by Melanie Takefman and
Last month, Concordias undergraduates voted in favour of a more
moderate student government. However, not all student union leaders are
averse to taking a stance on external events. Explosive international
conflicts are making Canadian student governments examine their role in
conflicts on campus and beyond.
Like Concordia, York University was branded a hub of student activism
when a speech by Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes was cancelled and re-scheduled
following a storm of debate on the Toronto campus. (Pipes runs a Web site,
www.campus-watch.org, that monitors
and denounces anti-U.S. and pro-Palestinian academics.)
According to Pablo Vivanco, VP external of the York Federation of Students
(YFS), the YFS did not condemn the speech directly. However, Pipess
inflammatory, racist rhetoric goes against the anti-racism
mandate of the YFS.
While tensions between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students have been
rife since Pipess speech, Vivanco said that most vociferous debate
takes places in the public tabling area of the university. Thus, the YFS
only handles conflicts that are brought to them directly.
We take a mediatory stance, Vivanco said. We make sure
[our actions] are consistent with the policies of the university.
He said that the YFS organizes speeches and panels to promote a
hospitable atmosphere on campus and to encourage reasonable
debate within a controlled atmosphere.
Its important for students to talk about international issues,
Vivanco said. Its also important for students to eat and get
housing. Those are our priorities. Similarly, a motion to hold a
referendum to take a stance on Canadas role in Iraq was recently
voted down by the YFS.
Student executives at other universities, however, believe that it is
their responsibility to voice their constituents concerns.
The Université de Montréals student union, Fédération
des associations étudiantes de LUniversité de Montréal
(FAECUM), for example, recently voted unanimously to condemn the same
Nicolas Fournier, the president of FAECUMs executive, explained
that his student government only takes a stance on external issues in
response to students demands. It becomes dangerous when student
governments become pre-occupied with [external] politics on a daily basis,
He added that FAECUM takes a conciliatory approach to resolving
conflicts between students. If an invitation to a speaker like Benjamin
Netanyahu had encountered as much opposition at his school as it did at
Concordia, he said, he would not have allowed the speech. When we
take actions that can be considered provocative, we walk on thin ice,
Fournier, however, does not believe that Concordia students are more
radical than U de M students. They are vocal about the negative effects
of the FTAA and the upcoming provincial elections, not the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, he said.
While Vivanco and Fournier neither condemned nor encouraged the current
CSUs activism, others, like Anand Sharma, VP External for the University
of Alberta (U of A) Students Union, embraced it. Its
been refreshing to see the CSU addressing issues on a grassroots level
and also be willing to take on more controversial issues.
Sharma said that an activist student government does not necessarily lead
to a decline in the quality of student services. While the U of A Students
Union rallied against tuition and fee hikes, as well as taken positions
on external issues such as the war in Iraq, they still completed an expansion
of the student union building.
Sharma said that his governments shift towards activism has resulted
in a higher level of debate and student involvement on the Edmonton campus.
Joel Duff, chair of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of
Students, agrees with Sharma. He said that the majority of significant
social movements in North America originated from activism on university
campuses. All social change from countering racism to sexism to
homophobia has come from efforts within post-secondary institutions.
With a mandate to prioritize students, it is up to the Evolution, Not
Revolution slate to determine what role activism will play at Concordia