Mt. A students start petition after SAC dissolves position
On Jan. 13, the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC) reconsidered a motion to dissolve the position of the MASU international student affairs coordinator due to lack of information from a previous council meeting on Dec. 1, 2019. MASU first announced its intention to dissolve the position on Dec. 1, but decided against the motion after discussion.
MASU currently has an international student affairs coordinator, a hired position reporting directly to the VP of student life, who works to enhance international students’ experiences while at Mt. A. Additionally, the international student representative, elected by the students rather than hired by the MASU, represents international students in the SAC. Sertara Wilkinson holds both positions for the 2019-20 academic year.
Wilkinson and Aminah Simmons, the ethnic diversity representative for MASU, said the motion to dissolve the coordinator position was reconsidered due to a lack of information at the council meeting on Dec. 1.
“The President talked to other universities of similar size [to Mt. A] about what they have at their schools,” said Simmons, who is also the MASU communications coordinator and policy, research and archiving officer. “[Those universities] only have one position to represent international students.”
“Council decided it was irresponsible and reckless to get rid of the international student affairs coordinator [on Jan. 13]. It didn’t make sense,” said Simmons.
Other international students are also upset about the motion to dissolve this position. Natalia Liste Colomina, a fourth-year international student, spoke about why she believes there should be two separate international positions instead of one: “One of them is an elected position by the MASU and the other one is elected by the students. You get a very different contrast of their input into the role.”
“The international student affairs coordinator chairs the International Students’ Committee, so in that sense we feel as if that represents the student voices,” said Wilkinson. “I filled my committee with eight international students. This is my opportunity to hear what students want and what they need.” Wilkinson also talked about how in her role as coordinator role she mostly mediates with the University; “however, I still have an opportunity to hear the voices from my committee,” she said.
Wilkinson also outlined what her job entails as the international student representative. “As a representative, my job is to immediately find the voices for students-at-large and to work with other councillors. I’m not obligated to speak with the University at all [in this role] because I’m not hired, I’m elected.”
Wilkinson said that no one reached out to her about what she or other international students would think until the motion to dissolve the position was brought up. At the meeting on Jan. 13, Simmons and Wilkinson asked if they could table the motion in order to get feedback from other international students, however SAC voted against that. “We [were] the only two international students in the room,” said Simmons about her and Wilkinson at the council meeting. “We told them we don’t want this and this is not what international students want.”
“The issue that I had was not only did [they] never consult the person that’s currently holding these positions, [they] didn’t give any opportunity for me to speak with my constituents,” said Wilkinson. “In that case you’re hindering me from doing my job.”
Wilkinson and Simmons agree that the same person should not hold both positions. Wilkinson explained how overwhelming it can be for one student to represent all international students. “Representing about 12 per cent of the student body is difficult for one international student representative,” said Wilkinson. “As it stands right now, Mount Allison has the highest per cent increase of international students in all of New Brunswick.”
Simmons also spoke about what she feels is a bigger issue of not listening to what students want. “My issue with student unions is that we don’t consider student voices and we try to do things based on what we think students want instead of asking them.”
“I think it’s outrageous,” said Liste Colomina. “I don’t think it’s about the fact that we pay this amount of money over Canadian students, I think it’s about the lack of representation that we already have within our student union.”
One argument made for dissolving the position by the MASU executive at the Jan. 13 council meeting was that international students are the only group represented by both a coordinator and a representative. Wilkinson and Simmons argue there should be more overall positions, not fewer.
“Instead of trying to make council more equitable by decreasing representation, add more coordinators,” said Wilkinson.
“If you’re telling me that I can’t have representation – the representation that I feel I deserve especially when I pay almost three times more than Canadian students – then we have an issue,” said Simmons. International students at Mt. A pay $18,130 a year in tuition, which is $9,360 more than Canadian students.
“There needs to be more representation, not less,” said Liste Colomina. “That’s what I’ve been trying to mention to people, because the councillors are mostly people that are Canadian and not international.”
Liste Colomina also spoke about how the international student population has been growing at Mt. A over the last few years. “Our student body has been growing ever since I got here. This year [was] the largest international orientation that we’ve ever had, and that’s something that not a lot of people do know,” she said. Mt. A’s international student population is currently 255 students from 52 different countries.
Simmons explained that there are more councillors reaching out to them in support of keeping the position now. Other councillors have given Wilkinson and Simmons their support in favour of keeping these two positions in MASU. “It’s going in a positive direction now, but we’re still facing a lot of stonewalling from other members of council.”
“If you’re not an international student, if you’re not a minority in the same sense as I am, you won’t be able to relate,” said Wilkinson. “You don’t live that struggle.”
“The students are speaking. Listen,” said Simmons. “It’s as simple as that.”
MASU president Yana Titarenko responded to the petition in a statement explaining the MASU’s reasoning for dissolving the coordinator position. Titarenko, speaking on behalf of the executive, said that removing a staff position like the international student affairs coordinator does not decrease representation for international students. “The description of the position did not state that the position must be held by an international student and that it must act to represent the voice of international students,” she said.
Titarenko also stated that the international student coordinator position is supervised by the VP of student life, meaning the position needs to report to the executive: “This in itself posed a great deal of conflict because it is not always true that staff and their supervising VP align on their goals and, in the end, the VP has the authority to drive the direction of the staff portfolio.”
Titarenko also mentioned that since the MASU has an international student representative on the council they will be able to increase international student representation within the MASU. “The removal of the coordinator position gives full autonomy to the international student representative councillor to better represent the united voice of international students and their concerns.”
Another argument made by the MASU executive was in regard to equitability. They believe that in order to represent students meaningfully they need student-elected councilors who represent demographics, not staff who report to the executive and who are not part of that community.
“This is why we did not move to introduce coordinator positions to all of our representative councillors and why we chose to remove the international student affairs coordinator,” said Titarenko. “Staff positions do not work to represent the voices of the students, they work to accomplish tasks that are set out by their supervisors, the executive.”