The most alarming data coming out of the Students’ Union’s “Identity Matters!” research is the extent to which university administrators are complicit in the racism and sexism on campus.
The study involved a series of interviews with Students’ Union representatives past and present, and revealed that factors like age, gender, and race had a significant impact not only on students’ willingness to run for governance positions and their ability to get elected, but also on their experiences while in office.
Their findings include the fact that “both men and women of colour cite instances of subtle racism in their interaction with constituent members and university administrators,” and that “women, visible minorities, and sexual minorities observe that their identities shape their experiences of serving in their roles, particularly in their interactions with stakeholders such as administrators at the University of Alberta.”
There is only so much the university can do to shape the attitudes of student voters, or of off-campus stakeholders, but the fact that Students’ Union Executives specifically raised concerns about university administrators points to unacceptable behaviour. The university must be willing to hold people accountable for this behaviour, and I certainly hope they intend to do something about it.
Their findings also include the fact that age “shapes (student leaders’) interactions with university administrators because they are often characterized as young and idealistic, and their positions and arguments dismissed as immature and without life experience,” which is, frankly, ridiculous.
The one thing that all student leaders have in common is that they are, 95 per cent of the time, younger than the stakeholders they are dealing with. That’s the whole point of having student leaders. They represent the students. Who are young. And maybe a little idealistic — but no less smart or qualified or competent or worth listening to because of it.
These findings alarm me not only because they indicate that we attend an institution still locked in the racism and misogyny of the past, but that they indicate that this institution doesn’t really give a shit about student governance. It’s easy to laugh about the meaninglessness of the SU, but at the end of the day I hope that they really are advocating for my interests as a student, and that someone really is listening to them.
It is hard to believe that university administrators who are willing to dismiss student leaders because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or even age, are seriously considering their concerns or their advice. I understand that these findings don’t represent every single person involved in university administration, and that there are lots of hard-working people who don’t discriminate against people because of factors like age, race, or gender identity. But until the university takes concrete steps to address this kind of discrimination within its own walls, we can’t be sure whether or not our student leaders are getting the respect, and the actual advocacy rights, that they deserve.