Last month, the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) published its annual plan for the 2023-24 school year. The plan is divided into three sections — advocacy priorities, operational goals, and governance structure — which aim to respond to student needs both on and off campus.
WUSA president Rory Norris spoke to Imprint about this year’s plan, and provided details on a number of concerns students face at UW.
The first operational goal outlined in WUSA’s plan is to “address gaps in student safety” following June’s hate-motivated attack in Hagey Hall. WUSA aims to meet regularly with its own services to ensure that a safe environment is being provided, and to be in contact with the student body.
Though unable to provide a “one-year-fix,” Norris says that WUSA will be taking several “first steps” throughout the year. Norris explained that the most direct way for students to have their voice heard would be contacting him personally, but WUSA also plans to hear from students — either through town halls or direct meetings — in the coming months. In addition, WUSA plans to utilize their Research Survey Platform, which sends surveys to randomly selected groups of 500 students. The next surveys in October and November will be centered on improving student safety, Norris said.
Improving student access to mental health services is another area outlined in WUSA’s annual plan. The reliability of mental health support at UW has been criticized in recent years, particularly in the wake of June’s hate-motivated stabbing. Norris cited “massive wait times” as being one of WUSA’s primary concerns when it comes to working with Campus Wellness. In particular, he hopes that WUSA can push Counseling Services to improve the length of wait times: “My general idea is that students should be able to access [Counseling Services] within a few days turn around, but right now we are looking at a few months for most students.”
When it comes to financing mental health services, Norris said that WUSA is willing to approach external stakeholders for support. He emphasized that this approach may be necessary due to a lack of funding from the university itself: “[When] you get down to the root cause of it, a lot of it is just that the university is not willing to put their money where their mouth is.” Norris stated the importance of WUSA continuing to provide financial support to internal services such as Glow and the Women’s Centre.
Another issue raised among Waterloo students concerns the lack of affordable access to housing and transportation. “The big problem is just the availability of housing, and the fact that not much has been built . . . in the past three or four years,” Norris explained. He added that WUSA plans to share these concerns with various municipal groups such as Waterloo’s Town and Gown Committee, which aims to “enhance relationships, communications and policies” between universities and the community.
Norris added that the university is currently looking to build another residence building, but it would take at least three to five years and would not eliminate the housing problem. “Based on the preliminary designs, [it wouldn’t] increase the amount of housing substantially,” he said. “So that’s something that I’ve been criticizing the university about.”
Another issue receiving attention since the stabbing in June has been the failure of the university’s emergency communication systems, particularly the WatSAFE app. The university has hired a third-party to review safety plans, and WUSA wants to make sure that any policy changes are made clear to students. “We’re pushing the university to really make sure that they’re providing updates and communication with the students, [so that they’re] aware change is happening,” Norris said of the process.
As for a timeline, Norris says that new emergency communication plans are likely to be finalized by September and then reviewed by the Board of Governors at their October meeting.