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New Student-Run Service Proposed

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Antonio Brieva
2017-2018 Feds President
Fri, 03/16/2018 - 12:15

Written by Feds President Antonio Brieva

Over our 51 years of existence, the Federation of Students has had a proud legacy of creating equity-seeking services that address unmet needs of marginalized and disadvantaged students at the University of Waterloo.

It all started in 1971 with The Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity, which was created to address and advocate for the unmet needs of LGBTQ+ students, and to provide a community of peer-to-peer volunteers that supported folks navigating a hostile and discriminatory campus environment towards the community. In 1982, The Women’s Centre was created to address ways in which women-identified individuals face marginalization on campus. The establishment of those services led to the founding of Feds Student Food Bank in 1994, addressing food insecurity; the Sustainable Campus Initiative (SCI) in 1996 to address the intersection of sustainability and environmental injustice; the International and Canadian Student Network (ICSN) to address a variety of social and systemic barriers international student face on campus; and finally MATES in 2013, with the goal of establishing a network of peer-to-peer mental health support volunteers to compliment existing professional counselling and psychiatric services on campus.

As Feds president, and as a UWaterloo student, I am proud that we have a chance to continue this legacy of meeting unmet needs of marginalized students on campus by voicing our support and voting yes for the proposal to fund a student-run service looking address needs for racialized students on campus at the March General Meeting on Wednesday, March 21. (For more information on this proposal, see agenda item 12.)

Although we believe that it is within the University’s mandate to meet the needs of all marginalized students on campus, the reality is that they are not. An article published in November 2017 by Vice News, University Asks Black Student to Prove Minorities Exist on Campus, illustrates our community’s continuing shortcomings in acknowledging the lived experiences of racialized folks and meeting their needs. Our students expressed to us that their needs weren’t being met, and as a student union, we listened. In consultation with students, the idea for a new student-run service to meet these needs was created, and a proposal informed by research was brought forward.

The proposed service will work to acknowledge the impacts of racism with care, and use an anti-oppression approach to dismantle systematic barriers that limits the representation, success and experience of affected students on campus. The mission of the service, which is open to ALL students to access and volunteer in, will look to accomplish its vision of eliminating xenophobia and racial inequity on campus, the broader student experience, address underrepresentation of racialized students in the post-secondary sector and create a culturally-inclusive campus.

But does racism exist on campus? The short answer is yes! However, often times we look at our campus in isolation from the broader community it operates within, and from the broader society it recruits from to convince ourselves otherwise. According to Statistics Canada, the tri-city region (Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge) ranks third out of 34 census metropolitan areas for the highest reported rate of race-related hate crimes in Canada.

During the consultation process organized to develop a research-informed proposal for this service, students vocalized lived experiences that reflects this data. Although there needs to be formal and informal reporting mechanisms to capture our own data on the experience of racialized students on campus, our community data shows that not only is there  underrepresentation and potential retainment concerns of racialized students on campus, but also why they may find it difficult to call this community home.

The proposed service will fulfill its mission via three pillars: 1) Education and Advocacy 2) Peer to Peer Support and 3) Events and Community Building/Outreach. As we continue to have conversations around systemic problems with campus culture in the context of mental health, understand that this service is also looking to increase access to trained peer-to-peer support services that will address the unique ways in which racial marginalization and mental health intersect. The need to increase this type of peer-to peer support service is reflected in the recommendations of the the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH), which acknowledges that racialized folks are disproportionately and uniquely affected by mental health illness and concerns.

To find out more about these three pillars and the proposed student-run service, I encourage every undergraduate student to come to the General Meeting on Wednesday, March 21; as a student at UWaterloo, I encourage undergraduates to vote yes for this service. Even if you’re coming into the meeting sceptical or leaning toward voting no, please come and voice your opinion in a respectful manner. All I ask is that you come with an open mind and reciprocate empathy and respect for those students with lived experience that have expressed a need for this service.

Always here to chat regardless of your position on this issue, so please reach out to pres@feds.ca if you have any questions.

Antonio Brieva
President, Federation of Students