By Justin Field for Skedline: Opinion
Humber students need to care about what is happening with their education, and what their student union is doing for them, now more than ever.
Wednesday was supposed to be a day of action. A province-wide student walk out took place on college and university campuses across Ontario, in order to protest proposed changes to OSAP by the provincial government.
These changes include increasing the minimum loan amount to 50% — which would reduce grants — and other changes to funding for students, including the end of free tuition for students from low-income families.
On Tuesday — one day before the province wide protests were planned, Humber community development students hosted an event called #HandsOffMyEducation, where members of IGNITE spoke.
Whether this was supposed to replace IGNITE’s involvement in a walk out effort on Wednesday is not clear to me.
What is clear is that not much was heard from IGNITE on Wednesday specifically concerning walkouts that were planned.
The protests ran across the province, from Fanshawe College and Western University in London, to Carleton University in Ottawa. Walkouts took place as far afield as Lakehead University in Orillia, and at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie.
Hundreds of students crowded downtown Toronto streets at Ryerson University, chanting and waving signs in the air, even signing a petition calling for the government to reverse the changes that were announced a few months ago.
These walkouts were coordinated by the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario (CFSO), and garnered press attention across Toronto, being featured on CP24 and other news outlets.
But … no press coverage was needed at Humber, because no walkout or protest happened at Lakeshore. (It is unclear if any Humber students participated in any walkouts downtown Toronto, or at North Campus or Guelph-Humber.)
“We didn’t organize this particular walkout, but are in support of students taking it upon themselves to fight for their educational rights,” said IGNITE communications coordinator Peter Seney regarding the province-wide walkouts on Wednesday.
Seney went on to say that IGNITE did drop off approximately 5,000 postcards from students to Queen’s Park, for the purpose of “highlighting what is at risk in their life due to the Students’ Choice Initiative to the Premier’s office.”
While student unions from across the province created Facebook groups and rallied their students, getting them prepared to walk out, and walked out with them, IGNITE supported students in words only.
Postcards are not a bad idea, and seeing as Humber is largely a commuter campus it could be one effective way of getting students involved. Getting students involved physically could be difficult at Humber, as there’s not always a huge student body hanging around.
But it still perplexes me that not a single tweet went out in support of students protesting across the province. Not a word from IGNITE about any of the protest activities happening in Toronto and around Ontario.
On Wednesday at noon, the hour of the walkout, I made my way down from the fourth floor of the L building, and out the front doors onto Colonel Samuel Smith Drive, with a glimmer of hope to see if anyone might be “taking it upon themselves” to walk out without the organization of a student union. Nobody that I saw did.
While hundreds of students rallied outside of Ryerson University, it was business as usual at Lakeshore.
While Ryerson students chanted, “We’ll never be defeated, we’re students, united,” Humber Lakeshore students waited for the bus. Nobody lingered long enough to talk to, except for IGNITE vice-president Graham Budgeon.
Budgeon was out hauling a red canvas wagon full of snacks, and green and yellow pamphlets with “Let’s Talk Taxes!” on the front.
He explained that although he was going around to discuss taxes, in previous weeks he had gone around to discuss with students about the importance of OSAP cuts, which got a good response from students.
Budgeon said that he thinks that it is IGNITE’s role to get students the information they need in order to form their own opinions on serious matters like OSAP.
Although he was working hard to engage with students, and it is clear that he cared for what he is doing, I was still disappointed that no organization was put into staging a walkout.
When I asked Seney why IGNITE had not organized anything, he referred me to Humber President Monica Khosla, who did not return my request for an interview.
I think IGNITE could have done more. They should have helped rally the students, or at least spread the word that something was going to happen. Students need to care about what is going on, because if they sit by passively, nothing will be accomplished.
These cuts and changes will have a real life impact on the college and their education. IGNITE should care about these changes as well. One of the proposed cuts was making student union fees optional, which could be devastating for them.
This is why we need to care, why we need to go out and try to make a difference.
As an individual, it seems impossible to take on changes proposed by the government, and someone on their own might say “what can I do,” or “how can I make a difference?”
The purpose of the student union is not just to support students taking the fight into their own hands. The purpose is to help students not feel small and insignificant, to give guidance, and support and lead by example.
Now I don’t expect them to solve all of the problems. There is no easy fix. There is no snap of the finger solution.
What I do expect is an effort, and it’s not just what I expect, it’s what we, the students, deserve.