“Our campus needs to be more equitable! More sustainable practices!” It’s election time, and all across campus undergraduate societies are choosing new representatives. Candidates are campaigning and promoting their platforms. “Equity,” “accessibility,” and “sustainability” are popular buzzwords. But, in the flurry of repetition, these words, which are fundamental to the structure of our student organizations, often seem to lose their meaning. The new representatives elected this year must ensure that the mission and mandates of our organizations are upheld.
Being elected as a representative means working to ensure that clubs, services, projects, initiatives, and outreach are accessible to all. It means understanding that certain events can result in people feeling unsafe, marginalized, and excluded unless serious thought is put toward making them more equitable. This year’s blackface incident at 4Floors clearly demonstrates how consistent policies and guidelines are necessary to ensure that long-term progress doesn’t fall apart year-to-year.
This is why we have mechanisms in place for evaluation and accountability: institutional memory must be maintained, and long-term goals must be implemented. Constitutions, by-laws, and policies are documents designed to ensure an organization’s vision and commitment to important issues on campus.
Next year, the use of space will be an important issue on campus, particularly within SSMU. A large portion of the SSMU Sustainability Policy, developed last year, and the related implementation plan, which will be completed this year, focuses on the use of space and how to ensure that the spaces students use minimize energy and water use, produce less material waste, and are accessible to all students; the policy and plan provide clear guides for representatives to follow to achieve broadly-defined goals such as “sustainability.”
Equity and sustainability are not vague concepts to which we can simply pay lip service; they are continual processes, driven by demonstrated needs and the desires of students. Certainly, they are difficult concepts that encompass many terms, discussions, and ideas, but it is not enough to simply say, “Our campus needs to be more equitable! More sustainable practices!” Commitment to these issues requires serious thought and needs to be implemented at every level of University governance and operation.
As a SSMU student-staff member for two years, I’ve seen how important it is for representatives to meaningfully engage with these issues; working with those who legitimately care about them allows for huge progress to be made. I hope that as all of you are deciding how to cast your vote, you will think about electing individuals who believe in the mandate of their organization, and will act in good faith, aware of their responsibilities.
Cameron Butler is a U4 Bioresource Engineering student, one of the SSMU Environment Commissioners, and the SSMU Equity/Sustainability Integration Researcher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.