Does the USSU need a Social Justice Centre?
The proposed University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Centre for Social Justice was the focus of the latest Students’ Council meeting. After intense debate, the proposal was again tabled for a few weeks.
The ad-hoc committee charged with evaluating the need and feasibility of the centre submitted their findings and concerns prior to the meeting. Councillors received an updated version of the proposal package at 3:30 p.m., just before their 6 p.m. meeting.
Many councillors felt that making a decision on the centre, without appropriate time to review the documents, would be irresponsible. Others were concerned that acting too quickly would result in a poorly-executed centre.
USSU president Chris Stoicheff assured council that all of the discrepancies found by the ad-hoc committee in the previous mandate had been directly replaced in the new proposal.
“If there is truly a need then let’s make this centre a reality,” said Stoicheff, who says that despite low response rates to a needs survey, there is a demonstrated need for a social justice centre on campus.
He cited an open letter from former vice president student affairs, Ben Fawcett, to illustrate his point.
Besides being an over-arching entity to foster collaboration on social justice issues and providing peer support for students who’ve been subjected to racial or cultural discrimination, Fawcett believes that “it is fundamentally our duty as students of higher education and future social, political, economic and environmental stewards to confront issues of social justice.”
While no councillors denied the need for social justice support on campus, not all of them thought that the centre was the right way to execute that goal at this time.
Katie Salmers, one of the Arts and Science Students’ Union members of council, suggested starting with a small scale, rather than full fledged centre.
“We can build it up and do it right and well.”
Vice president academic Blair Shumlich suggested employing alternatives for peer support, like training volunteers in already-existing related groups on campus, like the Indigenous Students’ Council.
He also warned that a Centre for Social Justice would not reach students who discriminate.
He admitted his own prejudices when he first came to the campus, and said that at that time he would never have attended social justice events. His opinion was changed, rather, by actually interracting with members of other cultures.
“We won’t get our target market if we do things without looking at the target group,” he said.
Another serious concern was financial. Shumlich, along with Edwards School of Business councillors Alecia Nagy and Reid Nystuen, among others, felt that the spending should be carefully examined and evaluated.
Referencing the recent removal of the $30,000 a year VP external position, funds which Stoicheff suggested putting towards the centre’s operating costs — excluding the cost to launch the centre — Nystuen spoke against spending.
“You don’t save $30,000 if you spend it immediately.”