The Silhouette needs to do a better job of scrutinizing student politics, especially pertaining to the McMaster Students Union. A free press is essential to holding governing bodies accountable, but unfortunately, the Silhouette is letting the McMaster Students Union get away with a lot more than it should.
Currently, the Silhouette’s news section is mostly a pro-establishment mouthpiece: it gives the MSU a platform to broadcast its messages, but rarely challenges what the MSU puts out. Critical and insightful articles on political issues, such as the Maroons investigation, are the exception when they should be the norm.
For example, last month, in the midst of the Student Choice Initiative opt-out period, the Silhouette simply summarized political talking points from the MSU board of directors, instead of seriously analyzing or critiquing what our student government had to say. As a result, the MSU is able to brush its problems under the rug, and the Silhouette rarely bothers to question what the MSU publicly says. This apathy is unfortunately not new.
In 2016, the Student Representative Assembly ordered the MSU to lobby for the removal of Glenn De Caire, McMaster’s director of Parking and Security Services. While the Silhouette has covered two protests against De Caire and a tribunal case, the Silhouette has never reported on how the MSU responded. Even though the MSU has failed to produce results for the past three years, the Silhouette has neglected to report on why this is the case, or call out our student leaders for failing at their jobs.
In July, when MSU president Joshua Marando called for the Student Representative Assembly to de-ratify the Dominion Society, the Silhouette closely followed the MSU’s lead. Rather than asking difficult questions — such as why Marando personally voted to ratify the club on July 21, despite an SRA member publicly voicing concerns on June 23 about alleged white supremacist connections — the Silhouette simply copied and pasted from his public statement for their news headline. Rather than holding our elected officials accountable for overlooking the white supremacy concerns, the Silhouette literally parroted the words of a politician scrambling to contain a political scandal.
Finally, just last Thursday, the Silhouette reported that the SRA de-ratified the Chinese Students and Scholars Association — a full week after Hong Kong’s SCMP got there first — but quickly retracted their online article. The article failed to acknowledge the evidence in the The Globe & Mail of the CSSA’s connections to the Chinese Communist Party, failed to consider any of the documents on the SRA website and failed to investigate rumours that the MSU board has been trying to avoid or hush this issue.
I am not alleging that there is censorship — after all, these examples have each received at least some coverage in the Silhouette. Rather, the Silhouette rarely follows up on political articles, thus allowing the MSU to simply wait for controversies to blow over. What limited political coverage there is usually just summarizes or repeats what the MSU says, such as with the Dominion Society. Anything more substantial, such as last week’s CSSA article, is often not thoroughly investigated.
The articles on the MSU’s failed lobbying strategies regarding De Caire, the real reasons behind the clubs department’s recommendation to ratify the Dominion Society (after having already heard of white supremacy concerns) and the MSU board’s mysterious avoidance of the CSSA issue could all easily be front page headlines. This makes the Silhouette’s lack of reporting all the more inexplicable.
If the Silhouette is going to prioritize sundry stories like new buildings on campus over political controversies in the MSU, then their content is insufficient. Students are kept in the dark about the MSU’s internal problems, voter turnout is low because of our student paper reporting in-depth on politics only once a year during presidential elections and the lack of public scrutiny means the MSU board feels little pressure to treat the SRA as anything more than a rubber stamp.
We need a dedicated section for student politics, like with sports or arts and culture, to provide in-depth, year-round political coverage. Alternatively, at the very least, there could be a designated political correspondent, or the news section could up the quantity and quality of their political stories.
A student paper that uncovers the ongoings of the MSU each week would significantly help improve transparency, students would be engaged with politics year-round and ultimately, the MSU would become more democratic due to improved public oversight. The Maroons investigation is merely a taste of what’s possible if only the Silhouette was more inquisitive and kept the MSU on its toes.
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?