In the past, SFU students were represented by Departmental Student Unions (DSUs) only, making the introduction of an FSU a drastic change. According to newly elected SASS president, Dion Chong, this formalization will allow for better representation of arts students.
However, the referendum passed by a narrow margin of only 12 votes over the required voter quota, raising questions and challenges for Chong and his team.
When asked about the low overall voter turnout — 9.44 per cent — Chong replied, “For a young organization the positive result of the vote is pretty awesome. It is unfortunate that we had one of the lowest voter turnouts we’ve had yet, and it can be disheartening at times, but we needed to reach at least five per cent of our membership [to pass our referendum] and we did that.”
“Everything we’ve been working on has led up to this point, and we hope to continue to grow,” said Chong. SASS members have been working towards official recognition since 2011, when they were first recognized by forum. “We were kind of in limbo for a while,” explained Chong, because the bylaws simply did not have a provision for FSUs to exist.
Chong went on to explain the difficulties of reaching the many members of SASS; the FSU represents not only students who are majoring in arts and social sciences, but also any student who is pursuing a minor, a certificate, or is enrolled in just a single class. This makes SASS membership larger, as many students elect to take breadth courses in arts and social sciences, compared to other faculties.
“If this had been a different union, the sciences for example, it would have been an easier vote. We would have had to reach less students, but as it is, this vote and the turnout was no small task,” explained Chong.
As an FSU, SASS now represents over 30 different DSUs, 14 of which are active, and has a bigger budget, more man power, and authority behind it.
“A big challenge in the arts is that students in the arts don’t necessarily stick in one department,” said Brady Wallace, arts and social sciences representative on the SFSS board of directors. “They may not feel that they want to participate in a particular DSU or program that they’re only taking six courses in. Because there is that lack of attachment, there may be a lack of engagement.”
Chong hopes to use the added level of legitimacy SASS has garnered through the vote to build bridges between departments, coordinate activities, begin a completely arts-centric scholarly journal, and develop fun and representative learning opportunities which will help foster a sense of pride in arts and social science undergraduates.
Despite the challenges such ventures will likely entail, Chong is optimistic about the future of SASS and what it stands for. He told The Peak that SASS represents “the value of the arts,” saying, “it instills a degree of pride. We have great courses, hilarious profs, and students who actually give a damn about making the world a better place.
“I’m proud of that, and I’m proud that I represent a society which encapsulates that and cares enough to channel it into an even better future for the faculty,” concluded Chong.