non-managerial roles, students who are hired for paid roles often have volunteer experience beforehand. I can speak on behalf of the Sil — as the Opinions Editor for the past two years, I volunteered for the Sil the year before I got hired.

At the Sil, previous experience is considered an asset. You don’t need to have previous experience to be hired, of course, but you’re much more likely to have a step-up in being hired if you can say you’ve written an article or two for the Sil in the past.

I can’t speak on behalf of the other paid roles in the MSU, but I can tell you that almost all my friends that have been hired for a paid role in the MSU have volunteered for the MSU at some point in their undergraduate career.

So what’s the problem? The problem is: what about the people who can’t afford to volunteer? Students may find themselves in a financially unstable situation where the only option they have is to find a job — volunteering simply doesn’t make sense because it won’t help them pay for their groceries or rent.

As a result, because they are not volunteering for the MSU, they are less likely to land a paid role in the MSU. This makes a lot of paid roles in the MSU financially inaccessible for students if they are unable to volunteer. They may be spectacular at the role they’re applying for, but they may not be hired because they don’t have previous experience with the MSU.

So what’s the problem? The problem is: what about the people who can’t afford to volunteer?

The fact that “you can apply regardless of MSU experience” is misleading — you can apply, but if you do have volunteer experience, you are more likely to be hired. It’s okay if volunteering helps you get a step up in being hired, but the MSU should start making that more clear.

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 by Kyle West

On March 29, the Ontario government unveiled guidelines for universities to follow in order to comply with the “Student Choice Initiative” policy, which allows students to opt out of paying ancillary fees.

According to the document, students will be allowed to opt out of fees that are allocated towards clubs, student organizations and programs that do not fall into the government’s criteria for essential fees.

Services considered “essential” in the guidelines include “athletics and recreation, career services, student buildings, health and counselling, academic support, student ID cards, student achievement and records, financial aid offices, and campus safety programs.”

As such, much remains unclear about what the student opt-out fee mandate means for the funding of MSU clubs and services next year.

Sean Van Koughnett, McMaster associate vice-president (Students and Learning) and dean of students, confirmed that the opting out process will occur online through the Mosaic system and be part of the regular tuition payment process in September.

McMaster Students Union vice president (Finance) Scott Robinson is working on a final memo to submit to the university student fees committee, outlining exactly what services the MSU wants to deem “essential.”

The government has given each institution the autonomy to determine what falls under the “essential” categories, but there will be penalties if universities are deemed non-compliant with the SCI come this upcoming fall.

“We've been working closely with the university to determine as many of our fees as possible as essential fees,” Robinson said. “The priority for me again has been that students voted at large that we should have a mandatory MSU fee.”

Complicating the budget submission is the fact that the union will not know how much they will receive in student fees until September.

Robinson is basing the official operating budget on the estimate that 35 per cent of students will opt out of non-essential student fees.

At this point, the framework is such that students will be able to choose which “non-essential” individual MSU services to opt out of, but club funding will fall under one fee item.

A source of funding that will help mitigate the loss of student fees is a ‘significant’ MSU reserve fund, which Robinson said has enough to keep the MSU running for two and a half years.  

“Things like funding decreases and scale-backs are being planned right now for the budget, but it isn’t like we’re in total doomsday,” Robinson said. “How much money goes towards things will shift, but the MSU is still in a financially safe place to operate.”

The reserve fund will be used primarily to help fund services and clubs.

Robinson says there will not be ‘significant cuts’ planned for student-run services such as the Pride Community Centre and the Food Collective Centre.  

The MSU executive board continues to advocate against the SCI.

MSU vice president (Education) Stephanie Bertolo said she and the board have met with nine Conservative and New Democratic Party MPPs so far.

“We don’t want the Student Choice initiative to go forward. That’s our ideal scenario,” Bertolo said. “We’ve asked if they do move forward with the Student Choice Initiative, to delay it a year, because it’s such a crunched timeline.”

Robinson will be submitting the 2019-2020 operating budget to the Student Representative Assembly for approval at the SRA meeting on April 14.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

The McMaster Students Union and McMaster University are preparing to re-examine their policies and protocols on sexual violence in light of the recent Student Voices on Sexual Violence report released by the provincial government earlier this month.

The Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey was sent out last year and involved 160,000 students from over 40 Ontario post-secondary institutions outlining their experiences of sexual violence and harassment.  

According to the survey, three in five McMaster students disclosed at least one experience of sexual harassment.

Sixty-one per cent of McMaster students said they do not have knowledge of McMaster’s sexual violence supports and services.

A McMaster Daily News article responding to the report states that McMaster has provided sexual violence prevention and response training to more than 8,600 students, staff and faculty over the past year.

Arig al Shaibah, McMaster’s associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion), said the university’s sexual violence education team will begin planning a bystander intervention training program in April.

In response to the report, the university will also shortly be reviewing the McMaster’s sexual violence policy, which was created in 2017.

“We are just in the beginning processes of looking at the policy,” al Shaibah said. “We know the numbers that come through our offices are not necessarily indicative of the full picture, so periodically going out there and being able to anonymously get a good gauge of people’s experiences and perceptions is really important.”

Every year, the EIO releases a report highlighting statistics on disclosures of sexual violence and harassment.

However, al Shaibah said the EIO needs to make sure that definitions used to classify disclosures are standardized.

“We have just improved the way we are collecting and centralizing data,” al Shaibah said. “Moving forward, one of the things we are doing is trying to make sure that everyone in the intake office is using the same definition so that we can start to capture trend data over time.”

MSU vice president (Administration) Kristina Epifano will be revising the current “Workplace Anti-Violence, Harassment, and Sexual Assault Prevention Policy” in response to the survey.

“With these revisions, we will host some feedback sessions, inviting student-staff and volunteers to share some of the challenges they've experienced with policies in the past and recommendations they would like to see moving forward,” Epifano said in an email. “I believe it is important to adapt the policy to highlight different options and courses of action that a survivor can take during the process.”

The provincial report comes against the backdrop of multiple allegations of sexual assault within the MSU Maroons.

On March 29, Farah released a statement addressing the subject, promising a formal investigation.

Nevertheless, Farah states that she hasn’t “found actual reports, anonymous or otherwise, of sexual violence within the Maroons team this year.”

The statement also said Epifano will be standardizing an anonymous online reporting tool used for Marrons for all MSU volunteers.

Jocelyn Heaton, the coordinator of the MSU Women and Gender Equity Network, said the MSU’s steps in addressing sexual violence are helpful, but there remains a lot of work to be done.

“The fact that less than three quarters of students know that there are supports and services available is pretty harmful for people who experience sexual violence,” said Heaton. “Also, knowing that a lot of that group is going to receive a disclosure during their time at university and they're not going to know where to refer people to is harmful as well,” she said.

Heaton also mentioned that there has been no consultation thus far with services like WGEN when it comes to the Maroons incident and revising the MSU’s workplace sexual assault prevention policy.

“As the coordinator of a service, the only service specifically meant to address sexual violence, I was never once consulted or brought in to talk about that situation,” Heaton said. “Students have not been consulted on what the policy should look like.”

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Neda Pirouzmand

On March 18, Bridges Café unveiled its new “Cards for Humanity” student program.

“Cards” refer to one dollar donations that students can make at checkout in the café. Each donation will go towards a future student’s purchase.

There is a one hundred dollar cap on donations so that funds do not accumulate.

Chris Roberts, director of McMaster Hospitality Services, described the program as user-friendly.

“It’s quite simple. Donate a dollar when you can, or use a dollar when you need it,” he said. “Anyone can donate to the project when purchasing a meal and students can use up to three dollars at a time towards their food purchase.”

Roberts attributes the idea for the program to a McMaster student.

“A student had seen something similar at the 541 Eatery and believed it would be a good way to help students with food accessibility challenges,” Roberts said. “Hospitality Services was supportive of the idea and we have worked hard to get the program elements in place.”

541 Eatery & Exchange is a Hamilton café that uses a pay it forward initiative to give all community members a place at the table.

Café customers can donate a dollar to buy a button, and future customers can use buttons towards their meal.

It should be noted that the program will be funded exclusively via McMaster students, not the university. This may make it less sustainable in the long-term as the successes of the program will be contingent on students’ ability and willingness to donate.

In addition, pay it forward initiatives have the drawback of being vulnerable to abuse.

Students can use cards for humanity donations regardless of whether or not they face food insecurity because there exist no restrictions on program eligibility.

However, Roberts is not focused on those who may try to abuse the system. He maintains that the pilot program’s success will depend on whether it addresses food insecurity and raises awareness for postsecondary food insecurity in Canada.

“There are students who could come and use the program but they don’t because they tell me that they would rather give than receive,” said a Bridges employee named Maggie.

Roberts does not see this initiative expanding in the future as he hopes that the support provided from Bridges will meet the needs of students on campus.

The smooth operation of this program will depend on goodwill. If students do not abuse the program, donations will be allocated towards those who need them the most.

 

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For over 25 years the McMaster Alumni Association has partnered with affinity companies to bring valuable services and discounted benefits to students, alumni as well as faculty and staff.  If you’re a student, you may have encountered some friendly folks reaching out to you to sign up for a BMO McMaster MasterCard in the Student Centre. And perhaps you might have looked into renters insurance in your second year when you moved off campus through TD Insurance Meloche Monnex.  We hope you’ve enjoyed flashing your MasterCard with the image of our beloved Edwards Arch and felt a little surge of pride when a cashier or server comments on the great looking card, or says, oh, hey, I go to MAC too! Perhaps when you graduate, you’ll need to replace your health and dental insurance and will look to Manulife Financial for that. Further on, you’ll switch that renters insurance to house insurance and may want to protect your growing family with life insurance. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves!

The MAA’s goal with the affinity programs has always been to offer a great deal or added value on a service or product you need. And, over the years, thousands of students and alumni have participated in these programs. With excellent customer service survey reports and impressive retention rates, we are confident that the programs are delivering the quality experience that we expect.

You may wonder what else the alumni association get out of these programs. You may enjoy knowing that your participation in these programs helps to contribute to programs and initiatives back here at MAC, without any additional cost to you!  Over the years, through growth in these programs, the MAA has supported student bursaries and scholarships, helped fund Alumni Field, the McMaster University Student Centre, helped bring you Light up the Night, as well as countless student group initiatives, conferences and events that contribute to the diverse learning and social opportunities that make for an awesome university experience.  

So, if you’re carrying that McMaster MasterCard in your wallet, we hope you feel good about using it and we hope you are even more stoked about the discount you received on your insurance. If you’d like to learn more about the affinity programs offered through the association, check us out anytime at alumni.mcmaster.ca – Access Benefits. Questions?  Contact alumni@mcmaster.ca or call 905-525-9140, x. 23900.  And hey, thanks for your participation!

 

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Graphics C/O Sukaina Imam

By: Neda Pirouzmand

Health and Wellness

One of the key issues that the MSU points out in the “Health and Wellness” policy paper is that referrals from the Student Wellness Centre are not tailored to the needs of students.

The MSU suggests that the SWC neglects to account for how students will reach community referrals or how much it will cost them.

The policy paper brings forward a number of recommendations to combat these issues, proposing the SWC connect with MSU peer support services to provide support for McMaster’s diverse student population.

The MSU also recommends that the SWC offer harm reduction services and feedback opportunities to students.

The policy paper also includes recommendations for other university stakeholders, suggesting that professors and teaching assistants be required to undergo mental health first aid training.

 

Student Rental Housing and Near-Campus Neighbourhoods

According to this policy paper, McMaster off-campus resource centre resources are underused by students. The OCRC has not posted on Facebook since April 2017.

Another issue is that demand is overtaking supply in the student housing market. The quantity and quality of available housing opportunities is on the decline.

In light of these issues, the MSU recommends the city of Hamilton to proceed with its proposed investment of $347,463 to hire three full-time employees for a two-year rental licensing pilot project beginning in 2019 to annually inspect buildings in Hamilton.

The MSU also suggests that McMaster seek more public-private partnerships to improve the supply of nearby student housing.

 

University Accessibility

This policy paper first notes that McMaster has a ten year plan to make its campus “car free,” which would reduce accessibility by moving the HSR bus stop from University and Sterling Street to the McMaster Go bus station.

According to the paper, another accessibility concern lies in the fact that most McMaster professors neither consider nor actively incorporate strategies and recommendations outlined in McMaster’s accessibility resources.

The paper also points out that learning materials are often inequitable and the university has significant work to do when it comes to promoting and implementing accessible pedagogy.

The MSU puts forward a number of recommendations to improve the university’s accessibility practices.

The paper argues that all professors teaching in rooms fitted for podcasting should post podcasts and use accessible formats for supplementary class material.

In addition, the paper suggests that intramurals reduce their pre-playoff participation requirement from 50 to 30 per cent, as students with disabilities may not be able to make all games.

According to the paper, student accessibility services should have an open catalogue for student notes, where students in need would not be limited to resources from one student.

 

Racial, Cultural and Religious Equity

The dominant issue highlighted in this policy paper is the fact that faculty staff and many student groups do not receive mandatory anti-oppressive practices training.

In addition, according to the paper, McMaster Security Services has been involved in the excessive carding and racial profiling of students.

Another issue concerns the fact that there exists no record-keeping system of student demographics in relation to enrollment and dropout rates by faculty.

Students are also largely unaware of the McMaster Religious, Spiritual, and Indigenous Observances policy.

Some recommendations in the paper call for McMaster to explore alternative enrollment application streams for underrepresented groups.

The paper also suggests that applicants looking for research funding from Mcmaster identify how their research will appeal to or account for marginalized populations.

According to the paper, McMaster should mandate equity and diversity requirements for all undergrads.

Chairs of hiring committees, security staff, teaching assistants and faculty members should undergo mandatory AOP training.

Another recommendation calls for the EIO to investigate carding and racial profiling trends centered around McMaster Security Services.

 

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Photo C/O @djnontario

By: Donna Nadeem

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario is a Hamilton-based organization launched in September by McMaster alumni Sarah Jama and Eminet Dagnachew and McMaster student Shanthiya Baheerathan.

The co-founders initially got together because of their aligning interests. For instance, Jama was working with the McMaster Students Union Diversity Services as an access coordinator, trying to push the university to create a service for people with disabilities.

“I always think that there is more that could be done, that the institution doesn’t do a good job of supporting people with disabilities in terms of responding to professors who don’t want to accommodate. There is still a lot from what I’m seeing as a person who has graduated,” said Jama.

Last year, the co-founders received an Ontario Trillium grant over 36 months to create and run the organization. The basis of DJNO is to pose questions to the community of people with disabilities to see what it is they want to work on and how DJNO can use their resources to support the community it serves.

One of DJNO’s larger goals is to politically activate and mobilize people with disabilities who consistently get left out of conversations that affect their lives.

“Our goal is to politically activate and mobilize people with disabilities across the city and the province over time and to be able to hold the institutions and places and people accountable for the spaces that they create,” said Jama.

The research committee for DJNO has recently been working on data collection for a study on issues for racialized people with disabilities.

According to Jama, there is a lack of data collection on this subject.

The DJNO also has a youth advisory council that teaches people with disabilities how to politically organize.

In just a few months of being in operation, the DJNO has hosted several events, such as a community conversation event about the Hamilton light rail transit project, a film screening and panel discussion about Justice For Soli, a movement seeking justice for the death of Soleiman Faqiri, who was killed in prison after being beaten by guards.

The film screening and panel discussion was organized alongside McMaster Muslims For Peace and Justice and the McMaster Womanists.

On March 26, the DJNO will be hosting an event called “Race and Disability: Beyond a One Dimensional Framework” in Celebration Hall at McMaster.

This discussion, being organized in collaboration with the MSU Maccess and the MSU Women and Gender Equity Network, will tackle “the intersections of race/racialization, disability, and gender for all McMaster Community Members.”

Next week, the DJNO will also be organizing a rally with Justice for Soli in order to speak out against violence against people with disabilities.

The Justice for Soli team has been tirelessly advocating for justice, accountability, sounding the alarm of deeply systemic issues in the prison system, namely the violence that it inflicts on racialized peoples, and people with disabilities,” reads part of the event page.

For McMaster students interested in getting involved with the organization, DJNO has some open committees and is looking for individuals to help identify major community issues.

The campaign committee meets at the Hamilton Public Library monthly. Students can email info@djno.ca for more information.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Natalie Clark

In 2017, McMaster partnered with the My Lil’ HealthBot startup to provide students on campus with all of their various drugstore needs.

Stocked with Advil, shampoo and various other drugstore essentials, McMaster’s own personal care product vending machine, My Lil’ HealthBot “Marie,” located in Mary Keyes Residence, achieves a solid seven to 10 sales a week.

Two years later, My Lil’ HealthBot has expanded their market, grown their e-commerce capability, streamlined their product mix and improved their brand positioning and message.

“We have provided relief to over 10,000 university students across Canada and soon we will be launching in the United States,” said My My Lil’ HealthBot co-founder Tim Decker.

Aside from the obvious improvements that the company has accomplished, they also hope to introduce a new program to their roster.

“The only other place to obtain items sold by the vending machine are in the drugstore in [McMaster University Student Centre], which is closed in the evenings and on weekends, and the closest Shoppers for McMaster students is in Westdale or on Main Street West,” said Raj Vansia, a McMaster student who represents the company on campus.

“We hope to increase the availability of necessary products for McMaster students while still being able to provide great service,” said Vansia. “This is the main reason for us to try out the dorm room delivery pilot at McMaster, which would allow for delivery anywhere on campus within 20 minutes of any products in our HealthBots bought online.”

The My Lil’ HealthBot dorm room delivery program will be test launching on March 16 and will last 24 hours. The program is slated to gauge the demand from students to have products delivered to them for an extra fee.

“One of the benefits of our HealthBots being on campus is we provide a 24/7 solution to life’s headaches. However, what if you could have our products delivered to you in 20 mins or less for only an extra $3.99 on your order,” said Decker.

The company will be experimenting with this idea to see if there is demand to provide extra convenience to students.

“To use dorm room delivery, a student simply visits our website and ‘checks out’ normally, and for a delivery option they choose ‘Dorm Room Delivery,” explained Decker.

Due to dorm room security restrictions, products will be delivered to the lobby of McMaster residences.

The program’s trial test will allow the company to grasp how many students are interested in this new service.

“We have heard lots of great feedback from students. We are passionate about the way we have provided an option for easier access to very important products,” said Decker, who is confident about the positive impact that My Lil’ Heathbots have had on campus.

According to Decker and Vansia, My Lil’ HealthBot makes it easier for students on campus to access their drugstore needs.

“We strive to ensure that students should only have to focus on school while they are at school, rather than on how they will go about buying the necessities they need,” said Vansia.

With the vending machines already making their mark on the McMaster campus, Decker and Vansia are hopeful that the dorm room delivery program will be successful.

 

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