During my time at Waterloo, I interacted with the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) both as a student and an executive of the Federation of Students. I had a very positive experience with their staff and volunteers. I believe that continuing to support WPIRG is important to improve the student experience. As vice-president education of the Federation of Students, I had the opportunity to observe and collaborate with WPIRG on two very important issues to students. I believe that they were able to make a significant difference in both of these cases.
The Schembri situation and, more recently, the Icon situation were examples of where WPIRG is able to make a difference for students by working collaboratively and filling in gaps of the university and the Federation of Students. As you may know, WPIRG led protests at the One Columbia building and helped several students recover money from Schembri. The skill set available within the WPIRG staff and volunteers was indispensable for the success of this endeavour.
International students have recently seen a significant increase to their tuition. WPIRG has been working on halting these increases for the last two years with petitions, videos, and protests, and I believe that the effort from student groups will be successful in the near future. Losing the momentum and expertise that has been built up in the movement could be very detrimental.
The Federation of Students has developed experience in advocating for students through meetings, but has significantly less expertise in direct activism, in which WPIRG is an expert. To get the best results for students, we need Feds, Imprint, and WPIRG working together to hold the university and the government accountable. This would not be as effective if these roles were being managed by fewer organizations; the independence of each organization is important.
Since 2013, I have seen significant improvements in WPIRG on many fronts. I have seen them collaborate with many groups, including services, societies, and clubs on events and advocacy efforts. They have regular members meetings that any undergraduate student can attend to vote on decisions of what project they will fund and support next. They have been willing to listen to and fix concerns such as ensuring their financial statements are available online and have been been willing to listen to criticisms from students with the goal of improving.
WPIRG has been a part of our campus for nearly 50 years. Their efforts have made a difference for students, and I sincerely hope that they will be able to continue their important work for many years to come. Help them keep fighting for you.
Former Feds VP Ed, UW alumnus ‘16