The SFSS is a political entity

You cannot separate student governance from politics

Photo of SFSS office

By: Michelle Young, Opinions Editor

On January 3, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) held a Council meeting. At the meeting, an SFSS Councillor said, “We’re a student society, not a political entity.” A student society is inherently a political entity, and it always has been. 

Political entities can be understood as “systems of governing authorities.” The positions of the SFSS are elected by students and made up of a Council. The SFSS has a fair degree of power when it comes to policies that affect students. They implemented the pass/credit/no credit system that was used during the TSSU strike to help soften adverse effects on our GPA. They decide how student funding is distributed for student resources like our health and dental plans. That’s part of what political entities do. A student union is a political entity, and Councillors themselves are political entities by being in an elected position. Yes, their job is to “represent all students.” However, rather than being truly concerned with the representation of students, some members of the SFSS seem to be more interested in the idea of “neutrality.” 

The meeting notably covered the Issues Policy removal motion. Though it was rightfully met with condemnation — if passed, this would have effectively removed policies that supported reproductive rights, tuition affordability, disability justice, Palestinian liberation, anti-racism, and accessible and equitable events. The rationale for the removal of these policies would have been “to uphold the principles of political neutrality and ensure fair representation of all its members.” 

How does removing a policy that supports live captioning, open access to course materials, and access to “safe, publicly-funded health services” ensure the fair representation of all its members? It doesn’t. It only ensures that the people who need these things don’t get them. There is no neutrality because every political entity, who has the power to shape policy, has to decide their stance on a plethora of issues. No stance translates to no policy. We can already see this in multiple labour issues where there are few legal protections for gig work and the people in these professions are harmed. Lack of regulation is a pipeline for exploitation and discrimination.

The Issues Policies were made to explicitly “clarify the stance of the Society on social, political and economic issues relating to student life” and “serve as a resource and a guide to assist in the development of campaigns.” The SFSS should be thinking about equitable representation, and that doesn’t happen by taking away support of access to contraception, consultation with Indigenous students, and sign language interpretation for live events. 

SFU and the SFSS have a long history of radicalism: “SFU was one of the first Canadian institutions to have a Women’s Studies department” and a previous student activist even invited Martin Luther King Jr. to the university — and received a response. Neutrality only harms students who are frequently left behind: Black and Indigenous students who face racism at SFU, disabled students who cannot safely access the institution, and low-income students who face barriers to their education. It is important to have policies in place to protect and uplift these groups of people so they can have an equitable experience at SFU. Otherwise, these groups are left with little to protect their rights. If you cannot take a stance on anything, don’t enter politics. 

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