What the kids really want

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By Farnia Fekri

Buthaina Ahmed, Kreeshma Aliar, Cesar Membreno, Justin Pinho and Kahn Rafsanjani have one thing in common: they don’t know much about their student union.

They say they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the hundreds of dollars they pay to the group. They don’t attend almost any events. Sure, they could tell you that RSU stands for Ryerson Students’ Union, but that’s about it.

With an opposing slate winning the overwhelming majority of positions in the RSU elections this year, for the first time since 2011, students have a lot of expectations of the incoming Transform Ryerson government. The Eyeopener asked Transform executive-elects about the students’ conerns.

• Lowering tuition fees

The only RSU event second-year civil engineering students Membreno and Rafsanjani recall is the Freeze the Fees campaign. They thought it was useless.

On Nov. 17, 2014, after a rally condemning high tuition fees, several RSU members set up tents in front of Jorgenson Hall. The “tent city”, which paralleled Occupy movements that used the same tactic, was disassembled after the university agreed to meet with the RSU.

“I mean, with Freeze the Fees they’ve done the same thing over and over again,” said Rafsanjani. “They’ve seriously got to change up their tactics.”

Newly elected Vice-President Education Cormac McGee couldn’t agree more.

“We saw them camping outside this year. Last year they had death of affordable education,” said the fourth-year journalism student. “It looks like they’re doing a lot but they’re not really doing much.”

McGee’s platform, like his predecessor and current Vice-President Education Jesse Root, includes lobbying for lower tuition fees. However, McGee promises that his first step won’t be aggressive tactics, but finding out what students want, followed by mending relationships between the RSU, university administration and the province, which he considers “stretched” at the moment.

“I’ve seen the aggressive tactics that don’t work,” he said. “You will not see me outside banging a drum unless it’s literally the last option that I have. And I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

• More events on campus

While rising tuition fees is a concern at Ryerson, second-year urban and regional planning student Justin Pinho says the RSU should concentrate more on events that unify the campus.

“The events and some of the clubs I don’t know too much about,” he said. “I feel like the word’s not out about a lot of events.” Ahmed, Membreno and Rafsanjani think so, too. “We need something really big, to really send out an image,” Rafsanjani said.

Andrea Bartlett, Transform’s president-elect, says her team’s strategy for these events is to start planning now.

“So that when students come back in September we already know what events the student union will be doing,” she said.

“And then hopefully have some sort of, like, tentative plan with what kind of groups we can collaborate with as well.”

• Cooperating with faculty unions

Bartlett’s most important partners will be faculty societies that are part and parcel of Transform, with Tyler Webb (president of the Ryerson Communication and Design Society, RCDS) and Urooj Siddiqui (president of the Ryerson Engineering Student Society, RESS) having been elected as faculty directors under the Transform slate.

For McGee, this means an opportunity to have societies focus on students’ professional development while the RSU handles community and student rights.

“We could have a really good working relationship where it’s like RESS doesn’t have to worry about throwing a pub night because we’re going to throw a pub night,” he said. “They can throw a networking night, and students can have the best of both worlds.”

• Communication with students

At the very top of Bartlett’s priority list, above even these collaborations and early plans, is communication or, as she refers to it, engaging the 20,000 unengaged students who don’t know the first thing about the RSU.

Bartlett plans on reaching out to these students through an increased social media presence and an “open-door policy.”

“They can’t care about something they don’t know really exists on campus,” she said.

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