Friday, March 1, 2013

Your guide to UTSC government 2: getting meaningfully involved as a student


So last week I wrote about the structure of UTSC’s government, the various roles that people have within it, and how it functions. Today I thought it would be good to explore how to get involved within your school, what you can do as a student to participate in this government or inside the various functioning bodies of the school in general.

1. Work and Volunteering
Probably the most practical thing that you can do while you study at UTSC is get a job while you’re there! The work study program allows any full time student at UTSC to apply apply for a medley of jobs that will pay you for the entire summer semester, or fall/spring term.

The SCSU also hires 
also hires students regularly to work in many positions, both paid and voluntary.

You can also gain valuable experience through the various volunteer roles available on the SCSU employment site.

The Department of Student Life offers a
great website to browse through the various student jobs available, as well as matching you with good volunteer opportunities. 

2. Student Organizations - Campus Groups, Student Societies, Departmental Student Associations, and Greek Clubs

Student clubs (or, campus groups as they’re officially called) are the meat and potatoes of student life. It’s probably the most obvious way to get involved at school as a student. If you’ve ever stepped foot on campus you’d have noticed the various banners, fliers, and events in the school thanks to the effort of so many people like yourself who just want to get together with an idea and have fun with it. Campus groups celebrate our diverse religious, ideological, and political affiliations, and also provide a place to discuss and promote various sports and hobbies. Campus groups are approved, supported, and funded by the Department of Student Life, you can apply to make your own as per the instructions on their website. You’re pretty much allowed to make a campus group for anything you want as long as it’s not illegal, some kind of weird money making scheme, or discriminatory (you know, the bad kind of discriminatory).

The benefits of starting up a campus group as opposed to having your own secret club is eligibility for $funding$, access to school resources (your own emails, ability to book rooms, etc.), and street cred (everyone will know the badass non-alcoholic flip cup club was YOUR idea).

If you would like to join an existing campus group, a full list of them, their objectives and contact info, can be found here.

There are also Student Societies that collect levies directly from your school tuition fees, (eg, fusion radio). These are like Campus Groups but they follow much stricter guidelines. Student societies can also have formal relationships with Student Society Affiliates (like the Women’s Centre), and they can recieve funding from their parent Student Society.

Departmental Student Associations (DSAs) are great to get involved in because they allow more formal relationships to form between you and the various faculty and administration. They also make you seem like the cool ‘leader’ of your whole student department. DSAs represent your academic department, and they also advocate on the behalf of those students, so they’re a great channel to air your academic grievances through, and stand up against academic injustices. (Also great for finding that cool nerdy leader guy who can help you with helping yourself do homework).

There are fraternities and sororities that hang around campus, but the University does not officially associate with them, although many of them provide a lot of great charitable and social services too.

3. Student Unions, Public Interest Research Groups, and Community Organizations
The Scarborough Campus Student’s Union represents the undergraduate students on campus. It is a local chapter (99) of the Canadian Federation of Students, a Canada-wide student union that provides student services and lobbies on their behalf. You’ve probably heard of the CFS because of all the ‘Drop Fees’ literature, posters, and campaigns that they produce and organize. They have half a million members (you probably are one), and use their collective power to provide some great student run things like Travel CUTS, the International Student Identity Card (which provides cheap movie tickets and train fares when you’re in Bolivia for example), the Studentsaver Card (which gives you discounts at home), Homes4students.ca, the Student Work Abroad Program (SWAP), and the National Student Health Network.

The SCSU does the same thing but on a more local level. They provide many part time jobs for students, as previously mentioned, and they also provide services like discounts on Metro Passes, Raptor’s tickets, health and dental plans, and more. They lobby local governments and the school administration on our behalf. It’s also probably the most actively political group on campus (lately), which is proven by the very loud hallway dj election campaigns you’re probably familiar with. Love it or hate it, it’s probably really good to get involved with them because they represent you as a student.

There are also Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), that research, act on, and organize around social and environmental justice issues. Scarborough Campus doesn’t have one per se but there is one at the Hart House. PIRGs can have a lot of political clout, for example, in many of the English Universities in Montreal during the Maple Spring protests last year, they were the organizational bases for much of the actions, research and literature that supported the protests. Although they are broadly progressive by definition, they’re good to get involved with if you feel very strongly about social and environmental issues as a student and want to create effective change in those areas.

Finally there are community social and political organisations (like the Toronto Youth Council, and Scarborough Youth Council), that also broadly try to influence the community at large, including the education system. The Toronto Youth Cabinet allows people between the ages of 13-24 to sit in city hall, and work directly with the city counselors, mayor, and community partners. It’s a great place to see the inner workings of politics on the city and how it impacts your day to day life and education, and to feel like you can create a direct impact on that.

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