I’m a little baffled that I’m writing my Exit Blog. It is surreal that my summer in Toronto is over, especially because my journey into student politics, and consequently at OUSA, were complete flukes. A great friend of mine encouraged me to apply for an Advocacy Research Internship midway through my second year, and after some coercion, I did. After a summer working with OUSA, I am so grateful for that fluke.
In my first year and the beginning of my second year, I had no concept of what student associations did and quite frankly, I didn’t believe there was much purpose in finding out. In my opinion, it did not fit into my dreams of improving international human rights. Ironically, many of the issues that I did involve myself with in other extracurriculars on campus, including sexual violence prevention and support, mental health support services, and post-secondary access, were issues student associations have the power to directly impact. It is fair to say after this summer and nearly two years of work with the Western University Student Council under my belt, I am ready to eat my words.
Although I took it for granted at the beginning of my academic career, the work OUSA does shapes the lives of university students. Mental health funding? OUSA lobbied for it. Student Voices on Sexual Violence survey? OUSA pushed for that. OSAP reform? Yep, OUSA thought of that too. As the summer unfolded, the more I thought about advocacy, the more I recognized it to be a puzzle. Coming into the role, I thought I had the world of advocacy figured out. I was wrong. I understood the importance of policy, but there was a disconnect between my love for policy and how this impacted the decisions of key stakeholders and government. I knew policy and research were essential pieces to the advocacy puzzle, but being able to communicate our stances was another piece of the puzzle. Ensuring that we have strong relationships within the post-secondary education sector, with government and politicians, and media was another piece. Effective advocacy cannot exist without any of these pieces - and I am sure that as I continue to engage in the world of post-secondary education, I will continue to discover new pieces.
This summer also taught me that the best advocacy pathway to improve the student experience may not be clear. A variety of factors go into decision-making. OUSA represents the interests of over 150,000 students. Doing what is best for such a large population is not easy nor will it always be straightforward. Student leaders enter their positions with unique experiences and perspectives. The best route to take may not be evident at first, and it may not reflect the way we have traditionally done things. As a student advocacy organization, and as student leaders in general, we must always reflect on our policy, decisions, and advocacy impacts different communities in different ways. Are we actively decolonizing? What voices are we not prioritizing or not hearing? Who is engaging with our organization, who is not, and why? These questions and reflections are central to ensure that the decisions we make are improving the post-secondary experience for all. Throughout my time working with OUSA and with Steering Committee, I hope to share that students must always be centric to the decision-making process, and once a decision is made, we as students must work together to ensure those voices are heard in the places it matters most.
Before I end off I want to thank all of those who made my internship so impactful. Not only did I learn so much about student advocacy, I learned a lot about myself. I began to understand why I felt so passionate about student advocacy by hearing from so many committed individuals about their journeys into student politics, I got to meet so many incredible people in this sector who are committed to a brighter future for post-secondary education, Ontario and Canada, and I really did get to experience a whole other world of Toronto - I learned to ride the streetcar AND the subway (coming from Newfoundland, this may be my biggest accomplishment here other than the Arkells retweeting OUSA)!
After my summer here, I truly believe that student leaders, past and present, played a valuable part in making post-secondary education the great place it is today in Ontario, and will continue to be invaluable to ensure that university is affordable, accessible, accountable and high quality. If you want to make a direct impact on the lives of your peers, I encourage you to reach out to your student associations and get involved.
You never know, you might just “fluke” into an opportunity that shapes who you become.
Bye for now,