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Postcards from the Stairwell: Fall General Assembly at Waterloo

The most wonderful time of the year has returned as the final countdown has begun for the Fall 2015 General Assembly. This time around delegates from OUSA’s seven member schools will head to the University of Waterloo for the first GA of the school year. Waterloo is gearing up to host another fabulous group of delegates who will each bring their own innovative approach to the policies discussed throughout the weekend.

OUSA is a student driven organization which really epitomizes “by the people, for the people.” Students comprise the Steering Committee and the delegations that attend each General Assembly. These student representatives assist in writing (or in some cases rewriting and updating) every policy OUSA has on the books. Everything OUSA’s Steering Committee and Home Office advocate for comes out of the policies approved at the General Assembly. There’s nothing like the feeling of passing policy that could shape the state of post-secondary education for thousands of students in Ontario…my inner policy nerd likes to clutch a well-worn copy of Robert’s Rules and jump up and down a lot when that happens (it’s a great substitute for cardio).

I personally look forward to General Assemblies because it gives said inner policy nerd the opportunity to frolic through the fields of post-secondary education. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and welcome back familiar faces. I know I leave every GA wishing I could convince (forcibly persuade) all of the wonderful delegates to transfer to UW so I could see them regularly. I’d like to thank modern technology for allowing us all to keep in touch and for allowing me to watch McMaster’s SRA livestream late at night on occasion when a major vote is going down.

We will spend three days reading, debating, improving, and hopefully adopting three policy papers. Authors will be up all hours of the night, making the changes suggested during breakout sessions to create a paper that fully represents the student opinion and articulates the challenges that students face. The dedication of these authors and the research team from Home Office is absolutely insane and they may singlehandedly fund the entire coffee industry in the course of one weekend. This GA we will be looking at Teaching & Assessments, Broader Learning Environment, and Student Financial Assistance. Student Financial Assistance is likely to be near and dear to the hearts of everyone in particular as it remains such a leviathan, complicated issue in the landscape of PSE. Everyone will arrive with their Google Docs a-blazin’, filled with important comments.

In addition to our fantastic policy papers, we will be hosting some spectacular guest speakers to talk about the issues we will be addressing throughout the weekend. We are thrilled to welcome the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities and MPP for Richmond Hill, Reza Moridi, joining us on the Friday and Garfield Dunlop, the PC Education Advisor, joining us on Saturday. From the University of Waterloo, Mario Coniglio, Associate Vice President Academic, will welcome delegates on Friday morning and explain why we’re so awesome (there’s obviously no bias here). Guest speakers are always a highlight of the weekend and I’m personally really looking forward to their talks.

General Assemblies are also a time for each host to show off their campus and their city. I’ve been envisioning this GA for at least a year so I hope it lives up to the incredibly high expectations I have set for it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be working with Armin from Home Office and Waterloo’s Steering Committee member Stephane Hamade in planning our GA. There have been a lot of panicked emails (mostly from me), unexpected office visits (also from me), and sassy finger wags (now I’m looking at you Armin). Due to the glory that is construction, things don’t always go as planned. An unexpected complication arose when we found out that a new building had not yet been outfitted with toilet seats, nearly inspiring a very spirited trip to Home Depot. We may have also ended up locked in a stairwell by accident when touring potential locations for the General Assembly, creating a small challenge in finding someone to let us out. I am happy to report that I am not writing this from a stairwell, so we did manage to escape. The Region of Waterloo is currently implementing our new LRT system, which has half the city in detour mode, so it’s all been a little wild. Getting to see the work that goes into making these GAs happen has been a really fantastic experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better team on the planning end. Despite the toilet seat crises and rogue stairwells along the way, I am really excited to show off our school and our city (the Silicon Valley of Canada, wink wink, nudge nudge).

This is also a great opportunity to send the buzzword train running down the tracks by bringing up networking. Many of our delegates are active members within their student associations in a variety of capacities. Having the chance to discuss issues with students from other universities can offer valuable insight into developing a new strategy at home. It’s also really great making new friends because those who attend GAs are always the best people. They are student leaders who are passionate about their schools and the future of post-secondary education. It’s hard not to feel really motivated and idealistic after plenary concludes.

Hopefully none of our delegates are superstitious because this is going to be the best Friday the 13th ever. See you soon!