UVSS role debated before upcoming career fair

Original article: http://www.martlet.ca/uvss-role-debated-before-upcoming-career-fair/

Reservists from HMCS Malahat will attend UVic’s Co-op and Career Fair this September, the first time military personnel have recruited at the fair since at least 2010. The topic of military recruiters on campus has been a controversial issue, most notably in September 2007, when then-UVSS directors made national news for banning military recruiters from UVSS property, a ban that was later overturned by the student body at a general meeting in October that year.

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Since the UVSS cannot overrule a student decision, a ban is no longer in question today—under UVSS policy, decisions made by the student body at general meetings cannot be overturned at a board meeting and such motions would be ruled out of order. However, the issue of the military’s presence was raised again at a UVSS board meeting this July, showing two different visions for the UVSS: one that limits itself to popular student issues like tuition costs and transit pass-ups, and one that occasionally takes unpopular stances in the hopes of changing perceptions around social issues.

On July 11, UVSS executives received an email exchange between UVic’s Co-op and Career Centre and UVSS Catering and Conferences (who are responsible for logistical concerns at SUB events) wondering if there was a ban in place. While UVSS Chairperson Kayleigh Erickson initially gave her approval for military recruiters to attend, as the issue had been decided by students in 2007, Director of External Relations Greg Atkinson raised the issue on July 15 during executive committee, a closed meeting between the five UVSS executives and SUB managers, to see if other directors or stakeholders like advocacy groups were interested in revisiting the issue. In response, Erickson sent an email to the entire UVSS board to see if someone wanted to make a motion or submit a letter of opposition at the next open meeting, scheduled for July 21.

While no formal motions were submitted for that meeting, UVic Pride submitted a letter of opposition to military recruiting in the SUB for the record, citing UVic Pride’s own commitment to dismantle colonial structures where possible. In part, the letter states that “As an organization committed to decolonization, we cannot support, however implicitly, an institution that exists as a historical and ongoing force of colonization within national borders, as well as to further the state’s imperialist ventures and occupations worldwide.”

In an interview, Pride representative Cal Mitchell clarified that the collective did not seek a ban, but simply gave their opinion when asked.

“This was not just Pride going in to move for a ban,” said Mitchell. “It was us being asked, ‘Is there opposition? If there is, please bring it to the meeting.’ So, 100 per cent, this was an asked-for statement.”

Though Pride mainly focuses on queer and trans issues, Mitchell argues that different forms of exploitation and oppression are linked, and that “If we only advocate for [queer issues], we are opening doors, when we really should be taking down the house. Yes, we’re being given privileges and rights, but there’s other people still standing outside.” 

Mitchell says that Pride’s opposition to the military is rooted in a desire not to contradict its own constitution, which opposes colonization, and that allowing the military booking rights was not a neutral act, but an act of implicit support. 

If we only advocate for [queer issues], we are opening doors, when we really should be taking down the house.

In an interview with the Martlet, the UVSS chairperson said she was personally frustrated with the idea of preventing the military from attending the career fair, felt that the letter mischaracterized the role of military, and does not believe that allowing the military booking privileges constitutes a political statement.

“I think they have every right to be in this building and be at the career fair,” said Erickson. “I think people might have a problem with the military, being anti-war, and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not a legitimate career, and that doesn’t mean that we can ban them from being in the building and choose for students what we think is the best career path for them.” 

Both Erickson and Jamie Cook, a director-at-large, felt that students should be able to decide on a career path themselves, and said that they did not believe in dictating career paths to students.

When asked if allowing the military to book space was in itself a political statement, Cook said, “Not allowing them [to book space] would be an exponentially greater political statement.”

“By allowing them into the building, I don’t think we’re painting a big banner across the UVSS that says we’re pro-military. I don’t see it that way at all,” said Cook. Erickson added that she saw it as giving students a choice, noting that the UVSS does not ban clubs that they may disagree with.

In addition to viewing the military as a colonizing force, Mitchell explained that their opposition also stems from the ongoing issue of sexualized violence within the ranks, one that they believe has been overlooked. Their letter cites figures from a scathing article from Global News reporting that “nearly a quarter of women in the military felt subjected to personal harassment in the last 12 months, and eight per cent of women felt subjected to sexual harassment—for a total of about one-third.”

3. The Society is opposed to the militarization of Canadian Society, and is unsupportive of a Canadian military establishment that violates international law and human rights.

Adopted BoD: 2007/04/02 (Part 4: Anti-Violence, B., 3., p. 10)

Citing the UVSS’s campaigns to stop sexualized violence, Mitchell said, “If the UVSS wants to commit itself to fighting misogyny and violence, it seems inappropriate for them to lend institutional support [to organizations with notable rates of these problems].”

Erickson acknowledged problems of sexualized violence, and said the UVSS “absolutely does not” support or condone it, but that it would be “a slap in the face to people in the organization who do protect us and don’t do those things.”

More broadly, Erickson and Cook want to move the UVSS away from such controversial issues, aiming instead to focus on issues that, in Cook’s words, “directly affect students”. 

“I think the main thing is we need to pick our battles,” said Erickson. “Students have gotten upset because they’re saying, ‘You’re our student organization who’s supposed to plan events for us and provide opportunities for us and here you are making political decisions,’ which means, ‘if you don’t make the right political decision for me, then you don’t represent me anymore.’” 

She recalled an incident where a director-at-large was campaigning and a recent graduate told them that they didn’t want anything to do with the UVSS because they recalled the 2007 ban. “So, our re-focus is to say, ‘We do represent you; we’re not going to take super-controversial stances on things that don’t directly affect you; we’re going to stay out of that, and we’re going to instead focus on providing events and providing campaigns for you.”

Mitchell stresses that “a student union is a political organization. A lot of what a student union does is lobbying.” Students may disagree on policy, but “when you have certain stances, the options are to follow the stances that you have laid out as an organization, or to change those stances to suit the current membership.” 

When asked if it was a free speech issue, Cook agreed, but felt that students should have the “authority to make decisions for themselves, not be dictated to what they should and should not see by the UVSS.”