Copyright © 2020 Federation of Students, University of Waterloo operating as Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association
Another term, another OUSA General Assembly in the books!
OUSA, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, is a coalition of student unions from seven Ontario post-secondary institutions. They meet twice a year in a General Assembly to draft policy papers and discuss relevant topics to the over 150 000 students they represent.
I’m Michelle, a second year Environment and Business student. As someone who’s passionate about political engagement and the student experience, I knew I wanted to get involved with OUSA in some way. So about a month ago, I filled out an application on a whim, and to my delighted surprise, I was accepted into the ranks of the WUSA delegation and was immediately thrown into the thick of things.
I’m a newcomer to the complex world of student unions, a place that’s full of policy nerds and governed by Robert’s Rules (the official convention governing debate decorum). During a team meeting with the other delegates (there were about 13 of us in total), I got a crash course in how OUSA operates.
Every term, the steering committee, composed of VPs of Education and other representatives from all the schools, come together to write policy papers on areas of concern identified by their student bodies. The OUSA library has dozens of papers: topics range from student financial aid, to Two Spirit and LGBTQ+ students, to student health and wellness. They serve as the foundations for OUSA-led advocacy aimed toward the provincial government, university/college administrations, and other relevant decision makers.
We began the process by reviewing the drafts of the four papers written for this term. After each school’s delegations made their comments, we reconvened on October 29 for our first General Assembly (GA) session.
It’s hard in the best of times to make a Zoom call simulate the real thing. Granted, there’s no way to fully replicate the experience of sitting in a crowded lecture hall in a virtual setting, but sometimes you can see past people’s faces in small squares on your screen and really imagine their presence.
Coming into that first day of GA, I could feel that everyone was excited to be there. You don’t get involved with a student union unless you care deeply about improving the student experience, and nowhere was that more evident to me than in those group discussions. The delegates’ passion and commitment to trying to make the policies as strong and relevant as possible was truly admirable.
It may seem like the problems in our world today are insurmountable: the transition to online school was rough, the climate crisis continues to intensify, our mental healthcare is woefully inadequate, not to mention having to deal with a pandemic on top of it all. However, your student union representatives are working to amplify your concerns and push for change that will make post-secondary education better and more accessible for all of us.
By the end of the second day of breakout sessions, I was feeling exhausted. We ended the GA with a plenary session, where we went through the papers one last time and voted on the proposed amendments. Eight hours later (yes, I counted!), the entire group of 50+ delegates voted unanimously to approve all four papers. The papers aren’t published yet as they are being cleaned up and authors are adding additional background information. Follow @OUSAhome on socials to read them as they come out!
The path to the future we envision for our peers is paved with the recommendations in these papers. We have lots of work to do moving forward to enact these changes in our school communities. Personally, I can’t wait to get started!