If one thing’s been consistent across my nearly six years as a U of A student — because god knows it’s not my grades or the quality of Dewey’s chicken strips — it’s been my apathy towards Students’ Union politics.
As an 18-year-old engineering student who lived at home, and spent every night and weekend off campus, student governance never registered as a blip on my radar. Between deciding what formulas I had to memorize and calculating how many pints of Trad I needed to down to be too drunk to reasonably attend my SOC 100 night class (unsurprisingly, it was always very few), I had little desire to see beyond my classes in ETLC and a dingy billiards room. So, as I paid my SU fees for a gym I rarely used and salaries for executives I didn’t care about, I said “eh, whatever,” and when the barrage of “VOTE NOW” emails popped into my inbox I left them unopened.
Now, as a 24-year-old business student, who still lives at home, spends every night and weekend off campus, and pays SU fees for a gym I rarely use and salaries for executives I don’t care about, I’m happy to report my apathy for Students’ Union politics is as strong as ever.
The thing is, I’m going to vote in this year’s SU election.
In my twilight years here at the U, something that’s been on my mind is the idea of impactful learning. So no, not the standard U of A bullshit memorization of endless terms, facts, and definitions that will inevitably fall by the wayside after regurgitating them on a test, but rather the experiences, adversities, personal connections, and eye-opening moments that can create meaningful changes in the way we think, feel, and understand.
I like to think that as a student, I’ve experienced a decent amount of what the university has to offer in terms of “learning” opportunities, including six-class engineering course loads, dropping out and returning as an arts/hopeful business student, 12 months’ work experience in a co-op program, my senior level business classes, and being a part-time student while working as a member of a student organization. I am fortunate to have had such a variety of opportunities to see first-hand the ways a student can learn both meaningfully and not-meaningfully around campus.
What I’ve come to realize upon reflection of these experiences is that impactful learning is more often than not a choice of perspective rather than a certainty. It can come from listening to a bomb-ass professor lecture — my intro to Strategic Management and Organization prof opened my eyes to the field of study I now love, despite the fact his memorization-only exams taught me exactly zilch. It can come from failing a midterm, or a major assignment when you realize your life isn’t over, and you can still finish the class proudly regardless of whether you get a C- or an A-. And it can come from running an election campaign when you speak for the first time to your peers on the SUB stage, get laughed at for your poster that featured the acronym M-E-T-H (lol) on it, and serve as an executive for eight months.
Student governance is so often interpreted in the same “letter-of-the-law” fashion as the useless multiple choice tests we all love to hate. On paper, yes, the role of an exec is about politics, platforms, high-stakes decision making, accountability, and serious responsibility, just as the multiple choice test is technically a learning tool that can determine if you know a piece of specific information or not. But when I look at the SU elections, I look past the fine print and see something in this circus that the multiple choice test is not: an opportunity for students to learn.
Is governance as accessible as it could be? No. Is it something that everyone and anyone should be a part of? No. But is it useful to those who do choose to pursue it as part of their education? Yes. Will those who take part have the chance to learn more impactfully than if they simply sat all year with their heads buried in their textbooks, studying for those multiple choice tests? Maybe. But in my eyes, that maybe is worth supporting.
When it comes time for all of us on campus to move on into the real world and away from this fantasy land, I for one will be hoping to work with, for, and around people who’ve had the most impactful learning experiences as possible. So, when I cast my vote on March 8th or 9th, it’s not going to be because I give a damn about the politics, platforms, or policies. It’s because I refuse to be apathetic about impactful learning, especially when I know all it takes is a minute to support a learning opportunity for my fellow students.