The UW Chevron

online version of uwaterloo's independent press

Category: Volume 2

General Meetings

The Editorial Collective

The Feds General Meeting on Monday was an exhilarating experience for the Chevron editors in attendance. Despite its significant length (five hours!), it was well worth the time to see students passionate about issues having a chance to debate them in their own student union, with a real opportunity to make change, even despite barriers (see the article in our previous issue, Feds Shuts Down Debate) which were put up by the Federation’s Board of Directors. What disappoints us, however, is that much of the discussion of the meeting ignores the issues entirely and seems to focus on the meeting itself, notably Alexander Wray’s (1B Planning) community editorial in the Imprint. Wray used very strong language in condemning the GM entirely, calling it a “travesty” and a “sham”.

In the opinion piece, Wray argued that verified majority votes at the GM constituted a “hijacking” of the meeting by “radicals and alternative thinkers”. Wray also made the very serious claim that proxies held by individuals voting were being “completely misrepresented”. The only claim Wray made that the Chevron editors can agree with, in fact, is that “[d]emocracy is broken at the University of Waterloo, and … the ideals of our federation are lost to the voices of a few.”

The larger implications of this statement are significant. For students, the university itself is an only vaguely democratic institution if at all, relying on a small number of student union executives and student senators to represent what students need and want. Something makes us doubt that these are the “voices of the few” which Wray referred to, since he spoke aggressively for a bylaw amendment which would give even more power to the Federation of Students Board of Directors at the expense of student members, and even more aggressively against every other motion proposed by ordinary members.

Also revealing, Wray suggested that in place of this student-driven initiative, the Clubs Library, the Federation should instead place yet another commercial enterprise in the SLC – presumably the greasy, overpriced food already sold in the SLC is not enough. As well, this is not a relevant suggestion for the room chosen to be the future Clubs Library (SLC 2139), as it is located on the second floor of the building near study tables, bookable space, and the offices of the Off-Campus Community and Campus Response Team (CRT) and the main access point from the ground floor being a narrow set of stairs near the “Vendors’ Alley”. Assuming the location was large enough to sell coffee or food at all, it would be one of the few businesses on campus located above the ground floor of a building. By mentioning this, Wray shows that he is motivated by obstructionism rather than actually trying to find genuine ways to improve the SLC.

While criticism and critical debate is an important part of healthy democracy and something which is often lacking in our union (the Federation of Students), it is important to not let criticism discourage students from participating at all. Instead, this criticism can be a sign to active, issues-conscious students who want to act in the collective interests of the students here at UW that what they do matters and far from being discouraged or ashamed from participating in their own student union, they should be emboldened. If students can start to directly manage how SLC space is used, what else can we do together?

In the end, reactions like these expose where our strongest possibilities lie for direct control of our union – in general meetings and referenda, where the students can collectively accept or reject ideas rather than relying on an individual to do it on their behalf.

Think on!

Students Win Clubs Library

Author: Thomas Little

Last Monday, ordinary students went to their Federation’s General Meeting (GM) and voted on an idea years in the making: a Clubs Library located in the SLC, a proposal which would put the “life” back into “Student Life Centre”. Blocked by the Federation’s Board of Directors (see my article, Feds Shuts Down Debate, in the previous issue), the motion was successfully added “from the floor” (by an ordinary participant) of the GM, to a place near the end of the agenda. Despite many controversial motions which came before it, supporters waited for hours to have a chance to discuss and vote on it, leading to the motion passing. This victory for genuine student democracy is, as usual, not without its critics. Alexander Wray (1B Planning) was a noted opponent of the motion, later writing a vitriolic editorial in the Imprint (Federation Lost, in the latest issue), exclaiming his outrage at the “low democracy [sic] reached at this so-called general meeting of students” – an interesting claim from somebody who pledged support for a bylaw amendment which threatens to lock students out of their own GMs by requiring the permission of the Feds Board of Directors for items to make it onto the agenda.

Regardless of this, the plan will go forward, with the library to likely be outfitted and populated with books during the Spring term. According to Cat Mercer, president of WatSFiC (Waterloo Science Fiction and Fantasy Club):

“I think the library will offer clubs a place to share ideas and (yes, I know this is cheesy) build a community. We’re thinking things like book discussions and book openings could happen there. It’ll give people a place to house their materials and discuss them. So I’m excited.”

SlutWalk to Take Place at UW

Author: Erin Perri

This April marks the first annual University of Waterloo SlutWalk. The initiative has been organized by the Women’s Centre, a Federation of Students’ service located in the Student Life Centre (SLC). For many years, the Women’s Centre has worked on initiatives that promote acceptance, inclusivity, and respecting others on campus.

The SlutWalk movement officially began a few years ago. On January 24th, 2011, a member of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) travelled to York University to give a presentation on sexual assault and violence, something that had been all too familiar to the York campus at the time.

The representatives went over the same details that women are given time and time again, but what started the outrage was stating that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.”

Heather Jarvis, a queer feminist activist and survivor of sexual assault, got wind of this. In the summer of 2011, Jarvis began planning the first ever Slutwalk. Her main goal was to debunk the myths and stereotypes around the identification of “the slut.” The bigger picture Jarvis was looking to shed light on is the all too-common victim blaming and shaming epidemic entrenched in so many cases of sexual violence. This speaks to all who have been shamed for dressing a certain way, drinking too much, walking alone, having many sexual partners, and being deemed “asking for it.” Put simply: no one is ever asking to be raped. In situations where this does happen, women should feel comfortable going to the police and gaining support, resources, and justice.

The SlutWalk is here to call foul on the accusations made by the TPS and the many people who still believe that victims hold some responsibility for their assault. The SlutWalk phenomenon spread like wildfire, and SlutWalk marches are now happening internationally.

Our walk holds the same values of the Toronto SlutWalk with an emphasis on the vulnerability of victims in university cities such as Waterloo. The Women’s Centre is proud to be part of a campus that supports its students and works to maintain its safe environment. We are asking people of all genders, sexual orientations, races, ages, and so forth to come out and support this cause. There are no requirements for what people need to look like, dress like, or identify with to take part in this walk. It is instead a united front to show that we are against victim-blaming. We hope to see you all out in support of this important cause.

Sovereignty Again

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

On April 7th, Québécois will vote for a new provincial government in an election called by Parti Québécois (PQ) leader and Premier of Québec, Pauline Marois. In the first days of the election campaign, parties latched onto a familiar topic – sovereignty and the prospect of another referendum. Once the talk of sovereignty reached the ears of the press, there was no laying the rumours to rest. During the leaders’ debate on March 20th, mingled with talk of economics, social infrastructure, governance and national identity, sovereignty, the topic which refuses to die, crawled slowly on and infiltrated nearly every discussion. Marois says that no referendum will take place until Québécois are ready for one. What she means by “ready” is unclear. Sovereignty talk has become almost a default setting for Québec’s politics.

Québec’s sovereignty is a long-running issue filled with complexities. There is no shortage of books and articles on the subject. After years of Québec sovereignty rolling to the surface and two different referenda (one in 1980 and one in 1995), the public attitude seems to be one of exhaustion and disinterest. Especially with students of our generation, the mere mention of the subject often brings eye-rolls, sighs and sarcastic laughter. Québec’s sovereignty is like that one student in the lecture hall who feels the need to challenge the authority of the professor and the structure of the system. Before long, the rest of the students just wish that troublesome student would shut their mouth and sometimes they even tell the student to do so. Eventually, the others get wrapped up with their own affairs and simply ignore the troublesome student, who continues to protest from a corner.

What disturbs me is the “othering” mentality in some Canadians. I’ve heard the people of Québec called “Frenchies” and I once heard someone announce that Québécois should all “go back to France.” So much for peace, love and diversity. To tell Québec to just leave Canada, or to sit back and silently watch as it happens, is to cut out a vital organ and expect the body to continue standing.

Chances are, Québec won’t be attempting to leave anytime soon, as the province has been mulling over the prospect for decades. There’s no reason why this decade would be the decade of severance, but then again, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be. To lose Québec would be to lose an angle of our culture and a large chunk of our economy. I’ve heard people say that if Québec separates they will be serving themselves, economically, a death sentence. I would go further and say that the loss of Québec would be a death sentence for the whole country.

Canada is divided into regions, many of which have a history of feeling excluded. If Québec were to secede, the image of the country that Canadians carry around in their heads would be shattered. Federalism would have failed. What deterrence would there be to stop other provinces from deciding to make a leap for sovereignty as well?

Ultimately, if Québec made the decision to secede, what right would the rest of Canadians have to try and stop them? There is never any use in trying to hold on to someone or something which does not wish to stay. The idea of a united Canada from coast to coast has always and will always hold a special place in my mind and I would do all I can to convince the people of Québec that Canada is a country worth staying in. I hope that each student on this campus would too, but perhaps not. The principle of laissez-faire seems to have transferred from economics to politics.

Earth Hour

Author: Aidan Coward

Earth Hour is an international event where individuals and businesses turn off their non-essential lights for an hour to promote awareness of environmental causes and “as a symbol for commitment to the planet.” To date, over 7,000 cities and towns participate. Earth Hour does not focus specifically on any environmental issues in particular, but aims to foster discussion on a “broad range of environmental issues”. The event is highly publicized, recognizable and has partnerships with multiple organizations and corporations in order to further its goals.

While Earth Hour has an admirable sentiment, it runs into the same difficulties as other campaigns based around awareness: that it doesn’t actually achieve much. This situation is compounded given how much effort is invested and the amount of publicity is is given. In the case of Earth Hour, people participate in a short-term and shortsighted event with no potential for significant change. One could make the conclusion that it provides an example of humanity working together towards a common goal, yet it is insignificant, with no meaningful changes in behaviour beyond a trivial action.

The organizers of Earth Hour recognize that it is a symbolic action. Unfortunately, it is also an empty one. The organizers also state that it is not an energy reduction exercise. This leaves the event in tough spot. Not only does it openly lack meaningful short-term effects, it also suffers from a lack of long-term effects. Publicly voicing that one is participating in such an activity is unlikely to change anyone else’s mind about the issue, especially when there is no definite issue being brought up, merely a large host of problems that are labelled to be environmentally related. Significant change requires a significant investiture of effort far beyond one hour per year. One must commit to act in a way that perpetuates the world one wants to see exist and all the posturing in the world will not achieve this. Regardless of the intentions of the organizers of Earth Hour, it has yet to move beyond a self-congratulatory event with little to no actual results.

A danger of the continued existence of “awareness” campaigns such as Earth Hour is that they promote relatively meaningless efforts that accompany very little, if any, actual change regarding the issue at hand. They also perpetuate the incorrect notion that one can effect meaningful social change with minimal effort. How many awareness campaigns actually push people to change the world in a way that will eliminate or reduce the problem addressed? While there is a place for large-scale public statements, they are certainly not to raise “awareness” of something that has already been discussed to death in the public sphere. Participation in such a campaign may make one feel good about one’s actions, but how useful can they be if they don’t have any real impact on the issue targeted by the campaign? Events such as Earth Hour don’t point at anything in particular to work on and so just serve as empty promises of change that have no direction.

Copy-pasting a Facebook status or sharing a touching photo may make one feel that one is making a difference, but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Instead of passively requesting that the world change around you, look for what you can do to make the world closer to how you would like to see it. Consider volunteering with a campus or community organization that works for change or start something if nothing currently exists.

A Human Perspective

Author: Cosmin Dzsurdzsa

For somebody who has literary pursuits,  there seems to be little to no creative writing initiatives outside of the scholastic sphere of Waterloo’s English programs. Historically speaking, major university institutions have a tradition of publishing journals, anthologies and generally promoting creative student ambitions. I can’t think of a better time to promote creativity in people than in a university atmosphere. Sure, UW’s English Society hosts poetry slams, but what about outlets for those who suffer from stage fright or rather prefer to write prose? There’s the recent literary magazine CODEX and a few club exclusive short-story contests (WatSFiC has its very own). Browsing EnglSoc’s WordPress, it seems as though their own creative writing gatherings are now defunct or rather in “remission”, so what can a student do if their institution’s very own English Society isn’t exactly promoting creative writing outside of its own faculty? There’s always the option of starting your own club, publishing your own work, or sending your work elsewhere. The creative aspect of any institution is as important as its technical half. Writers have contributed in countless ways to the benefit of society, laying the foundations to various intellectual movements and enlightenments. A writer can be a scientist or a writer can be an engineer, but most importantly a writer is a human voice; a voice too often silenced by machinations and statistics. Where is the human voice in Waterloo and when will it call out? 

Feds Shuts Down Debate

Author: Thomas Little 

Anyone reading the agenda for the upcoming Feds General Meeting (see the editorial for details) may notice that it is a bit short — the newly-elected executives for 2014–2015 will be ratified for their positions, a new Feds Council seat will be created for a representative for the Stratford campus, and some routine items like a gradual increase in the Feds fee are in order. Yet, to a well-informed observer, the agenda betrays a shocking lack of respect for students and for democracy on the part of the Federation.

It would perhaps be best to start with what is not on the agenda. Earlier this month, a Facebook event was created to discuss a motion submitted to the Federation’s Board of Directors, who are responsible for approving all General Meeting (GM) agendas. This motion was simple: if it passed, it would cause the Federation of Students to set aside SLC 2139 for use as a Clubs Library room. The Facebook event immediately had a strong following, with over fifty people listed as “Going” (and presumably intending to vote for or against it). The Board of Directors refused to add this item to the agenda, depriving students of the opportunity to vote on it at all, or even to discuss it in the meeting. Another motion also blocked by the Board of Directors was intended to ban credit card vendors from operating in the SLC, especially in “Vendors Alley”.

Instead of these things, Feds has added another item to the agenda for the GM — a proposed bylaw change (essentially, a change to Feds’ internal rules) which would ban new agenda items from being proposed “from the floor” (by an ordinary participant in the meeting). This would close the only remaining opportunity for students to propose motions for a GM without Board approval, making the agenda for all future GMs entirely controlled by the Feds Board. As can be seen from the blocking of these two motions, this creates a silencing effect on genuine grassroots initiatives to change Feds policy which come from outside the formal structure of the organization — from students themselves whose only title in the organization is “Member”.

An argument for this bylaw change is that it would prevent “unpredictable” agenda items from being passed without the knowledge of members who might otherwise attend to vote against such items. This is a mindset that is still rooted in the old reality of years past, where GMs were poorly attended and mostly revolved around approving decisions already made by the Board and Council in a largely token show of membership consent. The last two GMs have been well-attended and the discussions and decisions made there have generated shockwaves online and in the campus media. GMs, simply put, are too big and too important now to be mere administrative exercises, with Feds following its own rules by holding them, but not allowing the members who attend to make serious decisions about their own Federation. Is this supposed to be a Federation of Bureaucrats, a Federation of Managers, a Federation of Staffers, or is it supposed to be a Federation of Students? If it is the latter, then discouraging students from making decisions on their own behalf is not only a bad move, but is directly going against the spirit of our Federation as a democratic organization.

Everyone to the General Meeting

Editorial Collective

General Meetings are one of the few ways we can exercise direct control over our Federation, and as such it is not just important but absolutely necessary that as many students participate as possible.

If Feds is ever going to be a Federation of Students rather than just “the people in that funny little building”, it must be run by the students for the students themselves — an organization dedicated to promoting students’ own interests, even when (and, in fact, especially when) those conflict with the interests of others. A student union in the fullest sense.

If you want to participate in your own student union, General Meetings (GMs) are one of the few ways you can directly do so, through student-proposed initiatives which, if voted for by a majority, can be binding on the Federation, compelling it to act in a way students have democratically told it to. Because these motions can affect all students, it is important that as many students as possible have a say and a vote in the decision; a unique opportunity only available to us through GMs.

But what if you cannot come because of classes or assignments being due? Find a friend to proxy your vote for you. This is a good way to encourage other people to go to the meeting, as long as you trust them to vote how you wish. Each meeting attendee is allowed to carry one “proxy vote”, effectively giving them two votes in the meeting.

We as students need to educate ourselves about what is going on at our campus and in the community it is surrounded by and we also need to take advantage of these precious opportunities to make what we want happen. Every additional person we can muster to these meetings is a victory for direct student democracy.

Epidemic of Sexual Violence on Canadian Campuses

Author: Filzah Nasir

Over the last week, two incidents have spurred the University of Ottawa to make headlines across the country.

A leaked Facebook conversation showed several prominent student leaders at the University having an explicit discussion in which they threatened to sexually assault and rape Anne-Marie Roy, President of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO).

A few days later, the University of Ottawa men’s hockey team was suspended after an allegation of sexual assault was revealed to school administration three weeks after the incident. The team’s coach, who had been aware of the allegation, has also been suspended with pay.

The incidents at the University of Ottawa can be added to a growing list of such incidents taking place in campuses across Canada. Earlier this semester, an engineering student group at McMaster University known as the “Redsuits” was suspended after the discovery of a songbook which contained explicit content promoting misogyny and violence against women. Last semester, a group of students at Saint Mary’s University were heard chanting songs that promoted rape. The same chant was heard on the other side of the country at the University of British Columbia.

These are just the incidents that made headlines in one school year. But they are not isolated incidents and to brush them off as such would be a huge mistake. These incidents contribute to the prevalence of rape and assault on campuses and reveal precisely how unsafe university campuses are for women.

In 2006, Statistics Canada reported that 4 out of 5 female students on university campuses face violence in dating relationships. Act Now to End Violence Against Women reported that only 6% of sexual assaults are reported to the police.

In case it wasn’t yet clear: sexual assault is an epidemic on Canadian campuses. The incidents at the University of Ottawa, McMaster, SMU, and UBC reveal exactly the attitude which has been created towards sexual assault on campuses. Namely, these incidents make it clear that sexual assault isn’t simply being condoned on campuses, it’s being actively promoted.

Consider this: the University of Alberta reported that 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. This statistic forces us to change the way we think about sexual assault. These crimes are not committed by hooded strangers hiding in bushes, the perpetrators are friends of the victims and very often they are our fellow students. We cannot begin to challenge assault on campuses without acknowledging this uncomfortable truth: perpetrators of sexual assault are a part of our campus communities.

Given this undeniable reality, the incidents at the University of Ottawa and the chants in the McMaster songbook as well as those sung at UBC and SMU can be seen in a different light. These incidents all promote and normalize sexual assault. They send a dangerous message to the perpetrators that exist amongst us: that sexual assault is normal, that their friends agree with them, that the general population believes the acts described in the conversations and songs are okay and that sexual assault is a common practice among people.

While the students involved in these incidents may represent a tiny portion of the student population, we have to consider the role that the rest of the community played in creating an environment that normalized the book’s existence. We also have to consider the real danger that the book and its contents pose to student safety on campus. Given the low rates of sexual assaults that are reported, the even lower rates of convictions and the high amount of victim-blaming that occurs when someone steps forward, there is no question as to why perpetrators feel safe that they will not get caught. But we cannot change the statistics around sexual assault without changing the way we think and report on the issue.

Victim-blaming — a common practice in which police, media and the general community attempt to claim the actions of the victim were what caused an assault to occur. Most of these tend to focus on how potential victims should change their behaviour in order to lower “their risk” of being assaulted. But if we remember that over 80% of sexual assaults are committed by people that the victims know (and indeed consider as friends or romantic partners) it’s clear that these tactics are completely ineffective. After all, if one does not go out alone but with a trusted friend, how would they know that the friend is perhaps a predator? Furthermore, these suggested tactics also place the burden of preventing assault on the victim – not on the community as a whole. This contributes to the low rate of assaults that are reported. In many cases, survivors walk away feeling they are somehow responsible and could have prevented the act.

In order to lower sexual assault rates on campus we need to take preventative measures that challenge the root cause of assaults. This will happen through educating ourselves on how common assault is, how it happens, and the role that bystanders can play, either in allowing it to occur or in preventing it. It also needs to be accompanied with an intensive program educating students about what consent is and what consensual sexual activity looks like.

But until these incidents are actually addressed as symptoms of a culture that normalizes and promotes sexual violence, university campuses will continue to remain an unsafe space for one-half of the population.

Open Source Software

Author: Aidan Coward

Open-source software is based on the premise that the elements that make up the software you use — the source code — should be open to anyone. This does not only include being able to read the code, but also to change or distribute it without restriction. This form of software is behind many large projects, including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and the OpenOffice and LibreOffice suites.

The most significant benefit to the student regarding open source software is that it is free, with no conditions or fine print. This means you can share it with anybody or make as many copies as you want without any potential legal repercussions. There are no financial costs associated with obtaining or using this software other than the internet bandwidth required to download it onto your computer. One does not have to agree to any terms of service and potentially “sign away their soul” in order to use a program.

Another benefit to students is that large open source projects almost always have excellent documentation on the program’s behaviour and functionality. They usually also have forums for users to work with each other to solve their problems. These resources are provided free of charge — an obvious perk to those of us who don’t have enough money to pay for school, let alone computer support. Again, this wealth of assistance is not perfect, and one must occasionally puzzle together a solution based on the information from multiple forum posts that are only somewhat related to the problem at hand. There are certainly times when it is most effective and efficient to pay for a product that has on-call support to save yourself time, stress and effort.

The open-source community is known for having a large group of experienced users that are willing to help fellow users in need. However, this very same community is also known for being elitist and belittling to those with less knowledge or experience. One can be talked down to if their question is considered to have an obvious solution or is clearly mentioned in the documentation of the project. Part of open source software is the ideology behind it and individuals that do not buy in to the ideological aspect can be less respected.

One of the benefits of open source software is that the programs often have very fast development cycles because they lack bureaucracy. As a result, software bugs are often fixed faster than with traditional methods of software development. However, this lack of central authority can result in a lack of clear direction for the project if the developers do not agree with each other. Since open-source projects are often hobbies for the individuals running them, some bugs may take much longer to fix if they are not considered interesting or critical to the use of the program.

While bugs are usually identified faster in open-source software, the bugs are publicly identified and visible to the entire world until they get fixed. There is also no obligation, apart from pressure from the community, to report bugs. This can result in malicious users taking advantage of the flaws in the software to steal personal data or damage your computer. The organizational structure of open source software also presents a disadvantage here, as there is no one individual or organization that can be easily held accountable for the damages caused by these flaws. Many open source projects are provided without a warranty of any kind, further distancing themselves from any official legal accountability regarding the effectiveness or reliability of their product.

Open-source software provides flexible and accessible tools to the student at no cost. However, one must judge these benefits against the possible difficulties that users may experience in working past flaws or inconsistencies in the program.