The beauty of student agency

Curbing apathy, raising voter turnout key to holding leaders accountable

Queen’s University is unique in the amount of say students have.

Unlike at many universities, Queen’s students are provided an opportunity to make decisions on academic, municipal and financial matters. For example, it’s virtually unheard of for an undergraduate student body to manage a multi-million dollar budget.

Queen’s is also the only university in North America where non-academic discipline is administered by the students and non-University-appointed staff.

The amount of responsibility and agency given to Queen’s students makes me proud to be part of this institution.

The AMS Fall Referendum is one way students can exercise their agency. By casting their votes, students will determine how our money is spent and can express their opinion on university administration issues.

The results of our votes are two-fold: the binding votes will determine whether AMS clubs and services get funding in the years to come and the non-binding votes will help gauge students’ opinions.

Because of the importance of these issues and the impact they can have, I encourage everyone to exercise their democratic right to vote.

Voting will be easier this year due to the efforts of Internal Affairs Commissioner Lucas Anderson and his team. They’ve done what so many past AMS and ASUS executives promised but couldn’t do in the past—institute online voting.

Students will receive an e-mail telling them to log on to an online ballot, created by Votenet Solutions, with their NetID. Everyone can cast one ballot and vote in the same manner we have been for decades without wasting paper.

Voting is now more accessible. Students studying abroad and those who can’t make it out to polling stations will now be included.

Online voting provides students a greater opportunity to have their opinions heard. Capitalizing on this will provide a clearer assessment of student opinion in greater numbers than ever before—it will better reflect the diverse opinions of our university, ensuring everyone has an equal say.

Before voting, however, students should engage with the issues we vote on. The Journal provides free space for referendum parties to explain to the student body why we should vote in their favour. This allows us to find out what the clubs and services are and whether we believe they deserve our student dollars.

For the plebiscite questions, although un-binding, it’s important for students to know the issues presented. The results of our vote will provide the AMS with an idea of how students feel about a particular issue. This will help determine the course of action they choose to take with administration.

A past example of this was demonstrated by the Coca-Cola renewal plebiscite question which led to the AMS taking a stand against the renewal of the University’s contract with Coca-Cola.

Engaged votership extends to other elections such as faculty voting and—come the new year—executive elections. Last year, during the winter elections, I searched for student senator and AMS representative candidate statements. To my disappointment, I found nothing more than their personal achievements and aspirations. Their platforms and where they stood on issues wasn’t made available. The problem is that many students don’t know what these positions are. These positions appear unimportant when they aren’t publicized.

Student senators sit on a council that decides the future of academics and student discipline at Queen’s. Almost 20 per cent of the Senate is comprised of students—meaning they have the potential to affect Senate voting. Furthermore, each student serves on a Senate committee which is responsible for compiling reports and suggesting policies for the Senate to decide on. Those sitting on this committee can significantly affect the direction of these committees’ research and policy prescriptions.

AMS representatives vote and speak on matters directly affecting the student body. They act as the check and balance of any AMS executive, keeping them responsible to students’ demands and needs.

Given the weight of these positions, it’s disappointing to see the lack of engagement from both the candidates and the voting body. The lack of concrete platforms is testimony to the lack of value we perceive in these positions.

That past ASUS elections only had a two per cent voter turnout is unacceptable at best. It speaks to both the greater unimportance and disengagement with which we approach these important positions.

For this referendum and all future elections, I hope voting increases and that it’s more informed too.

As students, we should demand more from our elected officials. This includes knowing what’s going on and what we want. A great onus of this is on the elected officials and elected bodies themselves.

The AMS and all faculty societies should have an outreach campaign to inform students on important issues. Then they will better represent the student body in their decisions and we can do our part by voting.

That’s the beauty of student agency.

Safiah Chowdhury, ArtSci ’11, is the AMS’s Human Rights Deputy.

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