The executive members of the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) are out of touch with the students they purport to represent — and the union hasn’t noticed, refuses to admit it or doesn’t care.
Last Thursday’s failed rally in protest of the high cost of tuition proves it.
On Oct. 31, the RSU pitched a red tent outside of the Student Campus Centre (SCC). Under it, they set up tables, gave out handfuls of candy and passed out flyers featuring lyrics to several original anti-tuition hike chants that meant to unite students in a therapeutic show of campus activism. They didn’t.
The Halloween-themed rally may have been a call to action, but few students stuck around to listen to what the RSU had to say. In fact, most of the roughly 20 attendees were RSU executives, relatives, RSU affiliates and members of campus media sent to report on the event.
In the appropriately apathetic drizzle that afternoon, Roshelle Lawrence, the RSU’s vice-president of education, argued that tuition is too expensive for students to take on.
It’s a respectable cause, but the problem lies in the manner in which the RSU is fighting it. The team can’t seem to nail down how best to engage students on the topic of affordable tuition. It hardly seems like the RSU tried to engage or debate at all — and that’s darkly irresponsible of our student leaders.
Alastair Woods, chairperson of CFS-Ontario, was a rally supporter who dubbed the event a success even before it was over.
“I actually think that the rally was very effective. A rally is a public statement. It’s a public exhibition of frustration,” Woods explained.
The RSU and the CFS are so easily pleased, it is disappointing. Our student leaders should be aiming higher. They’re capable of more. They shouldn’t be satisfied when about six students of a campus of 28,000 undergraduates show up to a rally. We’ve been told we’re the generation meant to change the world, but that won’t happen if the executive members of the RSU turn a blind eye to the measly support they receive for important campaigns. It’s irresponsible of them to then declare such support a successful representation of student concerns.
The rally also proved the RSU couldn’t decide, or didn’t think it was important to decide, whom the rally’s message was meant for: the many students who, Woods said, aren’t aware of the economics of post-secondary education, the provincial government or Ryerson president Sheldon Levy.
Although Woods said the rally should send a message to both government powers and students, the action fell abysmally short of its potential.
Then why are they so satisfied with so little?
The nail in the coffin for the RSU’s pitiful call for affordable education took place in the waiting room of the office of the president. There, the RSU team delivered a funeral wreath to the president, which was meant to symbolize to Levy that students are struggling to pay their ever-growing debts. But in the end, no one argued. They didn’t sit down to have a constructive conversation. They shook hands, took polite pictures and left.
Afterward, the RSU’s executives emerged and praised their few supporters for taking part in the successful rally.
Supporting an RSU campaign is like dumping a wad of cash and coins into a charity piggy bank on a street corner: It’s hard to know where that support will go, and near impossible to know what difference the donation will make.
If the union wants real support — and if it actually cares about effecting real change on behalf of its students — the RSU has to convince the student body it will fight responsibly and intelligently for them. The union has to prove it believes in victory. Right now, it seems, the RSU is content with the illusion of it.