June has been a busy yet exciting month as we welcome a new Steering Committee for the 2020/2021 term. Our first two conferences, Welcome Conference and Strategic Conference, were held online through Zoom for the first time. Despite this new environment, both were wonderfully productive and OUSA’s newest SC was able to plan for the year ahead, setting advocacy priorities which place accessible, affordable, accountable, and high-quality post-secondary education in Ontario at the forefront of what we do.
Welcome Conference offered a chance for SC and student union presidents to (virtually) get to know each other, receive important training and background knowledge about the organization, and above all, collaborate and communicate about the year ahead of us. Each year, welcoming a new SC provides OUSA with a new perspective of student advocacy priorities and ideas. I am looking forward to this SCs contributions and how representatives from all eight institutions will bring their own lived experiences, perspectives, and interests to strengthen the future of student-led advocacy. During Welcome Conference, we also had an opportunity to Zoom with PSE stakeholders, including representatives from Ontario’s Universities, HEQCO, OCUFA, ONCAT, and eCampus Ontario. Finally, we welcomed a new executive: myself, as President, Mackenzy Metcalfe as Vice President Finance, and Alexa Leitch as Vice President Human Resources.
Strategic Conference also provided productive conversations in regards to setting advocacy and organizational priorities for the upcoming 2020/2021 year, as well as determining the authors of our upcoming policy papers. To ensure robust and thorough consultation processes are in place for these papers, we participated in educational sessions to ensure SC and future authors are equipped with the tools and knowledge to research, plan, and conduct equitable consultations on their home campuses.
Home Office has also been incredibly busy this June, releasing the annual Habitats: Students in their Municipalities publication, edited by our own Research & Policy Analyst Britney De Costa. Despite the exceptional circumstances of a global pandemic, our student authors were able to highlight important municipal-level issues, ranging from topics such as the need for interregional transit, frameworks for environmental sustainability, gender-based violence prevention, and inclusion of students in their communities and municipal politics. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do so here.
In terms of advocacy for the month of June, one of my first speaking engagements as the new OUSA President was as a panelist for a webinar hosted by Education at Work Ontario about work-integrated learning opportunities for students beyond COVID-19. Here, I was able to emphasize the importance that provincial investments play in funding such opportunities for students, such as the Career Ready Fund. By incentivizing employers and institutions, the Career Ready Fund can continue to ensure students have valuable access to experiential learning opportunities, even in programs that traditionally lack such opportunities, such as general arts and science disciplines. In addition, this June we saw OSAP applications open for full-time students. With the upcoming September semester not too far away, OUSA continues to share recommendations aimed at enhancing OSAP so that it can better support students this year.
Beyond updating students on OUSA’s operations in June, I’d also like to take this space and opportunity to recognize this past month as an extraordinary time of activism. For myself, June has been a month of listening, learning, reading, supporting, and taking action to recognize my own privilege. It’s been a month of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement as not only the OUSA President, but also as someone who simply believes in freedom and justice for Black people. June 2020 has marked a particularly important moment in time where we have seen people come together, even during a global health pandemic, to show strength, resilience, and support for Black communities. Online activism has also demonstrated our capability to change and empower - on our campuses, it is impossible to ignore the incredible advocacy of students calling on their institutions and student unions to do better; place equity and diversity at the forefront of their operations; and foster a campus culture that is inclusive, diverse, and accepting of all.
June has also been a month to recognize and make space for Juneteenth, Pride Month, and National Indigenous People’s Day. As a student leader, this month has made me reflect upon how important it is that, in my role, I ensure that the amount of advocacy and education that has taken place in June 2020 does not simply stay within this month, but that considerations for equity, diversity, and inclusion become integrated within OUSA’s everyday operations, each policy we pass, and our advocacy efforts to support students. I am optimistic for the year ahead as OUSA demonstrates our commitment to better supporting Black and racialized students, with updates to come surrounding our new policy paper titled “Racial and Religious Equity,” as well as our intern Zamir Fakirani’s upcoming video series titled “Perspectives on Campus.”
Until next month!