Student Apathy or Disengaged Leadership?

Sam Wall | Editor In Chief

*Please note that the writer of this article knows several people in this article personally and professionally, and as such has worked to minimize any potential biases.

In our last issue, Over The Edge published an opinion piece from Seth Jex, “Open Letter to the Student Body,” which addressed how student apathy seems to be affecting involvement in student governance roles in NUGSS, the Board of Governors, and Senate. Almost all the student positions were filled through acclamation, meaning there were the same number of people running as there were positions, so no debate or election campaign was necessary, and the percentage of students voting in these elections was low. The opinion piece continued to question the necessity of certain representative positions on NUGSS, such as Aboriginal rep and Women’s rep, if year after year either no one applied or someone won by acclamation. Jex also distributed several hundred copies of the piece around UNBC, and held a table in the Wintergarden to discuss this issue with students.

In response, a student involved with the First Nations Centre created a comic and distributed it across the school, which follows this article. The students of the First Nations Centre also collectively developed a letter addressed to Jex, explaining how they felt unfairly targeted by his piece, and detailed the barriers to involvement faced by many Indigenous students, as well as the involvement many Indigenous students have in their cultural governance systems. The Northern Women’s Centre Collective also developed a letter, expressing their displeasure with Jex’s piece, and similarly discussed the marginalization women experience and how these barriers could have been addressed better than through an opinion piece. These letters have also been included in the following pages.

Jex then responded to these letters with another piece titled “Student Engagement at UNBC: Refocusing the Issue,” which is also available in the following pages of this issue. This letter further expands and elaborates on Jex’s original ideas, providing more evidence for his bold statements.

The story continued to develop as the First Nations Centre and the Northern Women’s Centre presented their letters and other oral remarks at a regular meeting of the NUGSS board on March 14. Seth Jex is not only a student and the outgoing chairperson of the Over The Edge board, but also the Director of Internal Affairs with NUGSS. Following these delegations with the FNC and NWC, the NUGSS board made a unanimous motion requesting Director Jex’s resignation, which he denied to offer. Director Jex was asked to leave the room, so the remaining board could debate a course of action. Following a lengthy discussion, they voted to suspend Jex from the role of Director of Internal Affairs for the maximum of 14 days, rather than impeach him.

Following this the NUGSS board made an official statement: “Director Jex was suspended at the March 14 meeting of the Board. He was suspended for ‘violating his oath of office, and for preventing the society from pursuing its vision statement.’ The board of directors want to extend a formal apology to the membership and clarify that the society does not agree with the views expressed in Director Jex’s open letter.” Jex continues to fight this ruling, though unfortunately, working in a public position means one must always be considerate of how their actions may influence their position.

Though Jex’s letter has sparked controversy, it has also sparked discussion. It is critical to ensure that NUGSS does all it can to engage with students across different backgrounds and experiences. NUGSS must also be aware that there is a risk of tokenism when an organization seems to hold space for marginalized groups, but does not uphold their right to question the system and have their concerns heard and acted upon. Oppression of marginalized groups is built into our society, and is maintained by social systems; unless it is actively pushed back against with awareness, there will always be a disconnect between these representative positions with NUGSS and the needs of the groups they aim to represent. As stated in the letter from the First Nations Centre, many students are very involved with their cultural forms of governance. One way people cope with oppression is to find people like them and work together; if students can find this in organizations like the First Nations Centre, the Women’s Centre, the Pride Centre, the Access Resource Centre, etc. why would they want to single themselves out to be the sole rep on NUGSS? Why are Indigenous peoples and others being called to work within settler-colonial systems while we refuse to work within theirs?

In journalism we are asked to report in an unbiased fashion, but that is impossible. We will always be impacted by our intersecting marginalizations and privileges, which is why I acknowledge that I am white and I will never fully understand this issues of Indigenous peoples, for example. That is okay, but it means that the work of the privileged person is to sit down, listen, and let marginalized people lead the way. Being on the NUGSS board or other student leadership at UNBC can be a wonderful experience for some, but it does not have to be for everyone, and that is okay. It is not the duty of marginalized groups to work for a seat, it is the duty of those in power to extend the invitation. There is no justice without all of us.

As it stands for NUGSS elections, several board members have been acclimated to their positions, while the deadlines of unfilled positions have been extended. The unofficial results place Ethan Fredeen as President, Levi Black-Amstutz as Vice President, and Holly Brown, Ali Kazemian, and Hewitt Kingston as General Directors on the Board of Directors. The Equity Council will be Alicja Muir as Accessibility rep, Helene Mols as International Student rep, Jade Mah as LGBTQ rep, Emily Der as Women’s rep, Bridie Kaffrisen as Sustainability rep, and Hira Rashid as a layperson. As of writing, there are no applicants for Aboriginal rep.