UNBC Student Publishes Open Letter Urging Engagement with Student Politics

The similarities between UNBC and KPU show a trend of student apathy in smaller B.C. institutions

Seth Jex, 5th year student at the University of Northern British Columbia. (Submitted)

It turns out that the University of Northern British Columbia, like KPU, has a hard time fostering student engagement.

Last month, outgoing member of the Northern Undergraduate Student Society, Seth Jex, published an open letter critiquing his university’s student body—a student body that is willing to campaign for divestment, or with unions, or against the appointment of a former Conservative MP to become chancellor, but not willing to run in student elections.

“We’re choosing to go about that advocacy and making a change through avenues that exist outside of our political systems,” says Jex, who is completing his fifth year at UNBC. “Students are, in some cases, electing to [make change] through traditional advocacy, through protests and papers, more grassroots style things that exist outside of the bureaucracy.”

Jex says that, this year, all of the elected positions for the UNBC senate, the board of governors, and the student union were decided by acclimation, or else the positions remain vacant. This was one of the key reasons Jex cites for writing the letter.

While UNBC does have student housing for about 420 students, Jex says that the university is very much like a commuter campus—similar to KPU—with many students spending as little time on campus as possible when they’re not in a class.

“The fact that we have a residence building has not, thus far, proven to increase any sort of student engagement,” he says. “Students … are failing to understand the power that we have within the bureaucracy. The Universities Act within B.C. enshrines advocacy and student representation-based positions in very important settings.”

Jex notes that, through the senate and board of governors, students can have an impact on which classes are taught and which instructors are hired. Despite this, they do not seem to engage with these bodies to influence the direction of the university.

“We’ve seen this year, a few times, students choosing at UNBC to protest rather than get engaged in the process early,” he says. “Students are not engaging in committees and open-house forums—instead, we’re engaging at the very end when we’re unhappy with the final product. That’s not only ineffective, but it teaches the administration that they should go around students.”

KPU has historically faced similar issues, especially in regards to a lack of candidates running for election in student government. With the exception of the Surrey and Arts representatives, most prospective KSA councillors run unopposed and are elected via “yes/no” boxes on their ballots. KSA elections are typically decided by only a few hundred students. Comparatively, our most recent UPass renewal vote saw more than a thousand participants.

“I disagree with the fact that running for elected positions is the only way to get involved,” says Tanvir Singh, outgoing KSA President. “I think it’s up to students to run for those positions, and it’s important, but just because you run unopposed doesn’t necessarily mean that your position isn’t as worthy as someone else’s.”

Singh says that there’s a wide range of engagement levels that are available to students at KPU. That could mean running in an election, conventional protesting, or showing up to committee meetings. He adds, however, that while councillors are able to regularly have their voices heard, students who aren’t involved in politics don’t always get that opportunity.

“They deserve to protest when they want to. They deserve to have equitable treatment on campus, have access to education in the same way,” he says. “Just because they don’t run for these positions doesn’t take away from their ability to get involved on campus.”

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