English Students Association resurrected at the U of W

Trying to balance a university workload with the other parts of a student’s life can be difficult at the best of times. Since the last batch of students involved in the English Students Association (ESA) graduated a few years ago, no one else has had time to keep it going.

“The only reason I heard from students during that time was that they were too busy with their jobs to organize much on campus beyond their studies,” said Catherine Hunter, University of Winnipeg professor and English department chair, in an email.

But for some students the cost of a student group in time and energy is well worth the potential benefits.

Shada Sagher, an honours English student, says that a students’ association can help new students learn the ins and outs of their department and establish themselves in a community.

“I thought it was really unfortunate that when I was in the beginning stages of the English program that I didn’t have that and I had to learn it by myself,” said Sagher, who is part of a small group of students attempting to re-establish the ESA.

Besides creating a community, Sagher hopes the association will facilitate book swaps and book drives, as well as contribute to inner-city literacy programs. It would also create awareness of relevant lectures and events around the city while also providing direct academic assistance to members.

“Having access to the people with the same interests certainly helps you thrive academically,” Sagher said. “You have that avenue where you’re not just relegated to the class to speak about your interests.”

Sagher says the group has received promising support, with approximately 30 people signed up to participate.

“The English department faculty are really pleased to see student interest rising once again to get an association together,” Hunter said. “University is not just about learning the material, but about participating in campus life.”

Gabriel Hurley, the president of the History Students’ Association, says that avoiding a situation similar to that of the vacated ESA is one of his priorities.

“One of the most important things to me was to go to the first year history classes,” he said.

After advertising the group and its activities, his strategy is fairly straightforward: create a space where history students can gather comfortably.

“The room was cluttered and relatively unusable,” Hurley said of the HSA’s room in the history department. “So my priority was to get people in and then to make the room a place where people would want to be apart from just during meetings.”

The group also hosts several history-related events, including a year-end mixer where students and professors in the department can meet each other in a non-classroom setting.

“When you form a more personal relationship with professors, you are more likely to come to their office to ask for help,” Hurley said.

The UWSA lists 65 officially recognized and affiliated groups in addition to the 10 service groups, such as the LGBT* Centre and the International Students’ Association, which receive annual budgets and spaces on campus.

“I think the most important thing for a group to do is a succession plan,” said Lana Hastings, vice-president student services for the UWSA.

She says that while the responsibility to keep groups going from year to year lies with the members of those groups, the UWSA helps with a variety of resources and events.

Recognized groups - those whose members are solely U of W students - and affiliated groups, whose members may include non-student community members, have access to exposure and meeting spaces as well as media equipment and some banking services.

Upcoming student group events include the Student Group Fair on Jan. 18 and the SnoBalls of Fury 3 basketball tournament on Jan. 27. The 3-on-3 SnoBalls basketball tournament will feature teams from various student groups going against each other with prizes in a variety of categories.

Hastings says these events help promote student groups in an environment where graduation turnover can jeopardize longevity.

“It’s good and it’s bad,” she said. “Groups are always evolving and changing, and we’re always re-evaluating, so the turnover has some positive effects to it, but also some things can get lost without planning.”

“If you go through your whole degree just solely focusing on your studies you can miss out on that key element of how you actually implement what you’ve learned,” Hastings said.   

For more information on student groups and to see what’s out there, visit www.theUWSA.ca and follow the links. There you can also find more information on both the Student Group Fair and the SnoBalls of Fury tournament.

Published in Volume 66, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 11, 2012)

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