The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) 2021 byelection season is in full swing, and many student candidates hope to gain their peers’ votes.
However, there has been a lack of enthusiastic campaigning, as most positions are uncontested. Biographies and statements from all candidates are posted on the UWSA website, but students have otherwise not heard too much from those hoping to join the UWSA.
Students will elect candidates to four positions in this byelection: graduate students’ director, racialized students’ director, emerging leader director (oneyear term) and emerging leader director (two-year term).
These positions have varying responsibilities, all of which are important in ensuring student representation and support through the UWSA.
The “duties of (the) emerging leader directors involve supporting board transitions, outreach and engagement. The graduate students’ director and racialized students’ director are more specific directorships which involve supporting their respective identity groups on the board and making sure they are represented in the decisionmaking process,” Kirt Hayer, the UWSA president, says.
Student elections provide an opportunity for all students to hold their union representatives accountable and ensure the issues that matter to them are heard and prioritized by those in power.
“By voting and participating in the UWSA elections process, students have an opportunity to create change on campus,” Hayer says. “The elections are an opportunity for students to create a student union which is useful to them and representative of them. Engaging with candidates is important so that the students can make an informed decision before they vote.”
Many University of Winnipeg (U of W) students appear to be apathetic when it comes to student elections. Only 8.6 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the UWSA 2021 general election, and 8.8 per cent of eligible voters participated in the UWSA 2020 byelection.
“Students often do not realize how much power and influence the UWSA has,” Hayer says.
Although more than 90 per cent of eligible students did not vote in the most recent elections, voter turnout was much lower in the UWSA 2018 general election, when only 6.8 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.
The increase in voter turnout could be attributed to a variety of factors, such as increased accessible voting options, a heightened student interest in the usage of student fees for services and supports in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and/or a greater interest in holding the UWSA accountable after the 2020 call for organizational reform after reports of harassment and discrimination, which led many executives to step down from their positions.
“This situation exposed significant weaknesses in UWSA’s governance structure, including one-year terms; the lack of accountability mechanisms, clear conduct guidelines for UWSA leaders; and the lack of clear processes to address complaints and concerns,” the UWSA Reforms Final Report (which was published on March 8, 2021), states.
The UWSA holds significant power over the student experience, so it is important that the association is held accountable for their actions.
“We have a multimillion-dollar budget, direct contact with administration and faculty and have a lot of say with what goes on in the university,” Hayer says.
Every year, students pay union fees for UWSA services and support. In 2020, the UWSA collected $4,066,033 in revenue, $1,267,653 of which came from student fees. This means 31.18 per cent of the UWSA’s income depends on students.
“Students should be concerned with where their money is going and if it is serving them,” Hayer says.
“I was astonished to see people’s lack of participation in the UWSA’s events. A lot of important positions go uncontested,” Karanpartap Singh, a second-year political science student and emerging leader director (one-year term) candidate, says in an email to The Uniter.
“I think student politics is imperative, because not only does it improve students’ confidence, but it also gives them the chance to do something meaningful at such a young age.”
“If ... selected, I will advocate to increase communication with students and (the) board,” Singh says. “Many international students are unaware of (UWSA) events, and (as an) international student, (I) would like to work on making them more aware (of these events).”
The COVID-19 pandemic created a sense of separation between students, faculty and the university campus. As all return to in-person classes, the UWSA will play a major role in bridging gaps and creating connections.
“We have been away from campus for a very long time, and lots of students have never met their peers,” Deep Thind, a fifth-year biology major and emerging leader director (two-year term) candidate, says. “To accomplish this, I would have safe social events, or even online events, that students could meet their peers at and get to know faculty at, as well.”
Within the student body, different groups (like undergraduate, graduate and future students) are often disconnected. In order for students to stand as a unified group, they must work together.
Graduate students’ director candidate Muhammad Moshiur Rahman hopes to “create a platform for (a) unified campus for all the students” and “build (a) bridge between graduate and undergraduate students.”
As the UWSA welcomes new members in the coming week and more voices are represented at the decision-making table, students are encouraged to connect with their representatives.
“Having more representatives and greater diversity of perspectives helps the board make better and more representative decisions,” Hayer says.
The Uniter reached out to all candidates in the 2021 UWSA byelection. Those who responded are mentioned in the article. For the full list of candidates, visit theuwsa.ca/elections.
Published in Volume 76, Number 07 of The Uniter (October 28, 2021)