Commentary  Education, happening outside the lecture hall

Notes on the English undergraduate town hall

I walked into the Department of English Student Association (DESA) Town Hall with my allegiance unclaimed and my feelings on the strike quite mixed and muddled. I almost didn’t go at all because I had just come from the gym, with no time to shower, and looked like a sweaty mess. How passionate about this cause do I sound? Just barely passionate enough to momentarily forgo hygiene in support of it, but, after two hours of sitting in an auditorium swathed in denim and sweat, I was a converted striker.

Some could say there is little value in a relatively small group such as DESA deciding to strike. I would point out the potential for larger solidarity to grow out of smaller movements. Change can be affected from the ground up; we do not need to wait for power to trickle its way down to us.

I walked in hoping to hear well-articulated opinions on the strike and its surrounding issues, and I’m glad to say I did. I’m glad someone called out the people for whom activism starts and ends with a fashionably pinned red square. I’m glad people made liberal use of snaps to show support. I’m glad people disagreed. I’m glad people were able to explain the historical context of Quebec, out-of-province, and international tuition rates, and some of the intricacies of policies regarding federal and provincial university funding, that I, as an American, was completely unaware of.  I still couldn’t fully articulate those intricacies if someone asked me, but it’s certainly my responsibility to educate myself about them. And if I’m not going to class this week, then what better time is there to do that than right now?

Previous to the town hall, I had a very selfish reason for not fully supporting the strike: I did not wish to forgo the opportunity I currently have to attend the incredible classes I am enrolled in. But I am one of the people for whom the opportunity to attend those classes has never been challenged. I have never been asked to give up that opportunity; to be asked to do so now is a reminder of just how valuable it is. It is perhaps a necessary step to take to attempt to make that opportunity equally accessible to everyone.

However, someone intimated that the strike would have more negative consequences for our GPAs than our government, and it is not ridiculous to suggest that missing class would impact our GPAs. But, quite frankly, my GPA can suck it. My parents are not paying out the nose for a piece of paper that says I have a 4.0.  I wouldn’t have chosen McGill if that were the case. In losing the opportunity to inch closer to that 4.0, aren’t I gaining the opportunity to participate in another type of learning? Isn’t engaging in discussion and standing with my fellow students as valuable a learning experience as taking lecture notes? The ultimate goals of the experience outside the classroom may not be as easy to achieve. If they are, then you have still helped yourself take down one barrier to pursuing a degree. This includes the added bonus of having helped more than yourself.

Emily Jensen is a U3 English Literature student. She can be reached at