The UW Chevron

online version of uwaterloo's independent press

Category: Issue 5

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?