More than four out of five of you reading this didn’t vote in the SFSS elections.
Part of me doesn’t blame you. As someone who has spent four years of his undergraduate degree trying desperately to get SFU students to care about stuff, I admit the SFSS is a tough sell. It’s boring, it’s crooked, it’s full of buzzwords and tedious meetings and overly enthusiastic students with way too much time on their hands. Getting involved is a tall order, especially when you’re not sure you even want to know what all the fuss is about.
But here’s the thing: very few of you likely understand how much power the SFSS has, and just how much money they are taking from you every semester. And that is not okay.
Again, this isn’t really your fault. The SFSS is notoriously difficult to learn about, despite its best efforts at outreach. For example: did you know that the SFSS’ budget for the past financial year was 2.5 million dollars? Or that only 24 people ran for the SFSS Board of Directors this year, a board that’s meant to represent roughly 24 thousand students? I’m guessing the answer is no.
Even if you’re not moved by statistics or inadequate attempts at democracy, you’ll probably be interested to know that, if you’re an undergraduate student taking a full course-load, the SFSS takes $458.64 from you every single semester. That’s more than it would cost to buy a new Playstation 4.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of things the SFSS charges you for go towards things you probably want, like your U-Pass, funding for campus clubs, and your health and dental plan. The issue here isn’t that the price tag is too high — it’s that few students seem to understand that there’s a price tag at all.
The less students care about what the SFSS is doing, the less they will see themselves represented in its actions.
For whatever reason, even attempts by regular students to get us to care about SFU tend to fall flat. Remember No to Build SFU, the movement that voiced opposition to the incredibly expensive SFSS project to build a student union building and stadium? Despite their best efforts, the last SFSS Annual General Meeting attracted about one percent of the student population. And the project passed with flying colours, adding another 10 bucks to your semesterly fees.
Just to clarify, I’m a lot more ambivalent about the Build SFU project than many others. But this inability for people to drum up significant opposition for a multi-million dollar project — one that should have been more controversial than it is — is clearly a sign that people are not engaged at SFU.
All of this is a shame, because despite how boring and fundamentally out-of-touch the SFSS often is, they have a lot of potential. The student society is meant to represent the interests of the SFU students in a way that administration and faculty simply can’t.
They have the power to lobby government on issues that matter to students, such as clearer sexual assault policy, environmental action, and increased funding for problems like deferred maintenance. They negotiate with the university on tuition hikes, student resources, and labour disputes. They spearhead campaigns to address discrimination, accessibility, and equal rights for all students. And, like it or not, they choose how best to spend your money.
When we dismiss student politics and elections as unimportant and boring, we’re giving the SFSS carte blanche to act in whatever way they want. And the less students care about what the SFSS is doing, the less they will see themselves represented in its actions and policies.
So while you may shrug off election season as just another pathetic attempt at making the SFSS seem relevant, keep in mind that they really do have the power to make this campus a better (or worse) place for all of us. But until more than only out of every five of us is paying attention, they won’t be able to.