Commentary  Where we are going wrong

An open letter from the First Year Council President

Coming into first year this year has presented its challenges with regards to student politics and tuition hikes. I would like to spell out what the majority of first years believe based on the results of an FYC survey which was answered by 851 students and whose results are available through the links below. A full analysis of the survey is also available below. In this article, I discuss the answers to some of the survey questions and provide an analysis and recommendations.

The majority (61 per cent) of first-year students do not support the increases, which means that representative bodies, such as the FYC and SSMU are justified in claiming that we have the mandate to fight the increases. However, there is still a significant minority (39 per cent) of students who support the increases, and they have been either ignored by representative student bodies or made to feel unwelcome or threatened by other students at gatherings such as General Assemblies. If there is to be any validity to our position that we as students are a minority being ignored by the powers that be, we must be respect those amongst us who have different views and prevent our student movement from becoming hostile to subdivisions of students.

The majority of responders either thought that going on strike was not an option (42 per cent) or that it would only be right if a strike vote were passed via an online question (32 per cent). Of these same respondents, 72 per cent said they would still go to class in the event of a strike. Only 13 per cent of responders thought that faculty GA’s were appropriate avenues for a strike vote, and the majority (57 per cent) felt that hard picket lines are not right. It is not hard to see why so many students find GA’s to be non-representative when it comes to a strike: the DESA strike motion passed with only 53 people in support of the strike motion, out of a 75 person quorum, sending 1,200 students on strike.  The day after, several classes full of students demanded entry to classes blocked by illegal picket lines not mandated by GA motions. Here it is obvious that the democratic process has been strained to its limits by a vocal, informed minority, with the DESA GA respecting the nitty-gritty letter of the law, instead of its spirit. Better advertisement, organization, and timing of GA’s are necessary.

From comments and survey results, it is clear that the often intimidating nature of activism at McGill and in Quebec in general is turning many first years away from activism. The occupations are an obvious example of actions that has divided students. But others, such as the non-mandated hard pickets, threaten to widen the rift. The confrontational attitude of some picketers has angered many students, as have the disruptions of classes that some students have described as being scary. The actions of groups like Mob Squad or the protesters who blocked the bridge are contributing to the negative views of the student movement that many first years seem to have. By engaging in these polarizing actions that destroy public support and disrupt the lives of people who did not make the budget, we are holding hostage those who could be our allies. We are using fear to sway public opinion instead of arguments. We are doing what we hate the most: we are oppressing the rights of some to get what we what we want.

First years are not apathetic: 81 per cent of them said they care about the hike issue, but most do not feel adequately informed or represented. 66 per cent of respondents said that they want more unbiased information. Sites like Tuition Truth have valuable information, but do not present it in a neutral manner. We must respect the students and give them information so that they can make their own decision. If the facts are in favor of opposing the increases, and if a strike is a viable and effective way of doing so, then we should have no fear that students will choose to support that struggle.

Many who filled out the survey commented that they did not even know the positions of the groups that are supposed to represent them. These groups must reach out to people in a way that is simple and fact-based. They should send out surveys and act on the results, send representatives to classrooms to give quick updates and contact information, and better advertise things like strategic summits.

We must, above all else, remain representative and democratic, and focus on encouraging public support and building values–instead of creating conflict and division. We need a strong student movement, one that truly represents students and treats them fairly and respectfully.

David Benrimoh, First Year Council President

Please send any questions or comments to All meetings of the First Year Council are open and we welcome guests. Please email us for the next meeting time.