A group of students calling themselves EngageMcGill are trying to streamline student activism through the McGill web sites.
Scott Martones, U2 IDS and Sociology, and six team members have begun the project as part of Professor Marcos Ancelovici’s sociology class, Contemporary Social Movements.
They want to modify the myMcGill portal by linking it directly to a SSMU web site listing campus clubs and services with accurate descriptions, sorted by subject rather than alphabetically, along with a detailed event calendar with weekly updates.
“SSMU’s web site should be the place to find out about what is going on, how to get involved, but the newly-launched web site is not adequately publicizing events or opportunities for involvement with student groups,” wrote the group in an email to The Daily. “[Now] students have to go through multiple menus and broken links, and the events calendar does not include the majority of student events.”
SSMU recognizes the problem, according to outgoing VP External Devin Alfaro, but lacks the funding or staff to run a web site as they would like.
“[The web site is] definitely something that needs work,” said Alfaro. “It’s a really important way to communicate with students.”
“The most important thing I learned from Reclaim Your Campus was how to draw links together between issues on campus,” Alfaro added.
Although Reclaim Your Campus – a campaign to increase student mobilization on campus – attracted very few committed students, Alfaro noted several examples of successful reactive protests, including responses to the many threats to space for the Sexual Assault Centre of McGill’s Student Society (SACOMSS) and the Architecture Café, as well as the teaching assistants’ strike.
“Students tend to mobilize in response to something being taken away; when there is no particular group, it is very hard to mobilize,” Alfaro said, a statement with which EngageMcGill agreed.
“We believe students are not necessarily apathetic, but appear so because of barriers to engagement,” wrote the group.
The supervising professor said that the proposed web site changes could help spur interest in campus groups.
“This idea of making campus activity accessible through the myMcGill page may not lead to huge action, but it can foster networking and create synergies,” said Ancelovici, although he cautioned students to move quickly for fear of the idea falling off the radar.
“Time is perhaps their worst enemy. Between courses, papers, and exams, basically, they have a window of two months. And lack of experience: very often they just don’t know where to start,” said Ancelovici. “But two or three people who know what they are doing will quickly spread their efficiency.”
Alfaro also said that the McGill bureaucracy inhibits student activism.
“To a certain extent, large organizations tend to be conservative,” Alfaro said. “The bias is to continue doing things as they have been done before.”
Ancelovici also noted that McGill had challenges specific to the University.
“Another problem is the career-focussed student body of McGill, who don’t really care about local issues – they just came here to study, not wanting to invest time in local issues.”
Martones, however, thought that rather than assign blame, this project could actually produce some positive results.
“It’s easy to blame someone else – students can blame administration, or the administration could blame the students’ disorganization,” said Martones. “But really, it’s a shared responsibility.”