What I want out of UMSU

Financial and social advocacy should be UMSU’s biggest concern

The annual general election for the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) is afoot.

This means that our current UMSU executive and community representatives are on their way to greener pastures, and following the vote itself on March 9 and 10, a new team will step into the roles beginning in May.

I would encourage all students to stay informed and vote for the best candidates, but what does the best candidate or executive body look like? And what should UMSU do for us?

Well, in this columnist’s opinion, the best candidates are those who will stand up for students when it comes to financial and social advocacy.

Let’s first focus on the financial aspect. Inflation rates across Canada are rising. Between April 2021 and April 2022 there was an inflation increase of 6.8 per cent. This inflation also disproportionately affects international students. On a more local level, the University of Manitoba approved a tuition hike that averaged out to 3.7 per cent for the 2022-23 academic year.

UMSU is in the perfect position to combat tuition hikes and ease the financial burden on students. The union could make efforts to oppose tuition hikes and continue to support programs that help students in tough financial situations.

The student body is not a monolith, but inflation and tuition increases affect us all, especially those less fortunate than others. UMSU should engage in organizing to mobilize students into protests or fundraisers to combat measures that hurt the financial well-being of students.

Now onto social advocacy. As a university campus, the U of M should be a place for the free exchange of ideas and a place where people feel safe and comfortable. The university’s own website states that academic freedom, equity and inclusion are part of the school’s values.

UMSU is in an excellent position to uphold and fight for these values wherever possible.

For example, there have been groups that have protested on campus while displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses — images intended to shock and upset students.

In my opinion, this is an outright attempt to upset and intimidate people into believing propaganda. I have personally walked past such protestors and have seen no effort to stop them or have them removed from campus. Having protestors that loiter on campus attempting to upset or disturb people violates the university’s supposed values of inclusion and respect.

UMSU can, and should, demand that these protestors be escorted off the premises. These individuals have a right to their speech but not a right to display gore on public property.

Though this is a singular example, there are numerous other issues facing women, racialized people, Indigenous peoples, 2SLGBTQIA+ people and the general student body that could be impacted by UMSU advocacy.

This combination of financial protection and social advocacy is the most important thing that UMSU can do for the student body. I strongly encourage the candidates and students who may read this to keep that in mind.

The best thing that UMSU can do for us is to lighten our financial burden and back us up when we need it. Financial and social solidarity are critical, and I, for one, would direct my vote to whomever can promise and achieve that.

I think it is also important to say that UMSU as a students’ union has a responsibility and a duty to be more than just an advocacy group. A union needs to stand up for and protect students across campus.

Whichever candidates end up winning the general election and make up the next executive body of UMSU need to do right by students even when it is difficult or unglamorous.

I know it is a tough position being a representative for the student body, but that position comes with responsibilities and duties to the people who elected you.

A union, even a students’ union, is more than a social group or a clubhouse. A union is the only line of defence between those who send out commands and those who have to follow them.