When I first became the Women’s Studies Undergraduate Student Association (WSSA) councillor to ASFA council I was warned that I would either have to be ready for a fight or chose to distance myself from the proceedings for my emotional sanity. The aims of WSSA, which has placed its focus on intersectionality and direct democracy, were at odds with many of the other associations within ASFA. But I was determined to go in with fresh eyes, it was a representative body and not an individual, it’s members changed year to year, surely people who had chosen to dedicate their time to student organizing could be open to discussion and criticism? In that I wasn’t entirely wrong, I met many dedicated students who took their role as their student associations representatives seriously and worked for their students interests very actively. But what I observed was that in the minds of many of the councillors and executives ASFA had become something of a political party that knew better than the students what they wanted or required. Instead of acknowledging what a privilege it was to be entrusted with student money and advocating for its students it came to be understood that we were the dedicated few whose opinions mattered because we did the leg work. It became clear that this had been the operating procedure for a while, as individuals came forward with motions and proposals from their students, only to have them shot down because of how it might make ASFA look. If the feelings in the room leaned in one direction, councillors would aggressively use their knowledge of the by-laws to try and have it tabled, go to a sub committee, or be dismissed entirely. Reform can take a long time and anyone who works with social justice will be familiar with the struggle, but why would you actively seek creating that structure? To be more financially viable to get corporate funding? We are not the federal, provincial, or municipal government. We have the opportunity to create a different structure that is more inclusive; we can be on the ground and we don’t have to exist in a vacuum. It is ridiculous to think that one individual will ever completely represent hundreds of students, but we need to try and to do that we need that focus to be always on students. That means encouraging dissent and discussion and being open to it. Having a voice shouldn’t be limited to those students who have the time to play parliament and sink hours into finding a loopholes to fight those whose only interest is to obstruct them. It might appear that the present structure brings MA’s together, but often they are together in uneasy partnerships. There have been many efforts this year to address these concerns and towards renewing the integrity of ASFA, but the body itself remains broken. We need significant change and investing more power in individual MA’s is a great place to start.
-Natasha Melbrew, Finance coordinator and councillor, last year’s VP external and councillor