IN NOVEMBER 2011, Liz Kessler, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) vp university affairs, brought forth a motion at an SFUO Board of Administration (BOA) meeting to create an internal audit committee in hopes of better understanding the barriers to education and discrimination currently faced by U of O students. Kessler’s motion passed, and the SFUO Equity Audit Committee was formed.
“Consulting with various clubs, services, organizations, and students at large to hear directly how the SFUO can better address racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, linguistic discrimination, xenophobia, ableism, and other forms of discrimination and oppression on our campus,” is the committee’s mandate, as stated in a March 1 press release from the SFUO.
The committee consists of Kessler, SFUO President Amalia Savva, three representatives from the BOA, and one representative from each of the student services the SFUO deemed most relevant to the committee: The Pride Centre, Women’s Resource Centre, Centre for Equity and Human Rights, Centre for Students with Disabilities, Bilingualism Centre, and International House.
In an interview with the Fulcum, Kessler said the committee has been engaged in informal consultations with students and student organizations over the last few weeks. One issue Kessler has seen rise through the committee’s preliminary research is the lack of First Nations representation in the SFUO and its related services.
“We have very few Aboriginal students who are involved with the SFUO, and we don’t really know what issues they face on campus,” said Kessler.
She said while the U of O does have an Aboriginal Resource Centre, the SFUO has a limited understanding of what the resource centre does and how to incorporate the voices of Aboriginal students into the student government’s decision-making process.
“I wouldn’t want to force myself on them, and say, ‘I’m here to advocate for your issues,’ because that’s not my role,” said Kessler, speaking of aboriginal students. “But I think we could do a better job of reaching out to them and saying, ‘What are the things you would like to see improved on this campus and how can we help you, if you want our help?’”
Along with incorporating the voices of under-represented students into the SFUO’s decisions, Kessler noted the findings from the Equity Audit Committee will be communicated to the University of Ottawa’s administrative staff.
The SFUO’s consultations have primarily been informal ones, with students being invited to open consultations taking place March 12–14 in the University 10 a.m.–4 p.m. each day. As final findings have not yet been put together, Kessler is unsure of whether the committee will be changed from a temporary committee into a permanent one.
“I think it depends on what our findings are and whether we decide it is necessary at the end,” said Kessler of the possibility of creating a permanent Equity Audit Committee. “If we decide we want to continue it and that it’s useful then we will, but I think we have to wait to see.”
Kessler said she expects the committee’s findings to be made available to students once they are compiled.