Eight months ago, the newly selected USC executives gathered in a boardroom, tossing out ideas for the upcoming year in hopes of bettering Western’s campus and undergraduate students’ experience. “Oh, how we were young back then,” joked USC President Bardia Jalayer as he reflected on the moment during his speech at last Wednesday’s State of the USC event.
The event itself was one of the initiatives the executive team discussed in June. Spearheaded by Communications Officer Nico Waltenbury, this year’s State of the USC marked a new vision for the annual address.
“Our team wanted to give the event a new look and we chose to focus on providing a really engaging evening for student leaders across campus,” said Waltenbury.
The event was moved from the UCC Atrium to The Wave and featured speeches from all five executive members – a departure from the tradition of only the President providing remarks. The event was open to all students and was live streamed on the USC’s social media accounts to allow students to watch remotely.
Execs reflect on accomplishments to date and plans for the future
Each executive took the opportunity to reflect on their portfolio’s accomplishments to date, share their plans for the rest of their term, and provide their thoughts on the state of the organization.
“This evening was really meant to showcase the things our team has accomplished over the past eight months, from promoting equity and diversity on campus to advocating for 30,000 undergraduate students’ concerns to various levels of government,” noted Jalayer following his speech. “Truly, the past eight months would not have been possible without the hard work of my fellow executives, our dedicated full-time staff, and our incredible student leaders who inspire me each day”.
As Jalayer outlined the most defining moments of this past term, he shared his pride for the organization’s commitment to work harder, listen closer, and advocate for every student on campus, especially in the uncertain climate of the Student Choice Initiative.
“It has certainly been an exhausting year, but it was so important to our team that our students would be able to lean on us for comfort, leadership, and support and I really feel like we have accomplished that goal so far.”
Vice President Cat Dunne also shared her excitement about the past term, citing her accomplishments, both in her capacity as USC VP and as President of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). At Western, Dunne has worked alongside her portfolio team to advocate for the implementation of a more survivor-centric and transparent sexual violence policy, campus-wide modernization of academic counselling, and an increase in financial aid for students experiencing financial and food insecurity.
Additionally, Dunne highlighted OUSA’s successful letter writing campaign, which garnered the support of more than 1000 students impacted by the recent OSAP cuts. Though this campaign was directed at the provincial government, it is evident that student voices are being heard across all levels of administration through Dunne’s advocacy role on the council.
This year, the federal government committed to several of the USC’s long-term advocacy priorities regarding financial aid; the feds increased Canada Student Grants by 40%, extended the interest-free grace period from six months to two years, and ensured that graduates would not have to pay back student loans until they are making at least $35,000 annually.
“Over the past eight months, I have really experienced the power that students have, first-hand. The USC plays such a significant role in maintaining and improving students’ quality of life and I am so proud of work alongside a team who is just as dedicated to this mission as I am,” said Dunne.
Next up was Student Programs Officer Cecilia Liu, who oversees peer programs, programming, peer support, and orientation at the USC.
“The past few months have been a whirlwind. I have been lucky to work alongside my incredible associates on projects that are close to my heart, including strengthening an already fantastic Orientation Program and increasing the capacity of our Peer Support Centre. We have also really been dedicated to showcasing the arts this year, through programming such as Nuit Violette, Bryce Vine, and the upcoming PurpleFrost concert featuring the Arkells,” Liu noted.
Liu also reflected on some difficulties from the past semester, including incidents of anti-black racism.
“Since the beginning of my term, I knew that I wanted to integrate equity, diversity, and inclusion into everything that I did. These situations represent the work that still needs to be done, on and off our campus, to ensure that every single student feels comfortable in our university environment,” she said.
This year, the Secretary-Treasurer portfolio, overseen by executive Declan Hodgins, faced significant financial uncertainty in the midst of the Student Choice Initiative. Despite this, the portfolio rolled out a transparent fee bill for students, worked to prove the USC’s value to the campus community, and developed ways to cut down on expenses while maintaining the quality of USC services.
“This past year has been about building on the voices of our students. During conversations with student leaders on campus, I learned that we require more student space for peer programs and clubs. As such, our portfolio is continually working alongside our campus partners to expand the UCC lease,” noted Hodgins. “We have also been focussed on increasing the quality of essential student services, such as financial literacy workshops, the health and dental plan, and the clubs system. I am of the belief that the more students are aware of these resources, the more valuable they become.”
Finally, Communications Officer Nico Waltenbury emphasized the importance of his portfolio as a central support to the organization.
“Without effective communications, there is no opportunity for the USC to succeed,” he said in his address, without shying away from the work ahead of the organization to improve communication and engagement with students.
“We’re not where we need to be right now and we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said, “the single greatest threat to our organization is our relevance in the eyes of our students.”
Waltenbury emphasized the need to help students understand what the USC is and does, to communicate the value the organization provides to students every day in things like the LTC bus pass, undergraduate health and dental plans, Spoke and Wave, and the orientation program.
Waltenbury went on to share the achievements of his portfolio, noting the USC’s strong responses to community issues such as OSAP cuts, Broughdale safety, anti-black racism, and the 2019 federal election.
“Our team remains committed to representing student voices in a transparent and honest manner. This year, we have continually engaged with diverse perspectives through our growing student feedback and engagement mechanisms,” he said.
“We already provide a lot of value to students’ lives every day; the good news is we have all the ingredients, we just have to put the recipe together”
Jalayer wrapped up the evening by asking the student leaders in the room to be champions of the USC in everything they do at Western.
“While tonight we are celebrating the strength of our organization, our collective work never stops.”