Your students’ union
At the University of Regina Students’ Unions annual general meeting a few weeks ago, students voted unanimously to boycott Israel for its handling of the occupations of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as for Israel’s refusal to make any concessions concerning a two-state solution with the Palestinians. The students’ union entering into a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign was bound to upset not only some university students, but also the wider public, as issues surrounding Israel are always fraught with strong opinions and hardline viewpoints.
In light of URSU taking a strong stance on a world issue, there have been a range of calls from students who believe URSU did something unforgiveable in taking a position on an issue. These people like to claim that URSU, as the students’ union, needs to reflect the entire student body, and thus should remain neutral on all remotely political issues. The problem with this argument is that it is not only completely ludicrous, but impossible to implement.
A students’ union, like any other union, is an advocacy group for change that the majority of members want to see implemented. Part of the reason the students’ union has an AGM every year is to take direct guidance on their advocacy from students. In this particular case, rather than leaving in a huff after the first inexplicably divisive motion was passed, everyone that cared enough about URSU to stick around for the entire meeting voted to support the motion. And it’s not like there was no opportunity to review the motions beforehand and make the time to come and speak against one of them if you were truly opposed to it. The students’ union posted its motions online in advance of the AGM.
Saying that, by following a democratic mandate to pursue sanctions against Israel, URSU isn’t representing the will of students ignores the fact that some students declined to exercise their right to vote against the mandate. AGMs are used to determine what the will of the majority of students is and to follow that course. If the will of students is at odds with what you want, fair enough, but it’s unfair to ask URSU to ignore the results of their own AGM. Caving in to these kinds of pressures on a regular basis would make URSU a totally impotent force.
It should be said that there was shockingly little debate around the motion, which came up toward the end of the meeting and passed very quickly. Everyone was most likely exhausted from the contentious debate over the motion to add more directors to the URSU board; by the time the motion to boycott Israel came up, a lot of people had left and the remaining crowd members were anxious to join them. This kind of atmosphere isn’t really conducive to excellent debate or high levels of scrutiny, especially around a subject so complex. Rather than complaining, then, that URSU is an embarrassment and its new position on the Middle East a gross misrepresentation of the will of students, people that complain should look into ways to reverse the motion. There are methods in the URSU constitution that allow for things to be reversed, and if there is really enough willpower and support for the motion to be re-examined, there are ways to make it happen. But simply saying that you are personally opposed to the boycott and demanding that URSU reverse a directive on your behalf isn’t going to cut it.
A students’ union is first and foremost an expression of a campus’ collective will. If you don’t like what was done, rather than complaining on Facebook and Twitter about how awful URSU is, try getting involved in student governance. Find a way to bring the issue you are concerned about to the fore. It really is your students’ union, and you can shape it how you want by getting involved beyond derisive tweets and Timeline posts.