On November 20, I left Calgary for Toronto after attending a four-day conference called the Canadian Conference for Student Leadership hosted by the University of Calgary. Having been sponsored by UTM to attend, along with fourth-year Tanveer Singh, as well as Dray Perenic Price from the Office of Student Life, my goal during the conference was to absorb all I learned from the student leaders who had gathered from across Canada to discuss and define student leadership, and bring that knowledge back to the UTM community.
At first, to do so was an obligation. However, as the conference progressed and I met many motivated and encouraging people with interesting ideas, I was not only obligated to share what I learned, but I truly desired to share my knowledge with our university, especially with my fellow students.
The main reason is this: I feel that at UTM, I have not been as inspired as a student as I have been before now, at the conference in Calgary. For one thing, student leadership, while it’s sometimes visible around campus such as at the tables that are set up in the South Building or CCIT for Peer Health Education or the Women’s Centre, is not thriving at UTM as it is in other universities’ communities. I’ve only been a student at one university, but having met students from across Canada who described to me what their campuses were like, I felt that other campuses were much more engaged than ours. The second thing is, a lot of UTM students don’t put the effort into supporting their fellow students who happen to be in leadership roles on campus. As VP Finance of the Sociology and Criminology Society and exec of the English and Drama Society, I know how hard it is to plan an event for fellow students and how disappointing it can be to have a low turnout.
To put it frankly, I rarely see students at UTM taking the small initiative to make our campus a thriving, vibrant community in which people feel at home, or welcome, or in the very least respected. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked through campus with my arms full of books and had the door in front of me practically slammed in my face because the person in front of me couldn’t take half a second to hold the door open, because for those people, to hold the door open would be going over and beyond the extra mile for another person, and they simply don’t have the time because they’re too involved and absorbed in their singular priority at UTM: to study.
The question now is: why do so many people come to UTM only to study when there are so many opportunities to get involved on campus? Is studying really the only thing you want to be able to say you did while you were at university?
Maybe I’m asking people for too much; to ask the people on campus to take on a leadership role when they can’t even open the door for another person may be going overboard. However, when I discovered during a conversation with Dray Perenic Price that the Office of Student Life and Student Housing and Residence Life only received about 30 applications to be sponsored to go to Calgary as a student representative for the conference, I was stunned. Why wasn’t the number of applications in the hundreds? There are certainly many more than 30 student leaders at UTM. I’m positive of that.
I feel that the problem isn’t a lack of student leaders on campus—there are plenty of them around. Many of them aren’t in leadership roles yet; perhaps they haven’t yet found their passion and are still waiting for something to ignite the fire that motivates them to make a change in their community for the better. That’s what I’d like to believe, anyway, and not the alternative—that they are just plain lazy.
It was announced during the closing remarks at the conference that the next CCSL is taking place in UBC Okanagan in March 2012 and at McMaster University in March 2013.
Wouldn’t it be great if at the next CCSLs, UTM students presented a student workshop on leadership to fellow students, like the students at York, UBC, and Laurier (to name a few) did that weekend?
Just to let you know, Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free the Children and a keynote speaker at the conference, has challenged U of T to host the conference in 2014. Will we take up the challenge?
I met many great student leaders at the conference, students who were passionate about their causes, whatever they may be, and were dedicated to achieving their goals and making the world a better place. And there’s no doubt in my mind that some of them are going to achieve great things in the future. There’s no doubt in my mind, either, that the students at UTM also have that potential, and I’d like to see it manifested right now—today, not in the future—as student leadership on campus.
Features Editor, The Medium