From Programming to Advocacy, Student Unions Matter

“We are in the business of planning the best times in people’s lives.”

This quote, first said to me by a wise supervisor at the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, still rings true in advocacy. In my time working in post-secondary education, I’ve come to realize that student unions, associations, governments - whatever you want to call it - are there to create the best student experience for you.

As a first-year student, I was actively involved in residence life, the student newspaper, and the students’ union. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the catalyst to the start of my career. Getting involved in multiple programs throughout my years at Laurier - Orientation Week, Winter Carnival, the Activities Team, Candidate Campaigns, Habitat for Humanity (I’ll stop now because I’m not trying to self-brag) - ultimately led to my role as the Programming & Promotions Manager at the Students’ Union at Laurier.

As a Programmer, I helped hundreds of student volunteers (read: unpaid) plan numerous events for incoming and current students. I watched students spend their time and money to run training sessions, hiring panels, volunteer sessions, and multiple activities. These students became my friends and peers, and I watched them learn skills that a university classroom could not provide them. How many students can say they’ve managed budgets for a multi-million dollar corporation? Ran hiring sessions? Presented in front of thousands of people? Student leaders dedicate themselves to make university a fun and welcoming experience.

The same runs true for university affairs and advocacy. Conference after conference, event after event, I’ve come to recognize the dedication of student leaders. From an outsiders view, it seems as though student leaders only attend conferences, take “insta-worthy” pictures, and pose with politicians, but I can assure you - they are literally doing everything in their power to make your undergraduate experience the best it can be. I’ve seen student leaders lose sleep, cry, and show genuine emotions over their wins and losses. Just because it’s not on the internet, doesn’t mean there aren’t countless hours of sleepless nights and strategy meetings.

With the “student choice initiative” coming into effect in the upcoming school year, the dedication and hard work of student unions and student leaders across Ontario are at risk. Full-time and part-time staff, student leaders, and ultimately students are affected by these changes. Everything you do on campus is affected by this initiative even if you think it isn’t. What happens to your competitive dance team? The tutoring club who helped and is the reason you passed your first-year economics exam? What happens to those experiential learning opportunities I had that ultimately led to a career in marketing and events?

So if you’re a student about to attend university for the first year or a student returning and choosing to “opt-out” of your student union or advocacy fee my piece of advice to you, think again. Take 30 minutes out of your day to e-mail, call, or go visit anyone in your student union (full-time, part-time, student leaders, etc.) and ask them to sit down to chat about what student unions provide. I can guarantee you any one of them is willing to go out of their way to spend time with you - because that’s what we do.

p.s. It’s great to be a Laurier Golden Hawk.