Disclaimer: David is a regular contributor to The Eyeopener. However, The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Eye.
From firing management and oversight positions, to the infamous 6Fest, endless infighting and finally the credit card scandal that led to the termination of the 1986 operating agreement, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is no stranger to scandal.
And now, we have the layoffs of nearly all of the full-time staff at the RSU, including the campus groups coordinator, and all staff at the Centre for Safer Sex and Sexual Violence Support (C3SVS), the only student-run support for survivors of sexual violence at Ryerson. They also run educational programming around sexual violence and sexual health—all done by students and for students.
These are all scandals that I have seen happen in my time here at Ryerson. Granted, I have been here longer than most thanks to the fact that I transferred programs, but eight major incidents is way more than any organization should be having in six years.
In this sense, I understand why so many students have expressed that the RSU is hopeless and can’t be fixed. Students seem to think the best option is to get rid of it—Ryerson even tried to do so last year. Well I have some news: the RSU isn’t going away, and it shouldn’t.
Every university in Ontario has a students’ union and even if the RSU were shut down, it would be replaced by another students’ union or organization that would inevitably be susceptible to the same issues. Even if it were possible to get rid of the RSU completely—I still don’t believe it would be best.
Where the RSU has the most power is in its ability to allocate funds: it distributes the funding of over 200+ student groups. Nearly all student groups on campus get some sort of funding from RSU.
The RSU also offers everyday discounts on items like movie tickets and nearby attractions. In the past the union has been one of the key agents in pushing for huge changes at the university, like introducing fall reading week or stopping the sale of bottled water on campus. When a fall reading week was first presented, the university called it impractical and unlikely, but through the RSU’s work lobbying the university and getting student support for it, we now enjoy a fall reading week every year (sorry engineers).
The union also runs the Good Food Centre which provides the community with free food when things are tight. The RSU sits on important committees like the university’s Election Procedures Committee, which has the power to overturn referendum results. The RSU is key to having our voices heard by the university administration. They also offer legal services, tax clinics, grants, academic advocacy and more, all free of cost to students.
At other universities, we can see student unions advocating for their constituents, even during COVID-19. The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has run a campus-wide survey on how students feel about online learning. The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) has been taking strong stances against anti-Black racism on campus. And nine different Canadian student unions are part of the debt-free degree campaign, advocating for lower tuition to all levels of government. Our students’ union can and should be fighting for us.
We can enjoy this kind of students’ union too—but we have to fix it.
Our November board meeting was four and a half hours of frustration for all involved. Despite seeking answers about the laid off staff and the closure of equity centres, none were provided due to unexplained legal reasons.
In spite of this, more than 10 non-board member students stuck it out the entire meeting and some were able to speak. The students who spoke were brave, strong and clear: students expect better from our union.
We need more students to be paying attention. We need to rise up and take an active role in our students’ union. We need to elect people who will serve students, not their own interests. We need to pay attention to what the RSU is doing, and hold them accountable when we don’t like what we see.
This means emailing executives or directors when you don’t like the decisions they make. This means reading campus news coverage and staying informed.
And the most important action: voting. Don’t be swayed by pancakes. Do your research when elections come around. Elect someone you actually want to lead the RSU.
We pay over $100 to the RSU, including fees we pay directly to the Good Food Centre and C3SVS. We are going to be paying that fee for the foreseeable future. It’s time we make the RSU work for us, because that’s what it’s supposed to do.
Imagine an RSU that was fighting for better online learning. An RSU that is meeting regularly with the Ryerson Faculty Association to find ways to improve Zoom lectures. An RSU that is running and supporting great events that help students academically, socially or professionally.
We can have that. If we fight for it.
It isn’t easy being a responsible and informed member. But it’s what we have to do to ensure we can correct the RSU’s current course.
A better RSU. We deserve it. We can get it.
David Jardine is a third-year professional communication student, but has been at Ryerson for six years originally starting in the computer science program. In their time at Ryerson they’ve worked all across the university, from residence to university administration. They are currently on the Board of Governors (BoG) and sit on the RSU as the BoG representative.