Queen’s hosts OUSA General Assembly

Delegates talk accessibility, LGBTQIA+ inclusion 

The four-day event took place at City Hall.
Journal File Photo

Student policy makers replaced city councillors at City Hall on March 5 to plan the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance’s (OUSA) lobbying agenda for the 2023 year as part of OUSA’s General Assembly.

OUSA General Assembly is the highest governing body of the alliance, which sees undergraduate students from 10 universities across Ontario collaborate on important challenges facing students.

“OUSA is taking the voices of every post-secondary institution in Ontario in order to come together and to lobby the provincial government to advocate for students,” Sahiba Gulati, AMS commissioner of external affairs, said in an interview with The Journal.

Queen’s hosted more than 70 student delegates for the four-day event, which included daily policy discussions and plenary, a full day of voting on policies at Kingston City Hall.

Principal Patrick Deane opened the events by emphasizing the importance of OUSA and the importance of students’ voices in policy.

“I have a great deal of respect for [OUSA],” Deane said. “[Queen’s] has a very long history of respecting management with students in governance.”

According to Tiffany Li Wu, AMS housing resource manager, the value of OUSA General Assembly is it allows student governments insight into what other institutions are doing to support undergraduate students.

“To me, personally, I value the student leader to student leader skill exchange. So, we planned a lot of social events,” Li Wu said in an interview with The Journal.

“We took [delegates] to the hockey game to support the Kingston Frontenacs. We also planned an event at The Caesar Company, and we had them going to Barcadia for a little light social.”

The focus of this semester’s General Assembly was teaching and assessment, student accessibility and disability inclusion, and two-spirit and LGBTQIA+ inclusion.

According to Gulati, OUSA increases the impact of student advocacy in Ontario because university delegates are able to present a united front.

“This year, we are reviewing the policies that were set four years ago. As it turns out, a lot of the policies created then were implemented into the government, which showcases that change has happened because of [OUSA’s] lobbying efforts,” Gulati said.

Policies at OUSA are updated every four years, with delegates from each institution charged with addressing specific challenges.

Gulati and her colleague Josh Bearg, AMS government affairs manager, represented Queen’s and joined Western delegates in authoring the policy on teaching and assessment.

“We focused on hybrid learning efforts, and how that was very important, as well as more experiential learning opportunities for students,” Gulati said.

The policy recommended the government invest in hybrid learning, create guidelines for equitable hiring practices, and increase financial support for learning opportunities outside of the classroom.

“Getting those hands-on experiences beyond the classroom is very important,” Gulati said. “I know there was talk that there’s a lack of that when it comes to the arts in particular.”

Gulati highlighted that OUSA is recommending the provincial government collaborate with universities to create bursaries for low-income students who are currently unable to participate in experiential learning opportunities.

The teaching and assessment and student accessibility and disability policies were approved by all OUSA delegates at plenary.

To address students’ accessibility and disability needs, OUSA is recommending the provincial government mandate all institutions to create an advisory committee dedicated to campus accessibility including students with disabilities.

The calls to action include recommendations for provincial funding for universal washrooms on campus, updating buildings’ accessibility, and more accessible parking spaces close to university campuses.

The policies passed at plenary will guide the lobbying efforts of delegates who will represent undergraduate students in meetings with 35 members of provincial parliament in November.

“The last policy [focusing on two-spirit and LGBTQIA+ inclusion] at plenary was cut short because everyone had to go home,” Gulati said.

“We started at 9 a.m. and ended at 5:30 p.m. and still didn't get to everything!”

OUSA delegates met virtually later in the week to amend and vote on the final policy.

Gulati encourages all Queen’s students to apply to be delegates for OUSA.

“Anyone can apply,” Gulati said. “We’re always looking for a more diverse set of student voices to voice their opinion.”

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