Transparency is more than just a talking point
Photo by Kyle West
One of the biggest talking points that most candidates make when running for a seat on the Student Representative Assembly is transparency. The word has been tossed around so much that it has basically become a buzzword. But transparency is more than just a talking point; it’s an incredibly important behaviour that the SRA needs to adopt.
During the SRA meeting on Jan. 20, the SRA discussed how they can make their assembly more survivor-centric. Namely, a motion was passed to task the vice president (Administration), in collaboration with the sexual violence response coordinator Meaghan Ross, to develop an amendment to the constitution which includes an emergency response procedure for sexual violence.
This occurred after an SRA member was accused of engaging in sexual assault and another member supported that member. As of now, the SRA cannot ask these members to step down from their positions, only suggest that they should.
The proposed changes to the constitution could allow the SRA to remove such members from their assembly. This is important news in support of survivors, but unfortunately this information has not been made widely available.
Navigating the SRA website is far from an easy task. While the interface itself is user-friendly, information is difficult to find. For example, one would think that meeting minutes from SRA meetings would be listed under SRA minutes but this webpage only contains broken links from April 2018. The actual minutes from SRA meetings are posted under SRA documents amidst other documents and memos.
The minutes themselves are lengthy and filled with unfamiliar jargon that the average student should not be expected to know. This length and volume leads to the vast majority of students not reading the minutes and remaining unaware of the changes that are occurring within the university.
Beyond the content of the minutes, it is also unclear when the meeting minutes are posted. Two weeks ago, on Jan. 9, I was searching for the Jan. 6 meeting minutes, found nothing, and was forced to watch the hour-long livestream to understand what happened.
Though the Jan. 6 meeting minutes are posted now, they are posted under the Jan. 20 heading. I’m not sure when they were posted considering that nowhere on the SRA site do they state when they post meeting minutes after each meeting. Students should not be expected to consistently check the site or watch hours of livestream footage to stay informed.
Instead, minutes should be posted as soon as they are available. A three-day turnaround seems more than reasonable.
If the meeting minutes take long to post, at the very least the SRA or its individual caucuses should create summary documents for students to review. These documents can forgo the jargon and essentially list the important details that were discussed.
Students interested for more information can then consult the meeting minutes, or better yet, review a transcript of the livestream, which remain available to view after the meetings occur. I understand that it is difficult to transcribe a live meeting however, in the interests of accessibility, SRA meetings should be transcribed afterwards to allow individuals who require accommodations the ability to access the livestream videos.
Moreso, when watching the Jan. 20 livestream, a comment was made that some of the information that was discussed would not be included in the meeting minutes. There must be a reason — not all comments made are deemed important enough to include in the minutes — but if the SRA would like to be considered transparent, these comments should be made available for students to interpret on their own. A transcript of the meetings could provide this transparency.
This is not the first time that the SRA has been called out for its lack of transparency. As a governing body that is meant to represent the entire student body of McMaster University, the SRA has a responsibility to do better. The SRA is making some important, positive changes for the university — if only students were aware.