Students need to continue legacy of activism

In order for Queen's to be held to the highest standard, students must continue to lead the campus

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Philip Lloyd, Con Ed ’13; Justin Reekie, ArtSci ’13; Allison Williams, ArtSci ’14

When our grandparents share stories of a world engulfed by war or divided over segregation, it’s easy for us to believe that the future will be better.

On the other hand, when we hear stories about man landing on the moon or the cultural awakening brought by the Beatles, we can’t help but wonder if our generation will have those priceless moments that will be remembered for centuries to come.

The lesson we share with our grandchildren should be nothing short of, “as students, we recognized that our university faced significant challenges, but instead of sitting idly by, we took action.” To do this, we need everyone’s support.

As we reflect on the past year, we’re proud of what students have accomplished.

Students did a remarkable job weighing in on major university decisions, including the development of the new sexual assault policy, strengthening Health, Counselling, and Disability Services and envisioning a better future for the space in the JDUC.

Civic responsibility was evident across the board, with voter turnout in the AMS referendum reaching a 30-year high, strong student participation in the municipal and provincial elections and record voter turnout in the winter Engineering Society election.

But when it’s our turn to explain life at university in 2015, there’s a lot more we need to say. For Queen’s to remain a pillar of academic strength within a culture of ingenuity, we can’t be complacent.

We’re attending Queen’s at a time when the value of our degree is being questioned as never before. At the same time, our university is under constant pressure to manage risk and eliminate liability, while confronting a number of unprecedented pressures on its operating budget.

Student support services are at capacity, while meaningful student life space is diminishing. Our enrolment has reached a historic high, questioning whether we can preserve the sense of community that has long defined us.

As your AMS executive, we’ve worked with students and the administration to tackle these problems in a context of collegiality and cooperation, where student interests remain the top priority. But we need to actively work together to find a solution.

The AMS and faculty societies have a collective responsibility to foster a partnership whereby our services and programs reinforce one another. Collaboration between establishments reached new heights this year, with the inaugural QPOP Musical Festival bringing the AMS, Clark Hall, and the Grad Club together to create a night full of musical entertainment for all students.

Our student legislature — AMS Assembly — needs to cease being a place for largely irrelevant procedural roundabouts, and rather be a venue for thoughtful, constructive discussion on real issues facing our university. Reducing the size of the AMS Assembly next year will help, but it means nothing unless we’re all engaged.

As students, we must be proactive; we can’t wait for someone else to solve our problems. But there’s reason for optimism, because even a cursory reading of the history of this great university reveals the consistent and seminal impact that students have had in making positive changes to our campus life.

Consider the 1860s, when it was students who effected a study week before examinations and secured space for athletic activity. Or 1901-02, when Grant Hall, that ubiquitous icon of our beloved campus, was constructed largely through the fundraising efforts of students.

When safety concerns grew throughout the 1970s and 1980s, it was students who founded Walkhome and advocated for the blue lights program. In 1992, students enhanced our academic environment by contributing $750,000 to establish the Centre for Teaching and Learning.
The Common Ground is now one of the most popular social and food venues on campus. But in the winter of 2000, it was nothing more than the dream of three Queen’s students, who faced scrutiny and doubt in the form of an editorial published by in February 2000.
The Peer Support Centre opened in 2007 when students observed a need to support their peers facing stress – several years before mental health issues emerged as a University priority.
What will we create next? Our history strongly suggests that we have the power to decide.
We need to remember that Queen’s students have never been merely passive consumers of an education, but rather active builders and shapers of their university experience and Queen’s itself.
This year, we strived to uphold this tradition. The ReUnion Street Festival not only brought together students and alumni for a night of celebration, but worked to eliminate a long-standing point of tension between students and the city.

Support for a new bus route to the Isabel demonstrated how students took it upon themselves to solve an issue they felt was neglected. As student concerns emerged over the potential loss of valued traditions with a new Richardson Stadium, we haven’t sat passively on the sidelines, but have voiced our concerns through meetings with the administration, open town halls and blog posts.

The Queen’s community has long been what differentiates us from other universities. We couldn’t agree more. But now we’ve again been put to the test of responding to challenges.

We can’t let our story be defined by the problems we face. We must write our own story. This is something that students have always done. And it’s the greatest of all Queen’s traditions. And while we may never deliver a Beatles moment, let our story be one our grandchildren marvel at 50 years from now.

Philip Lloyd, Justin Reekie and Allison Williams are the current AMS Executive.

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