By Kosalan Kathiramalanathan
Election season is finally coming to an end. However, for the average Ryerson student who goes to vote (or not) this week, they may know absolutely nothing about the slates running for a position on the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), let alone the individuals running. If it weren’t for their faces being plastered all over campus, you probably wouldn’t even know who was running.
So what better way to get their ideas and platforms out than a good old fashioned debate? Democracy is built on the key tenet that politics should be a respectful discourse where various points of views can be debated and thoroughly examined. That’s why I was excited for the RSU debate on Feb. 12.
Unfortunately, like many aspects of student politics, beneath the shiny prospect of leadership was the disappointing reality. Instead of a chance for students to challenge ideas put forth to them, all we got was two hours of self-indulgences and bullshit.
As for the students that did attend, an overwhelming majority were wearing promotional clothing for the slates they supported or volunteered for. And this isn’t specific to this year, or to a specific slate, it’s been an ongoing issue for years upon years.
What made this debate more frustrating was the fact that the student journalists in the room, arguably the people who have been following the election cycle the closest, were barred from asking any questions or from even filming the event. Not allowing the media to participate, ask difficult questions and to video tape it doesn’t just silence our concerns, but it stops us from keeping the student body informed.
While there were some really important questions posed to the candidates, it was disheartening to see that almost all of them were rehearsed. They were often worded so they would target one slate or specifically bolster another.
During every question period there were students wearing either pink Unify or green Elevate shirts who read questions that were pre-written on their phones. What’s the point of having a debate if questions are going to be spoonfed to the candidates?
At one point, the Chief Returning Officer, who was moderating the debate, said he wanted to prioritize allowing students who weren’t running on a slate to ask questions—however, those people were severely lacking in attendance and they weren’t asking most of the questions.
The roughly 60 people in the room weren’t here to listen to all sides and seriously consider who would represent them best.
The RSU’s attempt to mitigate dismal student attendance was by hosting a livestream on Facebook. The livestream got 2,900 views the last time I checked—before the video was taken off the page. It means that there’s no record of what was said in the debate anymore. When one of these candidates gets elected, how can students hold them accountable to what was said during the debate if the RSU won’t even keep a record of it?
The 2,900 views might seem like an impressive number until you realize that 2,900 pales in comparison to the 31,000 undergraduate students that are RSU members. Compared to that, our fun story about replacing the stairs in the SLC with slides reached 13,400 Facebook views. It was a parody story. Even the comment section of the debate livestream was full of supporters or candidates themselves hyping up their slates instead of meaningful discussion from students.
Journalism is all about making sure that we can hold those in power accountable, and so rarely do we get a chance to do so in front of their membership, who they are most accountable to. We are supposed to be the purveyors of information, which in this debate, wasn’t reaching the student body. It’s ridiculous that volunteers for the campaigns are given a chance to ask questions before the media can.
Students shouldn’t be deprived of this knowledge, nor of a chance to ask the questions that matter to them. They shouldn’t have their access to information limited. This problem isn’t going to go away easily. It’s been going on for years now and any change to the system will take time. But that doesn’t mean that we should settle for what we’re stuck with right now, we can still do better.
If the RSU really wants students to engage with the elections, they can start by sorting the mess that is their debates.