GovWeek has crawled back out of the sewers to return 2019. Students’ Union vice-president (academic) Akanksha Bhatnagar has decided to resurrect the event series despite two years of abysmal attendance and passive-aggressive disinterest from Students’ Council.
The University of Alberta is obsessed with the “week” format. It seems almost every week of the year is a capital-W Week now. There’s Safety Week, International Week, Sustainability Awareness Week, and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Week, to name just a few.
I’m not sure why we run these, because weeks are a fundamentally bad format to engage students.
Students are busy people: we have classes, homework, part-time jobs, extracurriculars, and more. There are only so many free hours we have to play around with. That’s what makes the “Week” a terrible tool.
Let’s imagine you’re really enthusiastic about governance, and you’re interested in every GovWeek panel discussion and summit. You’re likely going to have to pick just one or two events, because you still need to study or finish assignments. Or, if you’re unlucky, you’ve got a big paper due at the end of the week you haven’t started, so you can’t make it to any of the events.
Will you be able to attend something similar later in the year when you’re less busy? Nope! The SU won’t be having any other governance events for you, because GovWeek is over! Hope you like watching Students’ Council meetings.
SU executives love “weeks” because they’re an easy way to prove that you did the most. EmpFest is another example of a “week” that failed to reach most students. A whole week of events, while impressive, is only one week of impact. That’s what makes GovWeek so useless. Engaging students with university governance needs to be a year-round effort, so why are we still pouring money into promoting GovWeek when only one student attended the keynote last year?
The SU needs to create a long-term governance engagement plan. A basic initiative could be monthly drop-in governance seminars that would provide more opportunities for interested students at the same cost. Hold them on a different day of the week and time each month to accommodate varying schedules. Meet students where they’re at by tabling around campus like regular clubs do. Bribe students to talk with L’Express cookies if you have to.
What else could be done besides drop-in seminars? The SU could create a video series about the experiences of diverse representatives in the SU so students can watch them on their own schedules. Teach students about their voting power on General Faculties Council, which is way more action-packed than most people realize. Keep doing great initiatives like STRIDE. Make it easier for students to follow what’s going on in Students’ Council. There are endless better uses of the SU’s time and money than GovWeek.
At Students’ Council, VP Bhatnagar said that if she cannot fix GovWeek then nobody can. GovWeek doesn’t need a fix; what it really needs is a mercy killing. She could better serve students by moving on and creating a sustainable engagement plan, rather than repeating the failures of the past.