Here at the University of Alberta, the Lister Hall Students’ Association (LHSA) has been irresponsible, acting in a thoughtless manner towards their students.
An alleged hazing incident that occurred in January 2014 caused the organization to be on suspension while the group was disbanded in August 2015. However, the LHSA deserves to be disbanded whether or not the incident was hazing. The LHSA claimed to be a student advocacy group, yet they represented themselves in a very exclusive and unprofessional manner.
I lived in Kelsey Hall during the 2014-15 school year. During these eight months, I saw how the LHSA was more self-serving than a representative or a counsellor should be.
Despite being the voice for the residents of Lister, the LHSA was often inaccessible to the students that lived there. LHSA Executive members were elected at the end of the previous winter semester, so the executives in place were always at least an academic year ahead of the incoming first years. This created a cultural disconnect between executives and students who were often living away from home for the first time in their lives. New ideas to improve residence life were often ignored in favour of the status quo, and executives didn’t actively seek students’ input on issues towards Residence Services or the University of Alberta in general.
The LHSA had created an exclusive group, and convinced Lister residents that if the LHSA was abolished, Lister culture would disappear. By presenting this specific association on first year students upon arrival, the LHSA had already expanded its influence by suggesting that anyone against the LHSA is against Lister as a whole, and thus against the residents. This was problematic when any member of Residence Services, particularly when the Resident Assistants, criticized the LHSA.
In fact, the LHSA made little to no effort to include students from non-Western cultures who don’t speak English as their native language, despite the fact international students make up about 500 of the 1800 Lister residents this year. They did not try in any way to reach out to international students that did not fit their idea of a western, English-speaking student. This was shown in the attendance at their events, which had predominantly Canadian students. A lack of reaching out to international students prevented easy integration into Canadian society, while creating barriers that keep different cultures separate. To tout Lister as a beacon of intersectionality as Residence Services does on its website is inaccurate.
To abolish the LHSA was a good decision regardless of the alleged hazing incident. Yet the lack of professionalism within the LHSA that led to its ineffectiveness in the first place still needs to be ameliorated.
Because the university community is largely unaware of problems in residence and in Lister specifically, a new student advocacy group has been established, with the formerly elected LHSA executives from the end of winter 2015 semester leading the group. No real change has been made besides practically changing the name of the organization.
A student advocacy group can go a long way to improve the quality of life for students in residence. It can provide fun and entertainment for students, as well as justice when wrongs are committed against students. But problems arise when the organization exists simply for its own self-preservation. Lister desperately needs representation advocating for the sake of other students. Quality of life in Lister will improve among students when this provision is met.