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ASFA struggles with apathy

by Ian Down February 12, 2019
ASFA struggles with apathy

ASFA community conversation tackles student indifference, poor communication

Christabell Moyo wasn’t quite sure what the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) was. Despite being in her fourth year at Concordia and her last semester of her human relations and women’s studies degree, she only knew the federation from occasional emails she received.

Moyo is not the only one unfamiliar with ASFA. She was alone, however, in attending ASFA’s community conversation on Feb. 6. Despite being open to the public and heavily advertised on social media and through posters, she was the only member at large to attend. Three councillors and three executives were also present. Internal Affairs and Administration Coordinator Elliott Boulanger facilitated the conversation.

The event was part of a series, “An Open Conversation,” which is ASFA’s effort to rebuild its policies, practices, and culture with the help of the arts and science community. ASFA’s Advocacy and Executive Coordinator, Marguerite Rolland, said the idea for the event came around late November 2018. “The culture, it needs to change, and so we thought [of] having some sort of town hall open meeting like this where anyone can come in, be informed, but also to air whatever problems and concerns they have with ASFA,” she said.

“We can sit here for the rest of the year, make changes to all the policies and go through it, but this is not gonna fix a larger problem with the culture of ASFA and the reputation of ASFA and the fact that there are no members at large with us in this room right now when we’re talking about policy,” said Rolland. Moyo had already left.

“I made sure that this was sent out to all of our Arts and Science students through two newsletters,” said Rolland. “We put up posters at the Hall building, we put [the event] on our Facebook page and sponsored it as an ad as well.”

The three councillors present—Haylee McGregor of political science, and independent councillors Evan Lee and Victoria Smith-Ayotte—discussed their views on ASFA’s internal problems, including a lack of training for new councillors and a lack of institutional memory. ASFA does not have a uniform training program for all of its new councillors. Instead, councillors are trained by their predecessors, who may neglect to pass on all of the necessary information.

Rolland said ASFA needs to improve accessibility for its students. Financial barriers mean interested students may not be able to afford to invest their time in council. In addition, the ASFA office sits at the top of three flights of stairs and is not wheelchair accessible.

However, the most common concern expressed by the councillors present was a lack of communication to the student body about ASFA and a lack of presence on campus. The councillors felt that students were not aware of the services ASFA provides. Smith-Ayotte said that many students may not know they can receive grants from ASFA for various projects.

Rolland said it is for this reason that ASFA is often viewed as a “glorified party planner,” that exists only to organize Frosh and other events. She said that if this was what the student body wanted out of ASFA, they would follow suit. “But I think we all have enough experience and knowledge to say that we don’t think that’s what the membership wants.”

“I think some people like the parties, but I think in general what ASFA should be is a resource, and offer services that students need,” said Rolland.

ASFA also suffers from low voter turnout. In December 2016, a referendum to increase ASFA’s fee levy failed to reach quorum of 517 votes.

Comparatively, little time was devoted to the sexual assault and theft scandals that have hit the federation in recent years. In September 2018, Concordia student Harris Turpin filed a lawsuit against ASFA for allegedly mishandling his sexual harassment complaint against former ASFA President Jonathan Roy. Just three years earlier, the federation was ordered to pay an undisclosed amount to Mei Ling, a former executive who was subject to sexual harassment and racial discrimination by other members.

In November, former Finance Coordinator Caleb Owusu-Acheaw resigned after admitting to taking $300 in petty cash from the federation.

Wednesday’s event was the third and last in a series called “The History & The Present.” Two more events, titled “The Future and Ideas for it” were held on Saturday, Feb. 9 and Monday, Feb. 11. Rolland said, once the community conversations are over, ASFA will produce a report with the recommendations in time for elections. “That means when people start running in elections, they start running […] with the knowledge that this is going to be their task to uphold.” She also wants the suggestions to be officially adopted at the next general assembly so they become actionable.

Photo by Hannah Ewen.

A previous version of this article stated that “In September 2018, Concordia student Harris Turpin filed a lawsuit against ASFA for allegedly mishandling his sexual assault complaint against former ASFA President Jonathan Roy.” The complaint was actually related to sexual harassment. The Concordian regrets the error.

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