This year the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) hopes to address social justice issues through its funding procedure for the first time.
Typically, the MASU gives out more than $20,000 in academic enrichment and clubs and societies funding. Previously, the grants and awards committee, responsible for the allocation of the funds, did not distinguish between individual applicants based on their socioeconomic status.
Over the summer Vice-President Finance and Operations Alex Lepianka updated the MASU’s operating procedures for grants and awards. According to the MASU newsletter, this year “applicants who exhibit financial need should be prioritized over applicants who have not expressed financial need.”
Lepianka added a clause to the operating procedure regarding social justice as it relates to the overall funding of clubs and societies. If money remains after the committee has reviewed all the applications, the committee is “encouraged to support activities that exhibit a strong commitment to issues of social justice and community well-being, over and above those for which no such commitment is apparent.” No definition of social justice is given.
In the past, certain clubs and societies on campus have caused controversy regarding social justice issues. In particular, many students have expressed discontent with Global Brigades (GB), an international non-governmental organization with a local branch at Mt. A. Every year, students spend a week in Honduras participating in ongoing projects.
While GB considers itself – and is considered by many students – to be a social justice-oriented organization, some students at Mt. A say that it has negative impacts on the communities in the Global South it seeks to help. In such a case, social justice is defined in different ways by different students.
Former grants and awards committee member and Mt. A alumnus Zoe Luba advocated for the prioritization of social justice clubs during committee meetings last year. When asked how she thought the social justice clause should be applied, Luba said, “if a group of students finds a group offensive or problematic, then [the committee] should to some extent take that into account in their funding decisions.”
The committee is composed of elected councillors and other students, and is chaired by the VP finance and operations. Its funding decisions must be approved by the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC). In turn, the SAC is in charge of representing the entire student body. If a contentious issue such as that surrounding GB arises in the funding process, it is unclear how the committee will take into account the opinions of the larger student body on the definition of social justice.
Lepianka said that funding can be a political decision. However, he added that “it is not through our funding program that discussions of the political goals of the MASU are worked out; they are manifested through advocacy.”
Lepianka said that the new clause is designed to diversify the committee’s funding process, adding that it has “room to grow.”