by Sara Wong, Arts & Culture Editor
Starting at SFU was both thrilling and daunting to me. I was excited to make new friends, but wondered how the hell I was supposed to do that in lecture halls with hundreds of people. When I found out about student unions, I was all set to join mine. I couldn’t wait to meet other students in my department, especially since I didn’t know anyone else who was majoring in humanities. The only problem was, a humanities student union (HUMSU) hadn’t been active in over seven years.
As I settled into my first semester of classes, I finally met a few other humanities majors who expressed interest in forming a union. Fast forward a couple months and the HUMSU was re-born. At first, it was just about building a stronger community of humanities students; but as I quickly discovered, there were many other benefits too. In being a part of a student union, you receive better academic, career, and social opportunities.
After HUMSU became official, I found my experiences as a first year student to be a lot less challenging. I built stronger relationships with my professors and other humanities faculty — who went from accidentally spelling my name with an “h” on the end, to welcoming my input on departmental activities. I was also able to access information about classes a lot quicker, which has helped in planning my courses.
Additionally, student unions are always encouraging more people to join, and they almost always have leadership positions available. For myself, because HUMSU was all new, I got to fill a top executive position — co-chair (which later became president) — right away. Being the leader of a student group in my first year strengthened my resume, cover letter, added value to my co-curricular record, and gave me useful experiences to reference during job interviews. Participating in a student union can also help expand available career options by providing opportunities to network at events.
I also found the bond that formed between me and the other executive members to be empowering. It’s hard to stay in touch with classmates because of SFU’s commuter campus, but student unions provide the opportunity to foster longer-lasting friendships. Now, with the pandemic, I often hear that students are interested in joining or participating with the union, but that they are too busy to add another commitment. I get it — after spending hours in Zoom classes, I don’t want to be anywhere near my laptop either. However, I found that taking the time to meet weekly with my fellow HUMSU members, even though that means another Zoom call, has helped make student life during a global pandemic more bearable. It’s been nice to talk about school and other random topics in a casual environment, where speaking up doesn’t feel awkward or intimidating — like it can in classes.
In addition, joining a student union gives students the power to amplify their voice. It gives them a larger platform to point out how SFU has screwed up or ways that campus life can improve. For example, HUMSU wrote a letter about the marginalization of BIPOC students at SFU and the lack of usable space other student groups have been able to access. If students are paying tuition, they should have a say in what goes on at the university.
HUMSU is just one of many student unions at SFU. Most departments have active ones and a full list can be found on the SFSS’ website. Each student union has their own rules for member eligibility, but generally, if a student is a major, minor, or taking a class in the department, then they’re eligible. And if there is no existing student union, one can be created — just like I did! All it takes is one conversation to get the ball rolling — whether that’s with another student, professor, advisor, or someone from the SFSS. So if you’re interested in becoming more involved in student life by attending events or seeking a leadership position, I encourage you to turn towards student unions.