By Eshpreet Aneja
This past October, OUSA held their bi-annual general assembly. Hosted by Laurier University on their Waterloo campus, university student unions across the province sent delegations of student leaders to discuss policy papers to lobby the municipal government on student-centric issues.
Sound intimidating yet? That’s exactly how I felt walking into my first OUSA general assembly. I had never done policy work before, and as our delegation started the first day, my anxiety only intensified. As I looked around, I saw strong, confident student leaders who all seemed to know what they were doing. They had all come prepared, and despite the countless hours of training with Emily Poirier, our Vice President of External Affairs, I was more nervous than I cared to admit.
It must have been obvious because as all delegates were being assigned breakout rooms, sessions where delegates go over each policy paper and discuss/recommend amendments, new policies and changes, Emily set a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said, “It’s your first General Assembly, and everyone is here to help each other.”
And with that, we headed over to the first breakout room, where we sat down to review the Housing and Transportation Policy Paper. I didn’t know about the breakout rooms, but I nearly broke a sweat (pun intended.) However, that quickly changed. As we went over each policy stance, the room passionately sparked to life. Delegates from different universities facilitated animated conversations about the issues post-secondary students faced across the province. I slowly found myself engaging in the passion that everyone shared for advocacy, breakout session after breakout session.
As the days went on, that same passion carried us through the long hours of work and discussion. Yet, it also gave us something else: solidarity. Solidarity in the shared experience and struggles of being a student. Solidarity in the passion we all had for student-centric advocacy. Solidarity in seeing a need for change.
After our last breakout session, I walked back alongside Alyssa Hall, Vice President of External Affairs at Brock University Students’ Union, the student wellness policy paper co-author and OUSA Steering Committee Member. She talked to me about the safe space that OUSA is and how all students come together to participate in student leadership and advocacy. It’s a space to learn from one another, and I couldn’t agree more.
The day of plenary rolled around quicker than I expected. After breakout sessions conclude, all amendments are formally submitted. A Plenary meeting is then held, where delegates debate and vote on various amendments formed over the past days.
As the delegates poured into the conference room in their suits and blazers, ready to debate amendments and cast their votes, I could hear their excitement as much as I could feel it. Buzzing conversation radiated in the air, with delegates explaining their amendments to new friends they had made in the past days. Every student in that room had a spark that even hours of plenary couldn’t diminish.
During the plenary, we discussed issues of housing and transit, accessibility for northern and rural students, and student wellness, all in the form of policy papers. Each amendment was debated and voted upon. It was one of the first times I had seen such a prominent platform where multiple student voices were heard.
After a long meeting, it was finally time to go home, and I have no qualms in admitting that it was a bittersweet moment. I had made so many friends over the last few days and learned so much about policy work that I was sad to see it end. I caught Emily on the way to the parking lot. “How was it?” she asked, “Would you do it again?” I gave her a bright smile at the thought. “Absolutely,” I replied.
I walked into OUSA with no policy advocacy experience (and a lot of nerves). All I had was my passion for student issues and the desire to create change. Turns out, that was all I needed. You don’t have to be an expert to advocate for change; you just have to want it. OUSA is an experience that allows you to nurture your advocacy skills and facilitates a safe environment for you to exhibit your passion for student issues and advocacy.
The next OUSA general assembly is in March. If you are interested in learning more about policy-based advocacy or are just someone passionate about student-centric issues and fostering sustainable change, then I strongly encourage you to apply. I promise you this is a safe, fun and wonderful opportunity you don’t want to miss.
If you have any questions about OUSA or the student advocacy that takes place within the USC, feel free to reach out to our Vice President of External Affairs, Emily Poirier, at [email protected]