As an incoming Senator from the Macdonald Campus Students Society (MCSS) it’s easy to feel like a little fish in the big bad SSMUniverse. With the help of a great Senate Caucus team, I was able to find my footing relatively quickly and have thoroughly enjoyed my time on Senate. One of the more interesting experiences I had involved investigating the proposed Quartier d’Innovation (QI) with VP University Affairs Emily Clare.
Of the many concerns Senate Caucus had regarding the QI, the gentrification of the St. Henri/Griffintown area was among the more serious. So, like any good Senate team, Emily and I walked over to the area of the proposed new campus to check it out for ourselves. At first it seemed as if we were decades too late; low-income housing units and other vulnerable establishments were nowhere to be found. As we trekked west, however, the scenery began to change. First we found the Benedict Labre House, a facility offering meals, laundry, clothing, and a wide range of activities from assistance with employment searches to photography programs. Next, we continued south and encountered an amazing, yet heartbreaking piece of street art.
Scrawled in various colors of paint was a poem, an ode of sorts, commemorating and the loss of cultural heritage as a result of gentrification in the neighborhood. The last line in particular was especially haunting. “My dear friend,” it read, “you don’t stand a chance. It’s heritage for sale, holes are being dug there will be underground parking and foolish new neighbors who bought condos next door to stables but can’t appreciate the sweet smell of horse shit.”
Emily and I stood transfixed for what seemed like half an hour reading and rereading this passage. It was obvious that this building used to be a horse stable, and the owner of the house was grieving the loss of their neighborhood to the superficial condo-dwellers springing up on all sides. In an unquantifiable way, I felt what must be a small portion of the pain this homeowner endures on a daily basis as they watch their history being slowly replaced, brick by brick.
Our walk back to campus was slightly muted. What role could we, as students, play in the unfolding of this grand narrative? How would the Quartier d’Innovation affect this and other neighborhoods? Where was the consultation process going into all this? The one thing I could certainly say is that I left with more questions than answers, and the many issues with the QI need to be considered long and hard before the university proceeds with this project.
McGill has no doubt cultured a greatly diverse university community. From the far reaches of the world it brings together students with amazing backgrounds, cultures and ideas. Even though McGill has gone so far as to bring these brilliant minds close together, it still lacks in providing the support to culture even greater initiatives that most of these students can bring to McGill.
As a senator, I have come across various projects that students have so eagerly worked on but their efforts were futile because the administration fails to address or support such initiatives. Not realizing the intensity of a few of the projects McGill has no doubt lost quite a bit of talent to the wind. A few great initiatives that I’m referring to are projects like registersmart.org, McGill State of Mind video, TD Green Challenge project submitted by McGill students that won CAD 100,000. All of these great ideas were met with little or no support at all.
It is time that McGill realizes that it owes all what it is at the moment to students like these. The students that go the extra mile and take out the time to make McGill a better place. It is time that McGill shows some respect and acknowledgement to these contributions and actively promotes such activities. Because at the end of the day, We Are All McGill.
It’s been quite an ‘engaging week’ at the Faculty of Law this past week. Students have been bombarded with emails concerning Law Senator and LSA Executive Elections, as well as two referenda questions. And law students have been responding in record fashion. For the first time ever, law students were given the decision to support a strike opposing tuition hikes. In a defining manner, there was 56% voter turnout in this historic referendum. In an equally compelling fashion, the vote was decided by 6 votes as law students rejected the resolution to support a one-day strike with 168 votes in favour and 174 against. Clarity was also given to the LSA’s perceived political mandate when 82% of the faculty voted in favour of a public campaign to denounce Bill C-10. Not to be outdone, the Law Senator position was contested for the first time in recent memory which saw Stephanie Bachelet emerge victorious in a closely-fought race with 47% of the popular vote.
The LSA Executive Elections are another reason to be excited about the state of student engagement in the faculty. Not only have all the positions been filled, not only are more positions contested, but the candidates present differing ideologies, giving students a choice not seen for quite some time. The President and VP-External elections will be particularly exciting to watch.
As the LSA and the Law Senator position are set to transition into a new year, there are strong reasons to be optimistic. With a Law Senator and VP-External candidates who promise to work closely with each other, this will no doubt benefit law students in learning more and becoming more engaged in the McGill Governance structure. There have been promises in revamping the communication processes used to relay information to students, be it through a stronger social media presence or the use of flatscreen TVs throughout the faculty.
Furthermore, the resounding support for a political campaign against Bill C-10, as well as 168 students wanting to become more involved in tuition protests demonstrates a desire to become more engaged outside of New Chancellor Day Hall’s walls. While the preamble in the LSA Constitution allowing such action has lain dormant for quite some time, perhaps this upcoming year will further define the extent to which it is legitimate for the LSA to expend resources on external affairs.
As is often the case as semester approaches the finals period, I find myself looking back on the year and nostalgically reminiscing about all that happened at McGill. Life on campus this year contained more drama and tension than an episode of the OC. Yes, forgive me if my references are dated, but boy did that show have drama. From the MUNACA strike to the most recent AUS Strike motion at the GA, campus has been gripped by anxiety over important issues facing undergraduates and it has been a trying year for all of our students.
I’ve often found myself dismayed by the degree of antagonization between groups of students, and an emergence of disrespectful discourse and media. Creating and propagating such negative attitudes and divides between our student body is not a progressive way to bring about positive change, especially when we all want the same thing: a high quality education on a campus that is a safe environment for students. This is a common thread that runs through all McGill students, and friendly fire is a counter-productive tactic that will simply hinder what we all strive towards. That is not to say that I think treating administration as the enemy is the answer. No, I personally believe that this also is not the proper attitude to take. Despite the prevalence of disrespect for the student voice, we must use what little student representation and power we have to continue to lobby the administration to give us a bigger role in university affairs. This may be a sentiment of blind faith, but this comes down to an issue of respect. I have the utmost confidence in the abilities of our students and their abilities – administrators do not. They do not respect our student voice because they don’t have confidence in it. We need to continue to demonstrate to them that we the students have aptitude far beyond what they believe, and deserve a far louder voice than we have now.
As I approach my (hopeful) graduation, I am encouraged by the growing awareness of students on campus, and the line that spanned our campus for the AUS General Assembly is an example of the level of engagement and civic pro-activeness that our fellow students are capable of. Similarly, there has never been a lack of competent and passionate leaders at McGill, and not just in titled positions, but those that have demonstrated leadership through mobilization campaigns and community building activities. Yes, it’s been a turbulent year. Students, drama, and miniature disasters come and go, but the passion of our student body remains.
At its last meeting, McGill’s Senate heard a presentation from Teaching & Learning Services(http://www.mcgill.ca/tls/) (commonly referred to as TLS), which explored how well McGill is doing at promoting deep learning in its classrooms. Senators offered their feedback concerning the importance of effective use of technology, the difficulties of large classes, the importance of strong pedagogy on the part of Teaching Assistants, and the need for different approaches for different subjects. Based on feedback from clicker questions, Senators seem to feel that individual professors, departments, and faculties are doing a better job of promoting teaching excellence than the University as a whole. While it’s beneficial to have this sort of discussion in Senate, perhaps more important is the role it plays in heightening awareness of the services offered and projects pursued by TLS.
The offices of Teaching & Learning Services are nestled behind Service Point and have a lovely view of lower field. At a roundtable meeting between student senators and TLS staff earlier this semester, we heard the latest updates from TLS champion of undergraduate research Marcy Slapkoff. Marcy is part of the Inquiry Network, which recently released a report entitled “Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Research & Scholarship” (insert link: http://www.mcgill.ca/tls/sites/mcgill.ca.tls/files/slapcoff_et_al_using_coursework_to_enhance_students_understanding_0.pdf).
The report lists three conclusions:
The Joint Senate-Board Meeting last semester focused on the role of undergraduate research in a research-intensive university. (Joint Senate-Board meetings bring together Senators (mostly academic and non-academic staff and students) and members of the Board of Governors to discuss topics of interest and import to University governance; it’s an important time to connect external members of the Board (that is, Governors who are not McGill staff or students) with student leaders.)Many people think only of graduate students when the role of student research is discussed. However, conversations such as those spurred by TLS help us to address the role of undergraduates in a “research-intensive university” such as McGill.
I’ve been lucky at my time in McGill to do research whose impacts were close to home. In Fall 2009, I worked on a group research project as part of GEOG 302 which analyzed why it was difficult for McGill Food and Dining Services(http://www.mcgill.ca/foodservices/)(MFDS) to implement a sustainable sourcing policy for its ingredients. We found that the main challenge was simply a lack of person power to conduct the necessary research (we always know the cost, but little other information is systematically tracked through the supply chain); following the presentation of our report, MFDS hired a Food Systems Administrator to work on such issues. In Fall 2010, my ENVR 401 research group worked with Laura as we examined what certification system McGill should use when seeking to integrate sustainable seafood purchasing throughout MFDS. One of my research group colleagues was subsequently hired by MFDS to work on implementation, and now MFDS may be able to pursue certification through the Marine Stewardship Council. (You can check out applied student research concerning food on campus via the McGill Food Systems Project (http://mfsp.wordpress.com/applied-student-research/applied-student-research-2/).)
This type of applied research, which sees the University as a living laboratory, has given me practical experience which helps to prepare me to put my academic knowledge into action when I leave McGill. The work carried out by Teaching & Learning Services and the Inquiry Network should help professors to provide more such opportunities for undergraduates across our two campuses.
4:00 pm – Opening speakers
4:30 pm – Undergraduate student Aaron Vansintjan beings his speech
4:34 pm – McGill is flexible, you just have to push for what you want.
4:36pm – Research is possible in unique ways, helped with sustainability for food and dining as well as other projects.
4:34 – “Most students don’t know what’s possible. Do first, then ask permission.”
4:35 – Work we do often feels as if it is disconnected, no direct responsibility for our own work.
4:35 – We need amazing professors who are willing to work with students.
4:37 – Alternative University Project; a model for how things could be. A flexible, adaptive, alternative learning structure. “Imaginative of what the world could be like.”
4:39 – “What are we doing here as a University”. Why is it privileged position, it’s easier to cross borders to get a education than if you are a refugee. Why have so many high level universities chosen to open campuses in rich countries? It is easy to go where the money is. Universities have begun to sell themselves as a brand.
4:41 – “Are Universities a public service?” Universities don’t tend to take responsibilities for the communities they’re involved in. My education at McGill was market by systems, individualized, and hierarchical. Education becomes tedious, tehre isn’t a ownership of what are being done. Student activities are seen as liabilities.
4:43 – How do we think about the university differently?
4:44 – Students are simple sponges, there needs to be flexibility and support systems to allow people to become empowered.
4:45 – Question Period
Q: Can you give examples of how teh Alternative University is more responsible to the community than McGill?
A: Thinking about the wider context, and doing a project where impact can be seen, and then bringing that project to fruition with other people. For example a comp sci student could work with an organization in order to develop a program that would help them.
Audience Response: Why have I been asked to critically analayize structures in south america and american election cycles, but never about McGill insititutions.
Audience Response: I wonder what will happen to knowledge for knowledge’s sake with the increased commodification of education.
4:49 – Q: The hierarcy is neccesary by the fact that things need to be graded and evaluated. Is no grades the reason the AU has succeded?
A: Success is based on how able they are to deal with the issues, but that is a valid concern.
4:51 – Q: Why aren’t we capilizing on our own backyard? (rethorical)
4:52 – Round Table Discussions
4:55 – Table 1: Discussion on Intellegent Use of Study Space on Campus
4:56 – Alot of space on campus, but the rigidity of the furniture and purposes mean that it’s hard to transform space into something useful for study. General purpose space is usually the best space. Good to be able to do anything, because students feel that thier study and social space are merging.
4:47 – Love the talking floors that you can find in Shulich, good to have someplace to go and talk to people. Spaces that are classrooms, but can also be used for group meetings and other projects after school hours.
4:48- Room booking needs to be standardized across the university. The online room bookings in the library is a good start, but could be improved.
4:49 – Convert rooms during exams into study spaces during exam times.
5:01 – Unsure of the spaces avaiable, is it a problem of getting students to know where the spaces are on campus?
5:03 – TA’s need spaces to work in, could facilitate study spaces where students could go an do work and get help as they need.
5:05 – Need access to resources (like computers) outside of class hours. Labs are a huge problem, as we can’t access them when we need them. Education has a similar issue where the Curriculum is only available from 9-5 and if you need it at another time your screwed.
5:05 – Alot of nice equipment but its locked up.
5:06 – Table 2 – “Can we Make our Degrees more Flexible”
5:09- Management is not as flexible as you’d like.
5:11 – If you enter in U0, you have alot of opportunity. However, if you are U1 you are pretty stuck, you can’t really know what you want. There should be more flexibility if you enter in U1 so you have an opportunity to shop around.
5:12- Should be aviailbe for students entering as U1.
5:12- Lack of support for U1 students. Messed up alot of stuff because I wasn’t ready.
5:13 – There should be an option to refuse some equivolences. A lot of people came in a U1 and didn’t realize they couldn’t even choose to get rid of those credits.
5:14 – Coming in it’s hard to know about your degree and what is possible. What would those look like?
5:15 – Mandatory visits with an Advisor would help.
5:16 – Need mandatory reviews form advisors, a lot of them are not helpful. Advisors don’t really listen to what we have to say, talk over us and show us what we already no. Don’t recognize what the actual question was.
5:17 – Advisors need more training.
5:18 – My Advisor has been really helpful.
5:18 – Mentoring of younger students by older students. Senior students can sometimes tell other student more than the advisors.
5:19 – Buddy Programs
5:19 – McGill has an endless see of opportunity, but you have to go out and find it.
5:20 – Students helping students is great, but McGill should be providing these already. It’s too easy to shove this off to other members of the community. There needs to be more institutional mechanism in place to make sure that these responsiblities don’t get shoved off.
5:23 – Table 3: Career Services
5:27 – Dossier service sends out your CV and cover letters for you and makes it much easier for advisors and students. Students wont be afraid to ask for letters.
5:29 – Friend didn’t get his record sent in time.
5:30 – Co-Curricular transcript which keeps tract of non-academic involvement.
5:30 – Good idea as long as you can get clubs. Also lets you pick which involvement opportunities you want to be highligted.
5:31 – People do alot beyond the classroom, and it needs to be official so they get credit for it.
5:34 – Community based non-profit you get credit for in Law.
5:35 – Can get credit for for-profit internships in econ and mgmt.
5:35 – Undergrad Law is a JD and then you go into graduate work.
5:39 – Mandatory career services classes in Mgmt and Law.
5:40 – Table 4: Practicality in Undergraduate Education.
5:41 – Term projects help to make sure you apply the knowlege, instead of memorizing and forgetting.
5:42 - Mandatory internships.
5:42 – Will there be enough internships? Science, professors already have people and always ask “what’s your GPA”
5:43 – Independent projects should be considered internships, get some kind of practicial experience.
5:44- Mandatory Independent study, or work under a professor.
5:44 – Arts, more specific avenues to reach professors to do research. Alot of professors are doing interesting research, but they often don’t elaborate on it in class. Maybe it should be mandatory for them to present research for a class so students can get involved and be exposed to opportunity to help with research.
5:45- Soup and Science kind of does this.
5:47 – More burden on the professors?
5:48 – integrate it into the coursework.
5:49 – Collective projects, get a 100-200 person class to work together on large project.
5:53 – Increase projects, make it so one for two courses a semester are required to have a project.
5:54 – Wrap Up – Maggie Knight.
As an engineering student, we all know how boring the Profs can be and how easily you can doze off despite the 100g of caffeine running through your veins. Recorded Lectures has been a dream for many of the engineering students and as I stepped in as Engineering Senator, it was a project close to my heart that I wanted to pursue. Last meeting at EUS Council yesterday I along with EUS VP Academic Harold started a workgroup on investigating the possible models that can be implemented at McGill especially for Engineering. In hopes to make this working group a basis for future work so that EUS can pursue the cause and make student life easier. We are all really excited to start work on it soon.
This initiative was largely inspired by the MITOpenCourseware which has no doubt set a remarkable standard. However, learning from the amazing teachers at McGill I think we can have an even better go at it.
Looking forward to making this dream for many a reality
Your friendly engineering senator,
I’m excited to share that Medical Student Wellness Day on February 3rd has been a major success. Attendance was extremely high and the feedback given by students has been overwhelmingly positive! The day involved morning physical activities (Yoga, Martial Arts, Zumba, Touch Football) that got the students to break a sweat and de-stress. In addition, the students were offered a variety of extremely resourceful afternoon workshops. These workshops focused on topics like: how to excel in medical school, healthy eating habits and nutritional tips, how to sustain your financial health as a med student, how to have confidence in public speaking and team work settings, a mentorship session with older students, and other useful sessions.
Two days prior wellness day, the first year class was addressed by Dr. Puddester during their wellness-oriented physicianship lecture. Dr. Puddester, a psychiatrist and head of the Faculty Wellness Program at uOttawa, presented his expert advice on the notion of physician health, and the different resources and avenues available for students to learn how to foster and maintain their well-being throughout the rigors of the profession. As the leader of the MSW Initiative at McGill Med, I also gave my student’s perspective about the notion of medical student wellness, including tips on how fostering mindfulness and being present will ultimately make us better care-givers to our future patients.
We hope that through the yearly perpetuation of similar keynote lectures and wellness activities for medical students, McGill Medicine would produce a cohort of resilient doctors who will have the strength to care for themselves and ultimately provide the best care for their patients.
McGill’s Office of Sustainability has recently initiated a year-long consultation process to look at sustainability across McGill’s operations and curricula. The process, headed by Sustainability Solutions Group, will consist of the situational analysis (where McGill is at compared to other universities), a 10-year vision and a 5-year plan. The idea is to get as many people in the McGill community on-board with this process: students, faculty members, non-academic staff, and senior administrators. The 5-year plan will be a set of concrete actions to push the sustainability bar at McGill. The actions will consist of everything from energy retrofits to LEED certification targets to more sustainability-focused applied research. A huge part of the process will involve students. At McGill there are hundreds (if not thousands) of students with interests in sustainability, ranging from urban gardening to economic equality, with ideas about how to improve our university.
In the last several years sustainability at McGill has been ever-expanding. In 1992 and 1993 McGill administrators signed the Talloires and Halifax declarations, committing McGill (on paper at least) to the implementation of environmental practices in its operations and education mission. In 1999, after a whole of controversy and political wrestling, the McGill School of Environment was established as a means to foster interdisciplinary research and teaching around environmental issues. In 2001 McGill adopted an Environmental Policy, outlining concrete commitments to environmental awareness in its buildings and operations. In 2008 after some wrestling with the administration, a student-staff initiative led to the creation of the Office of Sustainability, followed by the creation of the Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF) in 2009. The SPF is an $800,000 per year fund with equal contributions from students and the university. It is accessible to anyone in the McGill community to implement a sustainability-focused project on campus. In 2010 Senate passed a Sustainability Policy, committing McGill to broad practices of sustainability in all of its operations and functions. In the last 5 or so years, the number of student sustainability groups has grown exponentially, as has the number of students partaking in for-credit sustainability-focused research. McGill Food Systems Project (circa 2008) and McGill Energy Project (circa 2011) are just a few of the research pockets that are opening up.
If you’re still reading this, my challenge to you is simple: keep up the momentum!Find out how you can contribute to your campus community and make it a better place before you graduate. Find your niche, explore your skill-set, and learn how things work around here – it’s a lot simpler than you might think (if you find some scissors to cut all that red tape)!
Last year, I worked at SSMU as the Equity Commissioner. It was a lot of work and very rewarding. I came into a portfolio that hadn’t reached its full potential and I was given a lot of leeway to develop various initiatives. One of them was an Equity Award Proposal that I initiated with the support of SEDE and the PGSS Equity Commissioner. The goal of the proposed “McGill University Award for Equity & Community Building” was to recognize the work of students, faculty and staff who work to enhance safer spaces throughout Montreal and McGill. We felt that it was important to have an award that didn’t focus on the work of Administrators and Professors but all members of the McGill Community. There are so many individuals and groups at McGill who work beyond its institutional framework to foster a culture of awareness, active representation and inclusivity.
To be honest, at times the position of University Affairs can feel rather disempowering. You don’t always know if a project will come to fruition during your term and you can be met with resistance from seemingly random groups. Other times, you wonder if you have been co-opted or if you are doing something purely in response to political pressure rather than what is in the best interest of the SSMU. But every once in awhile, you realise that all your work isn’t for naught. You realise that hard work based in well thought out arguments and data can yield rewarding results. Earlier this week, I received news from the current Equity Commissioner, Cassandra Zawilski: the proposal had unanimous endorsement from the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity and will be going to Senate for approval later this year.
Moving forward, I hope that everything goes well in Senate and that the student roots of the project aren’t diminished. It’s hard to know what will happen but I am optimistic. In the end, regardless of the resistance you encounter, you have to keep in mind that you are working in the best interests of the students. I promise to keep y’all updated! Peace.