Wow! I can’t believe we’ve made it through this year and that I’m writing my final update as OUSA President.
To be honest, I struggled writing this last update. Reflecting on this year, I have had such an incredible experience working in student advocacy and as OUSA President, but I don’t want to paint a rosy picture and wrap up my year on such a positive note without first addressing the immense challenges post-secondary students have faced this year.
Don’t get me wrong; this year has been sprinkled with advocacy wins for students and OUSA – more on that later. But, the reality is that this year has been one of the most challenging years not only for students, but society as a whole. The realities of a global pandemic have weighed heavily on us all – not to mention mixing in the challenges associated with adjusting to online learning, inequities exacerbated by campus closures, or the privacy concerns brought on by invasive software proctoring programs, just to name a few. For many students, the 2020-2021 school year will be marked as one of the most challenging years. Perhaps you started post-secondary and had to adjust to university life and workloads quickly while navigating these experiences entirely online. Maybe you missed out on celebrating your graduation and convocation. For everyone in-between, you missed out on times spent on campus, interacting face-to-face with professors, meeting new friends, and so much more.
Additionally, this entire year, one of OUSA’s biggest priorities has been advocating for increased financial support for students. Not only has online learning been challenging for students, but youth unemployment rates have been skyrocketing as a result of the pandemic – this means that more and more students are struggling to afford their tuition and expenses to pay for university. One of the strongest and powerful tools the province has at their disposal to support the affordability of post-secondary education, OSAP, continues to be undermined. This year, when students needed the most support, the provincial government made no significant investments to OSAP to support the current students who needed this assistance the most. As President, I have grown passionate about this advocacy priority and know that students continue to suffer without adequate direct investment through OSAP. It is hard to put into words how disappointing that despite the onset of a pandemic, no priority has been made for current students to ensure they can continue and complete their post-secondary education. I can only hope that next year will be different, but I know OUSA will continue to push this important priority.
OUSA as an organization has continued to thrive advocating for students and pursuing our mission of affordable, accessible, high-quality and accountable post-secondary education. Some of my favourite memories this year has been working on the Indigenous Students policy paper, releasing a new policy paper addressing racism and religious discrimination, working with the University of Ottawa Students’ Union to establish OUSA’s latest observer school relationship, supporting the announcement of proposed changes to Ontario Regulation 131/16, and meeting so many student leaders and university administrators throughout our campus visits to each of our member schools. I am so proud to have been a part of this organization and work alongside an incredible group of student leaders on Steering Committee and Home Office staff – thank you!
In sum, this year has been, to say the least, challenging for students. One thing I have learned to admire is the sheer resiliency of students throughout this pandemic. Adapting to online learning while also adjusting to the realities of a pandemic is no easy feat. I have also seen so many more students drawn to advocacy this year, empowered by their own experiences to stand up, speak out, and give a voice to others who can’t. I can only hope that this spirit of advocacy can continue to live inside us all, as I genuinely believe that post-secondary campuses are stronger when students feel empowered to speak out and hold their universities and governments accountable.
I am looking forward to seeing what incredible things the next group of student leaders and OUSA can accomplish!