The University of Manitoba Students’ Union is in the process of creating two new student representative positions, one of which will sit on UMSU council as soon as next month.
The positions of a racialized student representative was proposed by U of M student Sean Gee, from the faculty of arts, who stepped forward and requested that UMSU create a student representative for a community he felt was not being represented.
“I’ve always been a believer in the idea that exclusion is one of the greatest forms of oppression. I realized that racialized people didn’t have a representative on council, so exclusion from council was a clear form of oppression there,” Gee said, explaining why he served the motion.
“So even if it’s through ignorance, or just through negligence, it’s still a form of oppression and something that I felt needed to be addressed.”
Gee said that UMSU council is currently in the process of writing bylaws for the position and that the position wouldn’t be ready until the 2012 UMSU election.
Gee envisions the new position representing racialized students so that their unique needs and interests are met, and sees the new position working in a similar manner as the LGBTT* representative or the women’s representative. He hopes the new position will deal with issues about racism, loss of privilege and would serve educate people about these issues.
Gee said that everyone he has talked with “thinks it’s a great idea because it gets rid of this mistaken idea that racism is dead.”
However, Jared Wesley, an assistant professor in the department of political studies, said that while the motive behind the position “seems to be one that most people would agree with — to have more minority representation on UMSU,” he felt the process of creating the position could get tricky.
Wesley explained that, logistically, the position brings a lot of questions with it, such as who would be considered eligible to run and who would be allowed to vote.
“The big hurdle is determining who actual would qualify to run for the position.
There are huge questions for me here; to say that the visible minority community is homogenous is a huge stretch. I don’t even know how you would go about defining members of the community,” said Wesley.
Wesley said that self-identification might be fine, but in the research he conducted where he polled politicians on which ethnic group they identify with, not a single one identified themselves as being Caucasian.
“What does identity mean? Does it mean I am personally a member of that community, or that I identify and sympathize with that community?” said Wesley, explaining some of the issues the creation of the role might bring.
“My advice to UMSU, if they are listening, is to just be careful. They should study what other countries and political systems have done because there are other ways. I am not saying this is a bad way, but there are several huge questions they will face about how they will actually implement this.”
Adrianna Brydon, a student from the inner-city campus, one of the University of Manitoba’s lesser-known campuses, located on Selkirk Avenue, felt that her campus was neglected and requested that UMSU look into the creation of an inner-city council representative.
Brydon said that she attended some UMSU council meetings as a visitor and noticed that there were a number of representatives of the student body, and even one representative coming from the Bannatyne campus.
“As I am sitting there, I see all these representatives all around the table, [ . . . ] and I was like, ‘Well, why isn’t there an inner-city representative?’ It didn’t make sense, but I guess nobody had really thought of it before,” explained Brydon.
Brydon said that the inner-city campus, the William Norrie Centre, has its own council, which she has served on for three years. While she was on the council, she reached out to UMSU, and they were very receptive to her and the inner-city campus.
The campus is specialized and offers a degree program called the Inner City Social Work Program. Students can pursue a bachelor of social work degree through a full-time or part-time program, and some students take cross classes at the Fort Garry campus. The program is a part of the faculty of social work.
Brydon expected the position to be official as early as next month.
“I’m super excited it’s finally going through and that students are starting to feel more a part of the University of Manitoba, which is how its should be, because we are all University of Manitoba students,” said Brydon.