By: Alison Wick, Peak Associate
Formed shortly after the university closed its doors when the COVID-19 pandemic hit BC, the SFU C19 Coalition has gained widespread support across the university. From grad students to undergrads to staff members, the Coalition is fighting for the rights and well-being of all members of the SFU community. At a time when we are uniquely isolated from one another, establishing an organization built for and around solidarity is both important and empowering.
The Coalition’s demands are divided into three sections: information, academics, and finances. These address, in order: the need for transparency and priority in informing students about the pandemic situation; the many issues arising from entirely online courses during a global crisis; and the compounding financial stress being placed on students. These demands are grown directly from the experiences and perspectives of students, and they show the necessity of student voices and participation within SFU’s politics.
One of the issues that the Coalition has been fighting for includes the use of room scan and intrusive computer technologies. This issue has been “addressed” by the administration as something for professors to work out with students on a case-by-case basis. The university could simply ban the use of this technology instead of allowing for its use in “some exceptional cases,” but it has decided to forego that responsibility instead. This forces students to make a difficult choice: to do as their professor says or drop the course. This is despite the very legitimate reasons students have to reject the use of these invasive softwares.
Degree timeline extensions have also not been offered — although the administration vaguely discussed looking into ways to prevent grad students from “aging out” of their degrees in the May 26 Town Hall. This is of special concern for international students who are at risk of losing their status if they take a term off. It forces international students, who are not eligible for CESB and have restrictions on employment at the best of times, to take classes they may not be able to afford with fewer resources and higher stakes. The Coalition has called for the university to lobby the Canadian government to make CESB equal to CERB — if SFU is really so strapped for cash they can’t help students financially, why won’t they at least use their platform as one of the world’s leading teaching and research universities to help us?
Without organized student networks like the SFU C19 Coalition to hold the administration accountable and fight for what we actually need, the university would let all these needs fall through the cracks. These are not radical or difficult demands to be met — they are what the university is supposed to — and needs to — be doing. And we the students need organizations like the C19 Coalition to make change possible — as individual students we have very little leverage, but as a loud and public group we have power.
Students should know that activism isn’t just collectively pushing against a (seemingly) immovable object. The administration has it within their power to meaningfully address these demands. They’ve shrunk and extended degree timelines in the past. They could also offer tuition deferment for all students like they already do for TAs. Finally, they could work with departments to better regulate class sizes, adjust degree requirements, eliminate the use of online proctor technologies, and more. What is stopping them? In whose interest are they acting? From their responses, it’s clear that, while they are taking the pandemic seriously, they continue to not take students seriously.
Students must continue fighting and organizing to make the administration meet our lowest expectations. To do otherwise is to allow the university to treat us as beneath consideration, when it is us who make the university accomplished.