There is so much greatness when you are able to connect with the community. Connecting with the community was one of the reasons why I chose to run for the position of Vice-President External and Community (VP External) Affairs for the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS).
During my first term in office as the VP External, I learned the importance of community, care, and connections. Being able to connect externally to groups and watching those connections translate to change within the SFSS helped me realize the importance of student activism. Here is a little about what I was able to accomplish and learn during my work term which helped me understand how service can translate into real change.
Being an executive of a student union is rewarding and comes with a lot of responsibility. In this field of work, I wanted to remind myself of how this work impacts students and connecting with the community helped me ground myself in the service to the community.
An event which helped me connect with community was one of the first events attended as VP External, which was called “Community Making and Black Flourishing through the Scarborough Charter”. The Scarborough Charter is where different institutions came together to have a conversation about how to meaningfully address anti-Black racism and Black inclusion. The Scarborough Charter is important, so institutions take the steps to implement anti-racist practices and create safe spaces for Black students. Moreover, this event helped me realize the due diligence I needed to provide in this role, specifically in consulting equity-seeking groups and to always continue educating myself on equity, diversity and inclusion and this helped me understand how when communities come together, we can learn and make change as community.
Continuing on the topic of consulting students and groups, when representing such a large group of students, it is essential to receive student input. Specifically, in regard to the projects which the external office worked on, there is the External and Community Affairs Committee which I was able to chair alongside the Vice-chair. In this committee, I was able to get student input on projects which were on my annual plan, and also provide the opportunity to other students to start their own projects.
The Vice-President of External and Community Affairs for the SFSS has massive involvement in the community. Here are some external relations I created:
During my first term in office, I was able to meet many politicians ranging from Ministers, Mayors, and City Councillors. I lobbied the government on various issues that students face. Some of the asks I had while lobbying the government were for:
- Increased funding for Student Housing
- A Tuition Freeze
- Increasing access to mental health support and asking to hire counsellors with lived experience so BIPOC students could have better experiences when accessing mental health resources
- Open-educational resources
- International students’ rights
- The Burnaby Mountain Gondola
I was also able to present to the BC Finance Committee at the 2023 BC Budget Consolation which has an impact on how the 2023 budget is allocated. My asks here were for:
- Increasing function for post-secondary institutions and creating more grants for BIPOC students.
- Increased Funding for Housing and providing rent subsidies to students because of the high cost of rent.
- Providing expanded and accessible health services
In this role, I also got to work with various Unions such as the
- Graduate Students Society
- The Teaching and Support Staff Union
- The Contract Worker Justice SFU
As an executive member of a student union, I saw the importance in supporting other unions and their work. I was able to create relations between the SFSS and the TSSU. I attended their rallies to demand a contract from SFU since the Teaching Support Staff Union and the Contract Workers Justice SFU had not gotten a contract in over 900 days.
Importantly, I created relations outside of Canada as well. I had the fantastic opportunity to attend the “Labor Notes” Conference in Chicago. During the conference, I attended workshops such as “Anti-Racism in Unions”, “Undergraduate Student Organizing, “Strategizing a Campaign”, and more. I was able to create connections with union organizers from the United States. Now, this provided me with the opportunity to start conversations outside of the conference. These conversations included how we organize and the differences in unions and how we can support each other across borders which I could then bring back the knowledge and support for SFSS initiatives.
A project which was initiated this year which was super successful was the “Water Drive”. After recognizing the negative impact that heat waves had on communities in the last year (2021), myself and the previous VP External thought it would be a good idea to hold a Water Drive. This project included getting water bottle donations from local companies and stores which the SFSS could then hand out to the unhoused community near the SFU campuses. For this project, we consulted with the local community to see what the need was and wanted to do to make sure we were not reinventing the wheel.
Now, on August 9th,2022 we were able to hand out water bottles to the unhoused community in Surrey Central by SFU Surrey. The general membership helped out with this initiative and we were able to give, connect and help out during the hot day. It was great to connect and have conversations with the community about the initiative and who we are the SFSS.
My experience during this co-op presented me with the strength, resilience and impact of work which is done by the community. I saw how when community comes together, we are able to provide service, learn, and watch service translate to change.
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