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Presidential Update - May 2020

It feels a little surreal to be writing my final OUSA Presidential Update. When I started out in student government - about four years ago now - I could not have expected the places it would take me (quite literally - as a proud Newfoundlander, I feel grateful to have seen so many parts of Ontario over the past few years); the opportunities and growth it would offer, and the challenges the years would present.

 

Frankly, I never fathomed that I would one day fill the shoes of Jamie Cleary, then OUSA President and Vice President of the University Students’ Council. Let me be clear - I’m not saying this to create the perception of humbling myself. Rather, I want to dissect some of the imposter syndrome I’ve felt over the past few years - and use my last blog with OUSA to unpack some of that, in hopes of encouraging more women, and people from marginalized groups, to seek positions of leadership. 

 

Just over a year ago, I was elected to serve as OUSA President for the 2019-2020 year. I was bright-eyed, keen to prioritize advocacy related to gender-based violence prevention and post-secondary access barriers facing marginalized populations. But even amidst my on-paper achievements, I doubted I could do this post justice. 

 

This insecurity and anxiety plagued me for many of the beginning months of my term. It was only once I fully embraced confidence in my capacities that I was able to lead our team and organization to success. If I had not embraced my leadership style - one that tends to dream big, strive for perfection, work collaboratively, take initiative and embed my values in all my work - I would not have been able to lead OUSA in a way that I am genuinely proud of.

 

I am proud of the numerous government submissions OUSA completed this year and the government consultations we participated in (earlier this month we contributed to a roundtable with the Minister of Colleges and Universities on how to support students through the COVID-19 global pandemic  and submitted our recommendations to the Jobs and Economic Recovery committee); our successful General Assemblies; our annual Student Advocacy Conference where we met with over 60 Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs); our release of the second iteration of the In It Together publication and the In It Together reception at Queen’s Park; the 1000 individual letters we helped students write to voice how the OSAP changes impacted them; the numerous open letters we coordinated and published to all levels of government; the changes we made as a Board of Directors to ensure the organization’s stability while navigating the Student Choice Initiative; the many policy papers we released (check out our new publications this month here); the relationships we built with government and MPPs; and our response to COVID-19, which included working collaboratively with student alliances and groups across the province and country to successfully advocate for better financial assistance programs for students. 

 

All of this would not have been possible without our Home Office staff and our Steering Committee team. Their efforts culminated in some important changes to the landscape of post-secondary education in the province. This included the full release of the Student Voices on Sexual Violence data and the Government of Ontario’s commitment to multi-year funding increases to the Campus Safety Grant in their 2020 Economic and Fiscal Update, which will help to strengthen advocacy and prevention efforts to reduce gender-based violence faced by post-secondary students. We also witnessed increases to funding for mental health supports, includingthe Kids’ Help Phone to the Good2Talk support service. Finally, we successfully advocated for a six-month moratorium on interest for student loans and payments at the provincial and federal levels, and our efforts contributed to the largest student financial aid investment in Canada’s history - over $9 billion - through the introduction of the Canada Emergency Student Grant and the doubling of the Canada Student Grants program for 2020-2021. 

 

However, there is still more work to be done.  

 

The affordability of post-secondary education continues to be precarious. While federal supports will help, this may not be enough, and students will require increases to grants to ensure they can access post-secondary education amidst a crippling economy. It will be essential that as the tuition framework is renegotiated in 2020, funding to the post-secondary sector is secured, tuition rates continue to be frozen, and investments supporting students who fall through the cracks - like international students - are made. 

 

The economy looks vastly different now than it did three months ago. Experiential learning has been a keystone to ensuring our students are prepared graduates. Investments in this - through channels like the Career Ready Fund - will be needed now more than ever as graduates enter the workforce in a recession. 

 

Finally, as we physically distance and isolate, students are facing increased forms of violence and stressors. Sustainable investments in sexual assault centres, gender-based violence offices, and supports for mental health are critical to ensure students can access the support they need.  

 

I am confident OUSA is in strong, capable hands with the incoming Steering Committee team and that they will continue to make strides on these student priorities. 

 

Thank you to OUSA’s Steering Committee, our Home Office staff, our alumni, and all of the other incredible individuals along the way for your support to OUSA, and to myself, this year. It means the world. 

 

To all student leaders out there - in formal positions of leadership or not - I hope to leave you with one thing. When I ran for USC Vice President, and for OUSA President, I often framed my journey as “fluking” into positions of leadership because people believed in me and encouraged me to seek them. This is true, but it also had the dual effect of hiding my intelligence, abilities, and ambition, which I’ve seen is not always acceptable for women to flaunt in the workforce. This job has taught me how much of a powerful agent for change we all can be, and in the future, I’m not going to apologize for doing that, and I’m going to embrace all that I have to offer. I hope you’ll embrace that too as you begin your journey. 

 

All my very best,

Cat