The government’s recent introduction of the Student Choice Initiative to make most ancillary fees, including student association fees, optional has caused significant feelings of concern not only to myself but also to student associations across the province. As the current Vice President: University Affairs of the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union and someone who has been actively engaged with my student association since my second year, I am obviously hesitant to this initiative. The Laurier Students’ Union has provided me with opportunities for both personal and professional growth, and has been a second home for me during my time at university.
It surprises many people that I was not involved with the Students’ Union in my first year of University. The announcement of the Student Choice Initiative has challenged me to think about the value of being a member of the Students’ Union in various different ways. I have found myself fixating on the one-year that I was not directly involved and how my membership to the Students’ Union benefited me even as I was a disengaged student.
Given the increased academic expectations of University, in combination with an early rejection of a volunteer role in my residence, I found the prospect of getting involved in leadership roles at university intimidating. I participated in two intramurals and was part of one club. While I did not perceive myself as being involved with the Students' Union, I was involved and received many benefits from the organization without knowing it.
I participated in orientation week upon my arrival at university. The week provided me with the opportunities to meet new people while orienting myself with the campus and community. The presence of friendly and helpful orientation week volunteers made me feel comfortable and feel a sense of belonging at Laurier. This week also concentrated on promoting on-campus services essential to student wellness and success. Additionally, orientation week focused on preparing students for academic success with sessions informing students of university-level academic and program expectations. Without the Students’ Union, its volunteers and staff team, this week essential to both my personal and academic success as I transitioned into university would not have been possible.
During my undergrad, my main source of transportation was the Grand River Transit System (the public bus). Whether it was to grab groceries, run errands, have a meal with friends, or find a quiet place to study off campus, the use of my bus pass was essential. At Laurier, the Students’ Union is the body that negotiates transit passes with Grand River Transit. Additionally, the Students’ Union had long advocated for more accessible and user-friendly bus routes making my trips off campus easy to navigate. Because of the Students’ Union, my transit pass was affordable and allowed me easier access to the Waterloo community.
Aside from being involved in one club, one of my most direct experiences with clubs at Laurier was through a club called Students Offering Support (SOS). This club provided peer-to-peer tutoring through review sessions for large, mainly entry-level courses prior to midterms and exams. This club was essential to my academic success by helping me review course content but also helped me learn effective studying techniques that would guide me through my entire university experience. At Laurier, the Students’ Union plays a key role in supporting and administering over 250 clubs. Without the Students’ Union, this opportunity for peer-to-peer tutoring imperative for my academic success would not have been possible.
Lastly, and likely the most significant impact that the Students’ Union had on my first year, and arguably my entire university experience, was the implementation of a fall reading week. In my first year of university, Laurier was piloting its first ever fall reading week. This initiative, essential to student mental health, was an advocacy priority brought to fruition by student representatives at the Students’ Union and would not have been possible without them. The introduction of a fall reading week provided me (and the entire Laurier population) the opportunity to relax, catch up on school work, and alleviate feelings of homesickness, especially in my first year. Student voices at the table of impactful decision makers are a crucial component of improving the student experience in Ontario and are a unique benefit that student associations offer.
Even as a student who was not actively involved in the Students’ Union in my first year, I still benefited from my membership at my institution. While it may not always be visible, student associations like the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union are constantly working to serve their students with the aim of improving their post-secondary experience. Whether they are offering services such as food banks and safe walk home services, providing the student voice at the table of key decision makers or providing the support for students to pursue their passions by starting a club, student associations in Ontario are incredibly valuable entities. It is my hope that students will continue to see the benefits of the work their institutions’ student association does and how they are essential to thriving, healthy campuses.