The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) has been hosting General Assemblies (GAs) since 2014. However, at two GAs per year, so far there has been only one that has met quorum and been able to vote on motions.
Even after that successful GA, the momentum was immediately lost, as the following event failed to meet quorum, even after it had been reduced from one percent of the student population to 0.75 per cent.
Having had a successful GA should be something to build on, not a blip in an otherwise unsuccessful string of events.
Especially this year, when SFUO members have noted that the federation is starting to try and rebrand to better connect with students, the GAs, an important outlet for the voices of students, should be a major part of that strategy.
With that in mind, what can the SFUO do to make the GAs successful on a consistent basis?
One easy thing the federation can do is more constant advertising. Compared to past years, the advertising hasn’t been bad, but there’s still a lot that could be improved, even just posting about the GA earlier on social media. This year, an event was created on Facebook on March 8, which doesn’t leave a lot of time before the event, especially for students in the throes of midterms at this time who might miss it.
Increasing the frequency of posts and putting the idea into peoples’ heads earlier would help boost participation.
Another thing the SFUO can do is encourage students to get involved in the process itself. In past years, the federation has advertised GA committees that are open to the public, so that more students know how to get involved and participate, and get more of a sense of ownership of and involvement in the event. This would be a good tradition to promote, and advertise well ahead of the events to give students a sense of involvement.
Another important thing the federation can do is address student concerns about the process.
Last year, the structure of the GA was changed so that it was not longer the “highest decision-making body of the SFUO,” and so that motions passed at the GA would have to be ratified by the SFUO’s Board of Administration. The SFUO argued that the changes were made to fulfill legal requirements.
As the student federation, even if you feel the changes are necessary, it’s important to recognize that many students have concerns about what these changes have done to the effectiveness of the GA.
As such, addressing these publicly and giving legitimate reasons why students should care about the GA is essential. A good way to do address issues like this would be to use town hall style meetings, especially around the time of the GA. The idea of town halls has been bandied about several times, but this would be a very effective use.
It’s also important to be clear with motions to be presented, posting them in advance to generate excitement. Last GA, it was advertised that there would be no motions at the GA until the day of the event, when it was announced that there would be two new ones. If motions are displayed to the public earlier on in the process, it gives students more reasons to get excited for the GA, and to tell other people to make time for the event.
One thing we’ve learned from the lone successful GA—students are more likely to show up if they feel like their presence will make some kind of impact.
GAs can be a healthy way for students to get more involved in important decision made on campus, like how the health plan and U-Pass are administered, and many services they receive. It also lets all students feel like they have more control over their experience at university, which is something that should be encouraged.