OUSA’s Steering Committee members are some of the most passionate and knowledgeable student advocates in the province. This interview series is an opportunity to share some of their experiences and knowledge with a wider audience of future (and current) student advocates.
Rayna Porter, OUSA’s VP Administration and Human Resources and the VP University Affairs at Trent Durham GTA, is serving on OUSA’s Steering Committee. Here is her student advocacy story:
1. How did you get involved in student advocacy?
I had always wanted to attend university, but it wasn’t an accessible path for me right out of high school. I ended up completing a two-year diploma at Durham College and was in the workforce for a few years before going back for an undergrad was financially viable. On getting into a program at Trent Durham, I soon recognized that my experience was not unique and that many prospective students would never have the chance to go back to school as a mature student like I did.
Recognizing that, I started working on initiatives with my student association as a club executive with a passion for encouraging community engagement and bringing mature students to the table. I later became a board member and then decided to run for Vice President of University Affairs. Those roles have really helped me with my professional development and in connecting with the Trent Durham community.
2. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get involved?
If you don’t see a space for yourself: MAKE IT! Student associations are made better with more voices at the table and there are always so many opportunities to volunteer and get involved in projects. Even if you’re short on time, showing up to even one event in a semester paves the path to knowing more people, having more connections, and really experiencing what an undergraduate degree has to offer.
If you’re nervous, start small with something that requires minimal commitment. Volunteering for a specific one time event or drop-in activity is less intimidating and helps you decide which parts of involvement you enjoy and may even guide you towards what you’d like to do professionally after graduation.
3. What are some of the priorities on your campus this year? What are students concerned about? What is your association taking initiative on?
The Trent Durham community is about to expand in a big way - we’re getting a whole new building with a residence in September 2020. This will mean a culture shift from a primarily commuter school to something brand new and students are worried about losing our “small campus” identity. Our student association has been trying to balance those fears with excitement for new opportunities by consulting with current students about what they are hoping to see and getting feedback about what makes us so special to ensure those pieces are represented in the expansion plans.
4. Tell us about some of the projects and initiatives you’re working on this year and why they are important to you and to your campus.
There are lots of initiatives happening in the TDSA this academic year. We’ve established a food bank, a peer support program, and a student-led academic advising initiative from our student association office. Students are coming to university in search of high quality education and community - so we’ve made those priorities within the office. I’ve also increased the advocacy initiatives the VPUA is involved with - there will be an advocacy event for every month of the new semester and they will include community partners to engage students in more opportunities outside of the classroom than we’ve ever had.
5. How do you think student associations support students and the issues that are important to them? What are some of the services you provide?
Student associations have access to students in a genuine way for authentic feedback about their post-secondary experience and can advocate for students across so many levels of government and within the institution. It’s important that students are familiar with their student association and know when and how to access them. TDSA has a peer-based academic advising program, a food bank, peer-support program, consignment textbook store, merchandise shop, and more! The TDSA only has one staff person, meaning all other roles are held by students! We can truly say we are by students, for students.
6. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
No one should graduate from university without getting involved in at least one extra curricular activity. Whether you try-out for intramural sports, volunteer for orientation week, get on the board for your student government, or write for your student newspaper - these experiences are crucial to developing personally and professionally as a person. You cannot get everything university has to offer in a classroom alone, so expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible because they are really unique to this point in your life and you will regret not taking a chance!