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Mobilizing students through social media

By Madi Wong

The provincial government first cancelled Ryerson University’s Brampton campus in October. A few weeks later it was the law school. Before students had a chance to settle into the semester, the Ontario government had slashed the provincial financial assistance program and announced the Student Choice Initiative.

By January, the government announced changes to post-secondary institutions including cutting university tuition by 10 per cent, and allowing for some ancillary fees to be optional—risking defunding student groups and services across campuses.

The changes sparked movements throughout the province with student-led marches and campaigns being spread across Facebook and other online social platforms. A province-wide walkout was organized on March 20 and quickly gained attention on platforms.

With the upcoming changes, Ryerson student groups mobilized students against the provincial government’s Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) changes through social media platforms.

Faculty of Community Services director Chelsea Davenport, one of the organizers behind We The Students RU, said social media has been one of the most powerful tools pertaining to the movement.

“I think social media has been very powerful in that sense that we could reach more than just the Ryerson campus, that we can connect with professors, instructors, staff and students across Ontario,” she said. “We were able to show the cohesiveness and collectivism across the entire province.”

We The Students RU is Ryerson’s chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) We The Students. It was founded on Jan. 24 and has 310 likes on its Facebook page.

One of the first rallies organized by CFS-Ontario was an emergency rally following the announcement of the changes and quickly garnered hundreds of attendees in 24 hours.

“We’ve been encouraging students to yes be active on Facebook, be active in person, be active in your social groups”

Hermes Azam, Socialist Fightback Club president, said the group was able to utilize Facebook and mailing lists to get students to sign up, as well as to spread the word of events such as the recent Ryerson student walk out on March 20.

“It just shows that even during the busiest time of the semester, students are willing to mobilize on an important issue,” he said.

Azam said there is always room for improvement. However, ways in which the group can expand their social media outreach, especially because many young people tend to use platforms like Instagram and Snapchat more than Facebook.

Ryerson Students’ Union president Maklane deWever said both social media and direct groundwork has played a pivotal role in the mobilization of students around OSAP changes.

“A lot of the work that we’ve done has been on the ground like direct outreach and tabling…and I think that social media has helped, the Facebook page got shared a lot,” said deWever.

Though there has been a strong presence of students advocating online, Ryerson student groups want to encourage students to be active outside of social media.

“I think a lot of people will get stuck on liking and retweeting and sharing things on social media and that’s certainly helpful but I feel like that’s where some students think that’s where it ends,” said David Jardine, vice-president communications of the Ryerson Science Society (RSS).

Jardine said they have been encouraging students to engage on Facebook, but also in person and in their social groups and “to share this information any way you can,” and not just online.

Heading into summer, deWever said there are some organizing meetings lined up and it is important that all groups can be organized and ready to carry the momentum come September.

Davenport said groups who are planning for the summer must involve themselves in order to ensure the student voice is prioritized.

“[Even] if it means showing up to meetings, going into empty offices, lobbying, sending letters, anything to make sure this momentum continues throughout the summer,” she said.

According to Jardine, the RSS will try to make sure their team is engaged and maintaining their social media presence while looking at possible summer dates to plan demonstrations.

“We’re looking for ways to still show that just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you can get away with taking away the quality of our education,” they said.

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