Alan Levy’s letter to the editor from Aug. 17, “Discussion Can Only Help Build Cohesiveness,” propagates the idea that post-secondary institutions are places where educators teach students how to behave in acceptable ways within society.
Further, it presupposes that the function of a university is job creation and integration into society. But this is in conflict with the idea of universities as places where one learns and expands her or his horizons and formulates one’s own ideas about what is right or wrong or good or bad within the world. Sometimes this can lead to rebellion from mainstream society, especially when it comes to social justice issues.
Universities should be progressive institutions. There are no other institutions in society that serve this role. They should be places where people can explore even the most eccentric of ideas, where one is not bound by the same constrictions as others in society. Those who see social cohesiveness as the purpose of universities look at universities in a narrow and instrumental way, instead of as the academy where knowledge in and of itself is the end goal.
While respectful discourse is important, it’s also important not to silence those who think outside the box in favour of having a well-behaved group of students. It’s not about consistently rebelling, but people should feel free to dissent, to make fools out of themselves and to be wrong. Without these things, we as students cannot learn and grow. Respectful discourse is important, and university has taught me how to express myself, to share my dissent and still find a way to be taken seriously.
Are students engaged on issues of the day? I think that yes, they are. Does student engagement look the same as it did in the past? Maybe not. Looking at my colleagues at student unions across the country, I see student strikes in Québec, sit-ins in Ontario and mobilizing both in the flesh and through social media taking place across Canada. Society sometimes sees students and student leaders as juvenile because of the actions that we take, but these actions are taken because we want to change the society in which we live.
We want a world that is more socially, environmentally and ethically conscious. We might be rabble-rousers, but it shows that students do have causes that we care about, and we are willing to use whatever means necessary to have our world vision come to fruition.
When it comes to social good within the community, students do a lot. Students participate in activities for charity, they volunteer for not-for-profit organizations and they act as positive ambassadors for Brandon University within the community. Through my role in the Brandon University Students’ Union, I can personally attest that students ARE engaged. It is arguably harder for us than for other generations of students; university is expensive. We work, some of us have families and there is pressure to do well. Yet we find a way to make time to engage in the social and political causes that interest us, both for our own well being, but also for that of future generations.
When it comes to faculty and administration, I can only speak from my personal experience with both. BUSU has great working relationships with both parties this year and this is going to be extremely beneficial to students in this upcoming year. Both administration and faculty care about students; after all, without us their world stops turning. When it comes to having them work out their issues, more needs to be done internally rather than writing public editorials urging them to do so. In order for them to work things out, there needs to be willingness from both sides to make amends. How that willingness can be found, I’m not sure. But that is a conversation for faculty and administration to have on their own.
As a student in Brandon, I don’t feel any less connected to social or political issues as a student in Toronto or Montreal. We may not seem as radical as other students across the country, but we understand issues and respond the way that we want to, as individuals and not as a cohesive group.
Carissa Rose Taylor
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 29, 2012