Every UTM student should attend UTSU’s annual general meeting—at least once.
I attended my first AGM downtown last year and was amazed. I’d never seen so many young people so passionate about politics. What was even more impressive was that the students actually seemed to know what they were talking about—from Robert’s Rules to items from past UTSU board meetings, the participants arrived at the event prepared with their research and ready to debate.
And others came to entertain. This year, we were graced with an evening performance by the U of T engineering society’s Lady Godiva Bnad (the engineers chose to spell it that way for some reason—maybe York knows why). The Bnad came storming into the auditorium with drums, trumpets, and hard hats before being quickly escorted out by security at the pleas of the chairperson.
I have no guilt in acknowledging that it was one of the highlights of the event. But that shouldn’t be taken to mean that the AGM was a joke. Sure, there was plenty of entertainment by excited students, the “bnad”, bingo cards, etc., but right along with it was debate about serious issues affecting U of T students and the UTSU.
If you didn’t know, the union downtown (which all full-time UTM students are also a part of and pay fees to) has to make structural changes to its board of directors to comply with changes to the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. Their deadline to do so was October 17, so the AGM was our opportunity to vote on those changes. And as you’ll read in our news section, a structure was not successfully passed at the meeting.
But what the AGM did successfully accomplish is, arguably, democracy. If there’s one thing that the attendees—no matter what their political inclinations are—might agree on, it’s that the AGM allowed a lot of students to have their voices heard. And that’s a big deal in an age where youth get flak for political apathy—especially in an election season.
Hundreds of students came to attend the meeting and sat in the lecture hall for nearly five hours. Plenty came to the mics to express their views about what they’d like to see in the UTSU, be it regarding the board structure or otherwise. Students also decided the agenda, even overruling the chair at least twice to add new motions to discuss, despite the deadline for submitting motions having already passed.
I won’t speculate on whether or not I agreed with all of the decisions students made at the AGM, or whether I think everyone who spoke added something valuable to the discussion. That’s not the point. The point is the AGM offered students a forum where power was vested in their hands. They made the decisions.
In fact, the students had so much to say that we never even got to hear the address by UTSU president Ben Coleman, who barely spoke all evening. It’s not often that you see a leader sit patiently while constituents run the entire meeting.
Admittedly, we don’t see that kind of engagement at UTM. UTMSU holds its own AGM in Council Chambers, a small venue for a campus of 13,000 students. Worse, we don’t see the same level of passion among UTM students that we do downtown. Few students come to UTMSU’s AGM with research on UTMSU’s finances or prepared to debate policies. I remember that among the lengthiest items last year was the nearly hour-long UTMSU presidential address. Quite different from UTSU, to say the least.
I can sympathize with students who came here to learn in their courses and graduate with high grades. But I also think that students who simply commute to campus, go to lecture, and go home are missing out on the university experience. Yes, transportation isn’t great and commuting is a pain—I sympathized with the UTM students who called for UTSU’s AGM to be adjourned because their bus was waiting to take them back to campus.
But despite the challenges, if we don’t take the time to fully experience our campus—by attending events and paying attention to issues, policies, and politics—we’re the ones missing out. It might seem vain to think that student politics matter—they’re just student politics after all—but they offer great insight into broader politics in our city, province, and yes, country.
If you don’t believe me, try attending UTSU’s AGM just once. Even if you don’t care about the issues or don’t appreciate the jokes, it’ll be an event in your undergrad career that you won’t want to forget.