Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Saadia Shahid

On Feb. 27, the McMaster Students Union promoted its three-day education campaign “Compost at Mac” which highlighted several composting bins around campus. The campaign encouraged students to locate areas within the university where compost bins should be placed.

This was done in efforts to reduce the waste produced by students and also to promote composting.

Another table that I came across in the McMaster University Students Centre asked students to make pledges to limit their use of disposable items. I pledged to limit my use of plastic cutlery, but how feasible is that really?

As a student, making sustainable choices is difficult when there are plastic straws and cutlery distributed all over campus. It is hard to make the environmentally-conscious choice when those items are so easily accessible.

It is easy for the MSU to put up boards encouraging students to help combat climate change, but would it not make more sense for McMaster Hospitality Services to abolish the use of plastic cutlery and disposable items altogether? This would probably help reduce the carbon footprint of the entire university.

This may seem like a drastic change, but the ease lies in switching to more environmentally-friendly and sustainable options like steel cutlery and straws. Reusable mesh grocery bags should be also sold on campus to make it easier for students to adopt sustainable habits.

In making these changes, the MUSC eating area could be also revamped into a proper food court with steel cutlery and plates given out in La Piazza. Students can then return to these items to workers stationed at the food court.

A system like this is already implemented at plenty of malls with food courts and helps to reduce waste due to the availability of reusable cutlery. The cost may seem a little high, but it is not higher than the one we will have to pay due to the effects of climate change.

This initiative can start during Welcome Week with new students introduced to the green changes.  

Speaking from a student’s point of view, these changes would make things easier for us and also be more beneficial for the Earth. An institution equipped with the funding makes a bigger difference than opposed to individual students struggling to find sustainable alternatives.

The MSU has done a lot of things that students didn’t vote for, such as starting the composting initiative. They encourage us to follow along as it is a change for the better, but they must at least make it easier for students to adopt.

 

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Photos C/O Kyle West

The McMaster Students Union recognizes over 350 clubs. According to the MSU Clubs page, the purpose of these clubs is to “provide an insightful and meaningful contribution to the McMaster and Hamilton community.”

Being a MSU recognized club affords certain privileges including being eligible for funding from the MSU. This funding comes directly from the MSU organizational fee, a $130.26 fee that all full-time undergraduate students pay. Within this fee, $8.02 are collected per student to support MSU clubs.

As students are paying for the operations of these clubs, the MSU has a responsibility to ensure that these clubs are not deliberately sharing and promoting misinformation that can be harmful to students.

McMaster Lifeline is the pro-life group on campus. Their mission statement is “to advocate with loving care the legal rights and social support of pregnant women and their unborn children.”

While the presence of a pro-life group on campus is already cause for controversy, the issue at hand is not solely the groups’ existence but that they use student space and resources to share information that is factually incorrect.

The group can often be found at a table in the McMaster University Student Centre, a privilege of being a MSU club, spreading scientifically false information on abortions and reproductive health. In addition to misinformation, the group is known for distributing graphic and potentially triggering images.

Groups like McMaster Lifeline should not be given a platform by the MSU to disseminate false information about individuals’ health.

Namely, the group fails to state that abortions are safe, medical procedures that are fully legal in Canada. Instead, they spread the false rhetoric that “abortions are never medically necessary”, which is simply a lie.  

In fact, any student-run group on campus does not really have the credentials to provide healthcare information or advice to students. Abortion is a serious topic that should be discussed with a healthcare professional who can provide factual, non-judgemental information, not with students who some of which have “no experience engaging with people on the topic.”

The MSU should be cautious in ratifying clubs that provide this type of information, as the results can be extremely harmful to students.

With over 350 clubs, it can be difficult for the MSU to ensure that operations of each of their clubs are aligned with the core goal of supporting students. However, that is not an excuse for allowing this behaviour to occur.

Multiple students have on many occasions voiced their concerns against these clubs’ actions. The MSU failing to take action blatantly goes against their responsibility towards their student constituents.

The MSU Clubs Operating Policy states that the MSU “will not attempt to censor, control or interfere with any existing MSU club on the basis of its philosophy, beliefs, interests or opinions expressed until these lead to activities which are illegal or which infringe upon the rights and freedoms of others”.

Due to this policy, on March 22, pro-choice students who were protesting McMaster Lifeline’s table in MUSC were removed and not allowed to distribute pro-choice pamphlets. A claimed “victory for free speech on campus” by the MSU only served to help promote the misinformation on campus.

While the actions of McMaster Lifeline may not be illegal, they certainly are harmful to students and may actually be violating the Clubs Judicial Policy, stated under the MSU Clubs Operating Policy.

Specifically, their actions may be considered to “unnecessarily cause a significant nuisance for an individual or group” (5.1.1.3), have “conduct unbecoming of an MSU club” (5.1.2.7) and most importantly, actions that “unnecessarily jeopardize the safety or security of any person or property” (5.1.3.3).

If the MSU truly wishes to provide a meaningful contribution to the McMaster and Hamilton community, it can begin with properly investigating clubs that may be found guilty of any offences described by the Clubs Judicial Policy. Only then can they truly ensure that their clubs support and protect McMaster students.

If students do wish to learn about their options with respect to their reproductive health, the Student Wellness Centre offers birth control counselling. If a student wishes to speak in a more informal setting, the MSU Student Health Education Centre offers relevant literature, referrals and peer support.

 

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Photos C/O Ryan Tse

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.

GA frequently sees a low turnout. Last year and in 2016, approximately fifty students attended. In 2017, just 27 students were present.

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.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

With tuition and living costs on the rise, obtaining a post-secondary education can be extremely costly. One of the higher costs of education are textbook fees; a first year life sciences student can expect to pay $825.15 in new textbooks.

To reduce the overall cost and increase the accessibility of post-secondary education, open educational resources were created.

OERs are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. They can be freely used, shared or adapted by anyone.

There are many benefits of open education. For students, the use of OERs can alleviate the stresses associated with exorbitant textbook costs.

In addition to cost-saving benefits, there are correlations between the use of OERs and higher grades, and the use of OERS and lower course withdrawal rates. Even more, accessible OERs can remove barriers for students with print disabilities.

The use of OERs also avoids the problems characteristic of traditional textbooks. Problems such as bundled content, use of access codes that control and limit access to material and the assignment of “updated” textbook editions made for the sole purpose of profit generation are resolved by the use of OERs.

With all the benefits, it begs the question why hasn’t McMaster University done more to push for OERs?

Recently, McMaster professor Catherine Anderson created the first open-access linguistics textbook with support from the university and a $15,000 grant from eCampusOntario’s open textbook initiative. While this is a great accomplishment, Anderson’s textbook is not enough to create open education on campus.

The McMaster Students Union has advocated for OERs in the past. Last year, they ran the #TextbookBroke campaign with the support of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. This campaign aimed to encourage instructors to adopt OERs in efforts to address textbook affordability.

The 2018 McMaster University budget submission form also recommends that the university invest $50,000 to support professors in adopting or creating OERs that are specific to McMaster courses.

The document contains many suggestions for the university, moved forward by the MSU. However, in light of the recent changes to post-secondary education funding made by the Ford government, it is unclear if any of the MSU’s recommendations, let alone a $50,000 fund for OERs, will materialize.

But beyond advocacy efforts by the MSU, the university has yet to provide legitimate support for open education. According to Olga Perkovic, co-chair of the McMaster OER committee, the committee’s workings are not supported financially or with policy.

This is in contrast with Queen’s University, who are at the forefront of open education in Ontario. The OER committee at Queen’s is a top-down movement, that is, their provost specifically made open education a priority, which involved providing financial and infrastructural support.

According to the MSU budget submission, other Canadian universities including the University of Alberta, Simon Fraser University and the University of Calgary have thousands of dollars in funding allocated for OERs.  

McMaster ought to follow suit and prioritize open education for its students. To do so would mean to commit dedicated funds alongside time and efforts to ensure faculty members have the capacity to implement OERs in the classroom.

In the meantime, instructors can help support the open movement by using open materials in their courses whenever it is possible. There are many available collections of OERs for instructors to use. For example, the non-profit organization eCampusOntario hosts a provincially-funded open textbook library that carries hundreds of textbooks and other educational resources from a variety of disciplines.

Students can also support the open movement through discussing implementation of OERs with their instructors, uploading and encouraging their peers to upload their research onto McMaster’s institutional repository MacSphere and contacting the committee to recommend a president to ensure open education is a priority of the incoming president.

To stay up to date on the happenings of McMaster’s OER committee, the group’s meeting minutes are publicly available through McMaster LibGuides.   

 

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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 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 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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Photos by Kyle West

A record 79 candidates were vying for a position on the McMaster Students Union Student Representative Assembly general elections, which ended last Monday.

Seventy-nine candidates competed for 31 SRA seats across all faculties, the highest number ever.

Last year, there were just 41 candidates running for 31 seats. Two years ago, there were 50 candidates.

The highest number of candidates came from the SRA science and SRA social science faculties.

Twenty-five candidates ran for seven seats for science, while 16 candidates ran for five seats in social science.

In 2018, there were just nine and five candidates for the science and social science faculties.

Candidate turnout was higher than last year for other faculties as well.

SRA commerce had eight candidates running for four seats this year compared to five candidates last year, and the arts and science faculty had four nominees running for one seat compared to one nominee last year.

Voter turnout was markedly high as well. Twenty per cent of undergraduate students, or a total of 4283, voted in the SRA generals election, a dramatic increase from last year’s election, which saw 1064 voters.

Several current SRA members and winning candidates attributed the increase in candidate turnout to more effective advertising from the McMaster Student Union elections department this year, made up of chief returning officer Uwais Patel and deputy returning officer Emily Yang.

“This year, the CRO and DRO did a really good job in doing outreach. It was a lot of promotion, and it was faculty-specific promotion as well,” said Tasneem Warwani, current SRA arts and science representative.

“I think what they did really well was reach out to SRA members to ensure that they were reaching out to their constituents,” said Devin Roshan, current SRA health sciences representative.

One new initiative the elections team took on this year was sending faculty-specific emails directly to students to remind them of nomination deadlines and how many seats were available.

“On the MSU pages, social media-wise, I saw more promotion about it,” said third-year social sciences student Allie Kampan, who won an SRA seat. “More people were aware of it this year.”

Some faculties also tried to host more faculty-specific events encouraging students to run. For example, the social science caucus ran an event where they handed out nomination forms.

“I think the SRA reps made it more approachable this year,” Kampman said. “There’s a stigma around a lot of MSU things, specifically SRA, which is that it’s unapproachable.”

Roshan pointed out that increased turnout also comes from regular efforts through the year to educate students on issues and what the SRA is doing.

The health sciences election this year featured eight candidates for two positions, building off seven candidates last year after just two in 2017.

Students entering post-secondary education may also be becoming more interested in politics.

“Looking at the first years specifically, in my interactions I’ve had with them, they’re very passionate about getting involved,” Warwani said.

First year council elections this year featured a record high of 54 candidates running for sixteen positions.

Not all faculties saw a rise in candidate turnout. Humanities had only three nominees, meaning all three available seats were acclaimed. There were just two nursing nominees for one seat and four kinesiology nominees for two seats. SRA engineering also had just eight candidates for six available seats.

All of these faculties have struggled to put forth nominees in recent years, with seats often being acclaimed.

According to incoming SRA engineering representative Hawk Yang, one possible reason for the typically low candidate turnout is that the engineering faculty has a prominent engineering society, which often overshadows SRA engineering initiatives.

Nonetheless, as evidenced by the SRA statistics, the MSU is still seeing refreshingly high interest in student government this year.

 

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Photo C/O Catherine Goce

By: Neda Pirouzmand

Graduating students should not have had an equal say on these decisions in comparison to returning students. As changes regarding student fees are implemented in the following academic year, graduating students will not be paying for them.

This line of reasoning can be extended to graduating students’ influence over the MSU presidential elections. The actions and views of the MSU president only become relevant during and following their transition period into office.

Chukky Ibe won the McMaster Students Union presidential election in 2017. In March of the same year, students passed a referendum to add $95 to their Athletics and Recreation Activity fee in order to build the Student Activity Building and expand the Pulse fitness area.

Last year, Ikram Farah’s winning election was accompanied by a referendum that reduced the Ontario Public Research Group’s funding at the university from $8.07 to $5.50 per student.

Josh Marando will officially take office in May. While he is currently in the process of transitioning into the role of MSU president, his responses to recent events, such as Doug Ford’s changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program, and any future implementations will directly impact incoming and returning students.

At most, graduating students may be indirectly affected by the MSU’s advocacy efforts at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. This possible indirect impact still does not warrant graduating students to have as much influence as they currently possess.

An alternate system may involve weighting votes, where graduating students’ votes are weighted less than those of returning students. The logistics of the weighting amount could be decided by the MSU.

Those against changing the voting system may state that graduating students have unique and relevant experiences that allow them to make informed votes. Additionally, as graduating students pay the full MSU fee it can be argued that they have the right to exercise their vote.

These concerns could be addressed through adjusting the weight of votes from graduating students, rather than removing their vote altogether. If necessary, this could also be coupled with lowering the MSU fee for these students.

Would reweighting graduating students’ votes have changed past elections and referenda? This information is not publicly available and therefore no concrete conclusions can be drawn.

Elections should allow for a candidate to be selected who is in agreement with the majority of the relevant student population. Thus, the influence that graduating students have in this mix should be decreased.

Following this line of reasoning, incoming first-years should have a chance to vote. Many referenda and elections cannot accommodate this due to their timing in relation to admissions.

However, in some cases, this could be accomplished through implementing appropriate communication channels between incoming students and the MSU.

If this were to be pursued, it would need to be preceded by large-scale exposure and encouragement of voting in high school students.

Once April passes, graduating students will no longer fall under the umbrella of the MSU. As such, they should not influence future MSU decisions as much as they currently do.

 

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Nominations for spring 2019 valedictorians closed on March 4. Interviews with the selection committee are taking place until March 29, with decisions releasing in early April.

In total, the spring 2019 convocation will consist of 11 valedictorians, one for each convocation ceremony, with representation from McMaster University’s different faculties and programs.

Historically, the valedictorian is the student with the highest ranking amongst their graduating class, where highest ranking is determined by grade point average. This student is expected to deliver a closing statement at their graduation ceremony.

While valedictorians are still required to deliver a farewell remark, the definition has greatly changed. According to the McMaster Students Union, valedictorians are graduating students who “best represents the student community at McMaster University.”

In regards to grades, valedictorians are only required to have an average of at least 7.0 in their last academic year, or as their cumulative average.

While this definition does not appear to be problematic, and in fact makes the title more inclusive, the selection process for valedictorians does not reflect this positive change.

To be nominated for valedictorian, students must complete a lengthy valedictorian nomination package. This includes signatures from at least three members of the graduating student’s respective faculty, a two-page letter outlining why the student is best suited for the valedictorian title, a copy of their curriculum vitae or resume and two letters of reference, one academic and one work or volunteer related.

The requirements of this package already discriminates against students who do not have the time to thoroughly complete it. Especially considering the horrible job the MSU did in advertising valedictorian nominations, many students did not have time to complete their applications despite the nomination period opening on Jan. 28.

One of the largest issue with Mac’s valedictorian process is the selection committee itself. While the committee is comprised of both faculty and students, the student representation on the committee is severely lacking.

According to the valediction information package, the student representation consists of students from the Student Representative Assembly and MSU members appointed by the MSU vice president (Education).

Although this means that the selection committee may contain students from the graduating class, the seats on the selection committee were also poorly advertised.

The poor advertising for seats on the selection committee and the actual nomination period does nothing but perpetuate a cycle of only individuals within the MSU bubble being aware and taking advantage of these opportunities.

It makes no sense why faculty members especially are allowed to determine who best represents students. Even the few selected students on the selection committee are not a good representation of the student community, but rather, a representation of those few already involved in the MSU.

If the university truly wanted to elect valedictorians who best represents the student community at McMaster, and not just the MSU bubble, they would allow the graduating student community to vote for their representative through an election.

If an election were to occur, students would have the opportunity to pick who they’d like to have speak at their convocation. Students could run based on whatever merits they feel they possess, rather than those arbitrarily set out by the selection committee.

Perhaps the winning valedictorian isn’t the most “involved” student, but their actions and character make them somebody that their fellow peers opt to vote-in.

As it stands, the selection committee for valedictorian focuses on “McMaster and/or community involvement”, which is listed as involvement in student groups, student support, student government and community involvement. Of the listed examples, almost all have some relation to the MSU.

Being valedictorian shouldn’t equate to being the ideal and involved MSU member. It should, as their definition states, be an accurate reflection of the diverse student community at McMaster.   

Beyond the title and delivering a five-minute speech at convocation, valedictorians don’t receive anything. Personally, I don’t see the point of having valedictorians. It’s pretty much impossible to have a single student be truly representative of their entire faculty.

But if the university wishes to keep the tradition, they ought to do a better job of ensuring that whoever gets the accolade is supported by the graduating class.

 

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