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Every March, past and present MSU student leaders, University administrators and some members of The Silhouette, get together for Student Recognition Night, an evening that highlights achievements and successes in student politics and service provision. Apart from the awards ceremony, one of the most anticipated parts of the evening is the current MSU Board of Directors’ Swan Song — a humorous and final goodbye from the President and the Vice Presidents of the MSU that has traditionally been used to poke fun at student politics, sing a couple self-deprecating lines and throw a few (welcome) jabs at our coverage.

Unfortunately, this year the song crossed the line from humorous to offensive. Although much of the song was funny and light-hearted, I have two issues with it: the individual attack towards a student activist, and the way it ridiculed the efforts of student activism, specifically the pro-Vice Presidential election reform campaign team and the Student Mobilization Syndicate.

Addressing student concerns of increasing tuition rates and groups that have requested that the MSU be more active beyond its role with OUSA, the song included lines like, “They say that tuition has doubled; maybe because they’ve been here for 10 years,” and in the same vein, “They’re now on the SRA; at least I’ll soon be gone.” For anyone involved with the MSU, the identity of the person the BOD was referring to is very clear. It’s also well known that this person is also a mature student who used to attend McMaster and has now returned for reasons that we’re not aware of and which frankly are none of our business. Whether their choice to leave was because of financial reasons, health reasons, or simply a matter of personal choice, whatever angle you decide to look at this line from, it is extremely offensive.

The person in question is also, as the song gives away, a new member of the Student Representative Assembly. The lines only create unnecessary and damaging animosity between the executive branch of the MSU and its governing body members, which should expect more respect from the BOD. There is a difference between inside jokes and personal attacks towards people you don’t engage in constructive dialogue with. That the person was also not present (or invited) to Student Rec Night makes the whole thing even more uncomfortable.

Beyond the personal attack, I was also disturbed at the willingness of the Board to ridicule the efforts of student groups whose goals are to push for change within the MSU. I’m not arguing that their stances are good or bad, but students should feel free to speak their mind about how they want to govern their student union without being ridiculed. For example, one line from the song about the VP reform petition was: “VPs-at-large they tried to file a petition once or twice… by once or twice I mean maybe a couple of hundred times.” It later added, “It’s too bad you lost VP to some Yik Yaks and memes… 21 votes,” referring to the small number of votes the pro-reform side lost the referendum by (a sad 0.3% under the two-thirds majority needed). What good does it do to ridicule the efforts of students with good intentions and students who want to improve the democratic process of our union? The BOD are the people in power. Whether you choose to respect their opinions or not, they still hold a lot of ground. Ridiculing student movements creates a hostile environment that discourages people from expressing opinions that the larger voices within the MSU might look down on.

Before anyone messages us to let us know that we don’t get the “point” of the Swan Song, that it’s meant to be in jest, let me assure you that we know. We know that it is meant to highlight the sometimes ridiculous and immature nature of student politics, and give the BOD a chance to respond to criticisms they’ve faced throughout the year. But it is not meant to be malicious or attack individual people. It’s not meant to discourage student activism, especially not activism that doesn’t align directly with how the MSU sees itself. The petitions and activist groups get attention because they speak to people — the numbers speak for themselves: both in the number of people who signed the VP reform petitions and those who voted in favour — and the last thing the MSU should be doing is making people feel that they will be ridiculed for wanting to make a change or be involved. Though the Swan Song does not take away from this BOD’s accomplishments, it ends the year on a sour note.

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By: Yara Farran 

I’m currently sitting in a near-empty classroom. Some students are participating in an impromptu calculus study session. I can hear the anxiety in their voices as they discuss inverse functions. But I can tell that they’re curious, too — maybe even a little excited.

Calculus is a world of its own. Learning about functions and derivatives unlocks some of life’s mysteries. Calculus is a special language, and these students are speaking their truths through numbers and algebraic formulas. But, this is not a piece about calculus. Not really, anyway.

This is a piece about poetry. Slam poetry, more specifically. And in this moment — me in this near-empty classroom with a group of first-year students fumbling their way through unfamiliar math — I am reminded of the sheer strength and beauty of slam.

I now want to write a poem about my broken ties with calculus, and tell an audience just how good it feels to be understood amongst the clutter of numbers, letters and decimals. Slam is a language too.

If you have yet to be introduced to slam poetry, let me be the first to introduce you. I used to be in your position, but then I was warmly welcomed by Hamilton Youth Poets (HYP). HYP is a community-focused organization that supports emerging young writers, poets and emcees by providing them with leadership opportunities to develop their literary and public speaking skills.

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Like calculus, slam poetry makes magic from moments; it’s a delicate balance between literary and performance art. Slam is rhythmic, having an intimate relationship with hip-hop and rap. It’s narrative-based, using the art of storytelling to intervene in the world. Most importantly, it gives a voice to its speaker and creates a space in which the poet and their audience can contribute to critical conversations that lead to tangible change in their communities. In short, slam poetry is a tool — it’s a methodology.

There’s also a competitive undertone to slam poetry. A poetry slam gathers performers under one roof where they present their best pieces of work during multiple rounds. Judges will typically give each performance a score from one to ten, and the audience will make it known whether or not they agree with the scores dished out.  They’ll protest to give the poet the love they deserve with extra snaps, claps or comments. Slams are fully immersive and communal experiences. Everyone gets a say.

Ultimately, though, the competition is a means and not an end. We applaud the poet, not the points. We use this forum to celebrate and debate one another, in a respectful and safe environment.

Anyone and everyone can slam. Poetry is a universal language through which people can speak about their unique experiences and contexts. There’s no right way to write, and every poet has their own performance style. Find your voice. Hell, develop your voice and then own your voice. It’s okay if you don’t know where to start. There’s a community of people excited to support you in HYP. If you’re not from Hamilton or the surrounding area, be sure to research local groups dedicated to the literary and performance arts. Slam culture is thriving, so there’s likely a group near you. If not, who’s to say you can’t be the person to start one?

Now, as I finish writing this, the calculus study session is wrapping up. While scribbling on the chalk board, the instructor looks at his students and makes an unexpected comment: “Always allow for serendipity in your life.”

I heard about HYP for the first time during a chance encounter. Four years later I took the plunge and got involved. But, this is not a piece about serendipity. Not really anyway.

HYP is active all-year round. Every third week of the month, we host a poetry slam at the Spice Factory — and the energy is contagious. Around 100 people attend with a mix of familiar and fresh faces. During the upcoming slam, on March 20, HYP will be featuring Winona Linn, a tour-de-force of a spoken word artist that you don’t want to miss. Alongside the competition, there’s also an open mic providing slam-goers with another avenue for poetic expression.

As the spring roars to a start, HYP will host the largest youth poetry festival in Canada, the annual Louder Than A Bomb Canada Poetry Festival (LTABC) from May 5-14.  During the 10-day festival, LTABC offers different workshops and competitive events with the goal of fostering creativity and community, by bringing young people together across racial and socio-economic lines. The festival promises to be a massive occasion for all parties involved.

Two special events that take place during LTABC are the University Slam, which is specifically geared towards engaging post-secondary-aged artists, and the Emcee Olympics, where 16 rappers battle in four rounds of competition.

With both events, there are great prizes to be won (like money and an opportunity to record on HYP’s mixtape) and great friends to be made.

Cover Photo Credit: Yara Farran

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