At noon today, UW students gathered at a silent sit-in at the upstairs SLC roundtable to advocate for WUSA reform. Among the stated goals were increased transparency and communication from within the organization as well as greater representation of student voices.
“A lot of people are dissatisfied with the way that WUSA currently exists as an organization,” said Niko Forsyth, creator of the WUSA Reform Discord server and one of the student organizers of the protest.
“I thought the conversations surrounding reforming WUSA were disjointed and poorly organized, so I wanted to create a platform to have a better discussion, and strategize about how to best actualize change,” Forsyth said.
Forsyth set up the WUSA Reform Discord server where the protest was planned and students debated their envisioned solutions for WUSA moving forward. As a movement, the group does not have any official roles or positions.
Many students heard about the sit-in through the poster advertising campaign that was organized by the campaign leadership.
The protest was also attended by several members of the WUSA Board of Directors, including President Rory Norris, Vice-President Katie Traynor, and Director Jeff Zhu.
“For a long time now, I think everyone on campus and at WUSA has recognized the disconnect that exists between students and their student association,” said Norris.
Norris also said that though WUSA has the time and resources, it has been operating as a lean organization up until this point and that the loss of any staff member due to ailment, recess, or notice often leaves WUSA stretched thin.
“This is abundantly clear to any clubs or societies who have been waiting on a cheque request to be filled, as the accounting department remains at half-capacity,” Norris continued. “Change is something that is always happening, it takes time, but I force myself to remain optimistic about the future of the WUSA.”
Norris added that he believes that COVID, along with the new governance structure, have contributed to an overall lack of clarity about WUSA as an organization.
“There have been many changes, and I don’t think that’s been communicated well with students, and in its place there has been a lot of rumours and misinformation about how the current structure operates,” said Norris.
At 1 p.m., WUSA reform advocates moved downstairs to deliver a speech in the SLC cafeteria.
Hannah Vines, the speaker, said that decisions at WUSA “have been made unilaterally without consulting the voices of those who they affect, and questionable allocation of resources have contributed to the lack of transparency and accountability.”
“WUSA is more interested in pushing the agenda of the school rather than representing the interests of the students,” she continued. “Our grievances and questions have been repeatedly brushed aside, leaving many of us feeling powerless, deserted, and alone.”
“There is a culture of isolation and apathy in our institution. But it does not have to be this way. Our turnout in WUSA’s election this year was three per cent. And we need your help to change that.”
According to Hannah, at least one person with a WUSA reform platform is planning to run for board positions. A few more, including Forsyth, are considering campaigning for the board in February.
WUSA reform advocates and board members agreed on having town halls every term where students could openly engage with directors. They also agreed that communication between WUSA and students needs improvement.
Zhu explained how the new governance restructure combined the Council and Board. “There are many advantages to this, but the fact remains that council fulfilled the role of being purely about student representation and expression,” he said. “That channel hasn’t really found a home in the new model yet, as the Board of Directors is often constrained by its legal and fiduciary duties.”
“Everyone is coming in with different ideas,” Zhu added. “Some of them might care a lot about the Used Bookstore closing. Some of them might take issue with what they might see as WUSA taking a long time to complete a task. I think, at the root of all this, it’s a communication and transparency issue..”
Quotes were lightly edited for clarity.