KSA Makes Its Student Advocacy Coordinator a Full-Time Position

John O’Brian wants to make KPU a better place for students

Kwantlen Student Association Advocacy Coordinator, John O’Brian in his office. (Braden Klassen)

This summer, Kwantlen Student Association Student Advocacy Coordinator John O’Brian began performing his duties on a full-time basis so that the KSA Student Rights Centre would be able to better prioritize the immediate needs of the student body.

As Student Advocacy Coordinator, it’s O’Brian’s job to assist any student that has a complaint or conflict with the university.

“The goal is basically, if a student has an issue or any conflict with the university or is having a problem, we try to help them to wherever they need to be,” says O’Brian.

Students are encouraged to contact the Centre as soon as they have cause for dissatisfaction with KPU. Centre staff will provide support to students by pointing them to the right person at the university to talk to, guiding them through formal processes like making complaints or appeals, helping them to receive disability accommodation, and representing students when they’ve been accused of academic misconduct.

“The bread and butter is usually things like complaints about instructors or staff mistreating people or being disorganized in class or grade appeals,” says O’Brian.

Until this past May, O’Brian had shared the responsibilities of Advocacy Coordinator with fellow KSA staff member Kari Michaels, in addition to taking on an assortment of other duties. Due to the high volume of students coming to the Student Rights Centre for assistance, it was decided that the job was large enough to warrant the full attention of a dedicated staff member this May.

“Advocacy tends to always take priority over other stuff. If you’ve got to plan an event on campus at some time, but a student is being charged with plagiarism today, you obviously have to prioritize the student in need,” says O’Brian. “It took up more and more of our desks to the point where we couldn’t just do it on the side.”

O’Brian explains that the amount of work he has fluctuates based on the time of year, with the summer being relatively quiet and the office at its busiest towards the end of the semester, when students appeal final grades. O’Brian says that he typically deals with one or two major cases per week, during which he will sit down with a student, write up a letter, have meetings with the university, and/or file a complaint. He also fields dozens of brief consultations over the course of a semester.

“The immediate response [when a student comes in with a qualm] is to sympathize with their problem and view their challenges as your own challenge,” says O’Brian.

He is passionate about his job because he wants to “make Kwantlen a better place,” and feels that some of the most satisfying moments he has witnessed in his position have come from helping KPU nursing students who have been obligated to leave the highly demanding program. In several cases, the centre has been able to help these students stay in the program and successfully transition into their field.

“The sort of people who end up trying to be nurses are usually fairly driven but also very compassionate. That’s why they want to be nurses,” says O’Brian. “So when we can help them get back in and on track, and I hear later that they’ve succeeded and they’ve graduated and they’re out practicing nursing because we got them through the re-entry process or something like that, it can be super gratifying.”

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