By Eric Lam
Diversity may be the name of the game for Alam Ashraful, but the recently re-elected vice president of student life and events at the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has no plans to diversify his portfolio — or student events.
“I thought about it, if I wanted to do the same thing again. But if I was worried it would become old hat, I wouldn’t have run again at all,” Ashraful said from behind the desk of his office.
“The question won’t even come up that I’ll be bored or sick of doing the same thing.”
Ashraful might not be bored with his job, but some Ryerson students are bored with this year’s RSU events, from September’s frosh to this winter’s poorly advertised concerts featuring The Trews and Cuff the Duke.
“(The RSU-organized events) don’t seem that interesting to me. The ads just aren’t that appealing,” Jonathan Worman, a first-year film studies student, said.
Ashraful admits that there are too many alternatives available to students living in a downtown campus. “We’re not like York University, where whatever happens on campus is the only (show in town).
So for us, we have to have superb events to bring people to our events.” For students like Worman, it’s not the alternatives found on Yonge Street that are luring him away, but the events organized by his own faculty.
“There are things in my own faculty that are more of a priority for me,” he said. And other students are following suit. “I wouldn’t go to an RSU event over an engineering event, that’s for sure,” Pierre Mikhael, a second-year mechanical engineering student, said.
Justin Morris, a first-year engineering student, agreed. “Why should we even go to an RSU event? We don’t even know about half the things that go on.”
Ashraful, though, cites his track record of collaborating with student groups and course unions, trying to deal with a busy campus where every faculty competes for attention of their students.
“Our promotions this year were excellent because we incorporated course unions into events,” Ashraful said, showing glossy posters of past RSU events posted on the office wall behind him.
Still, some say those posters might have been better served if they had been posted. Grace Ng, a first-year film studies student, has felt ignored by RSU adverts this year.
“I feel like most people in the image arts programs have been kept in the dark,” she said. “Maybe our building isn’t noticeable enough.”
And the advertisements Ng has seen this year have turned her off so much so that she has turned to events run by the University of Toronto. “I don’t see a lot of advertising on campus,” she said.
“The content just isn’t compelling enough. But U of T events seem fun and everybody knows about them — even Ryerson students.”
Ashraful doesn’t agree. “Unfortunately, we can’t reach 25,000 students every time. If one student out of 25,000 doesn’t get reached, well, that’s too bad…We (also) have budget and manpower limitations.”
Indeed, this year’s student events budget totals $172,300, almost $70,000 less than the 2004 budget. Last September’s frosh, featuring diverse, but not terribly popular, acts such as K’naan and Chiva, was also stripped down cost-wise, coming in $20,000 cheaper than 2004’s concert.
“For 47 years, it was only one white rock band, but not this year,” Ashraful said.
But through introducing new, diverse acts to Ryerson, has Ashraful taken away popular acts from past years that were deemed inappropriate?
Tony Lee, the popular “XXX hypnotist” who has entertained Ryerson and campuses across Canada for several years by making students perform stripteases and other outrageous behaviour, was not invited back by Ashraful this year.
“It was hilarious when I saw it; I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed (at Ryerson),” said Jon Nunes, a third-year business administration student at York University, which successfully hosted Lee this year.
“It brings out a lot of first-years… They like crazy stuff like that.” Ashraful has said Lee’s past performances received too many complaints.
“We got calls from people who were not happy with his depiction of sexuality,” Ashraful said earlier this year. “I wanted events that were open to everyone.”
But as hard as Ashraful and the RSU try to include everyone, students say they are still missing out on entire faculties of students.
Bori Csillag, a fourth-year hospitality and tourism management student (HTM), doesn’t have a problem with the lack of ads or diverse slate of events, but instead wishes the RSU would try to communicate more with faculties.
“I haven’t come across anybody from the RSU coming to HTM students and saying, ‘You’re important to us,’ and they really should do that for all programs, small or large.”
But Csillag blames herself as much as she does the RSU for not attending their events. “In my program, we’re very close-knit,” she said. “I’m more at home at an HTM pub night than at an RSU pub night.”
While some students have been impressed with this year’s events, Ashraful knows he still has another year to sway those who weren’t. “Until April 30, I’m working for the people who voted for me in 2005,” he said.
“But come May 1, I’ll think about next year.”