Arthur sat down with and interviewed newly elected president of the TCSA, Braden Freer. Many issues were touched upon and I was ultimately left with a feeling of uncertainty. It seems as if the TCSA is also going through an identity crisis. Many have argued that the union is a mere ‘party’ organizer, something Freer would like to change. The TCSA has a great challenge lying ahead. It will not only have to improve its internal dealings, but also change how the student body perceives the student organization.
Photos courtesy of the TCSA.
What are your main objectives for next year and what do you think the TCSA’s role should be?
I have a few; one of the things I think we need to do is to evaluate our role. I think we lost our face value with students. We shouldn’t be mainly an event planner organization. I would rather help more clubs and groups organize their events than go out and do other events. Because I don’t think students are apathetic, I think they’re finding their own ways to do what they want to do.
I plan to do this by offering more partnership opportunities for levy groups and also by offering the expertise of members of our team to help organize events. For instance, our communications person could help with advertisement and such. I want to make sure that students are succeeding in anything they would like to accomplish.
My favorite analogy involves using the symbol of the tree. Groups and clubs are the branches and we are the trunk of that tree, and as such we need to support the groups and clubs at Trent. So, providing funding and also having full time staff will help these groups in providing institutional knowledge.
What do you think about the image of the TCSA? What does the fact that there were so many vacant and some uncontested positions tell you?
I feel sort of cheated that I didn’t get to run against someone because [if I ran] against someone, I [could have] prove[n] why I am better, why you should let me be president. When you are campaigning against someone, they come up with ideas you didn’t think of. It is always helpful to have someone actively challenging you.
Typically, we do not fill the board in the spring. It has been a trend in the past few years; it is usually in the fall when we get a lot of students.
Why do you think people do not run in the spring?
Personally, I think it is hard to consider it at that moment because you do not know how your year will be looking like in September. Another thing is that we know we have to improve communications. Our outreach is a little low and I think people have a negative image of the TCSA. I think that relates to the fact that we are not portraying what we actually do and why we do it.
Do you think there is apathy from the student body towards the TCSA?
There is always going to be students that like and dislike what we do, and then there are the students in the middle.
I think this year there is a generalized feeling of discontent. Why is that?
My view is that we weren’t out as much this year. I think we need to look at our internal structure. We would like to ask students for feedback on what we could improve – access to funding, for instance. I think it is ridiculously hard to get funding due to the existing mechanisms. We must have regulation, but we should also make it easier for groups and clubs.
Every year we have a review of our bylaws and such but we are looking to have a more extensive review of the TCSA as a whole. It would be nice to have an outside group look at our bylaws and bring different perspectives.
In terms of inclusivity, how do you plan to make the TCSA less ‘intimidating’ for students? Even structurally, the TCSA office acts as a barrier between the reception and the executives.
I remember the first time I went to the TCSA and I was meeting Sheldon and I didn’t go [past] reception even though I was told I could. We could look at ways of changing the structure.
I think it goes beyond the physical structure as well. Some students don’t feel represented by what the TCSA does. How do you plan to act on that?
I do want to change that. The president desk used to be out in the open and then it was moved into an office. I do not want to be blocked off from students. I will be out with students more. We also need to find a way to make us more approachable.
Why do you think the TCSA has been criticized so much this year?
I think we are in a state in which we know where we used to be, and we know where we want to be. We used to have more vice president positions and we had an event planner, and our primary objective was to plan your parties. We were good at it for a while and then it stopped.
We do not want to be that little elite clique of students – we want to be the ones that are getting out and getting students’ opinions on issues, something that, in my opinion, we haven’t actively done in the past few years. It is also a systematic thing, with how our bylaws work and the attitude of the people that have been in our positions in the past few years.
I would like to see the TCSA as a group out there, talking to students, making them know they are represented.
Do you have any concrete ideas on how to achieve that?
One positive change would be to create a liaison ambassador team that is the main core of students that would go out. What they do in uOttawa is they have a group of students that goes out and it is their everyday job to go and talk to students. It would not only be positive to have this group working but also the executive team to do more backdoor activities and actually be out. President Franklin does office hours once a month and he does it usually at the OC Commons. Why can’t I sit there once a week and talk to students? It would be good to be there and have a nice sign saying, “I am the TCSA president. Come talk to me.”
It seems to me that there is a generalized feeling of mistrust towards the TCSA. How do you plan to improve the level of trust?
Something that I want to do is to have an open forum and say, “Here is our budget – now let me explain how this works.” We could have events in which we explain to students what we do, what we are and how we can help [them]. Here is your chance to talk to us.
How would you encourage people to come out to these types of events?
By doing some of these forums in September, students will be more active and energetic because they just started and would be more keen in participating.
The 50th anniversary celebrations are the major stage to push forward the changes that we want to see, since many alumni will be around. For instance, in terms of regulating international students tuition fees, let’s put the spotlight on the university. Let’s ask “why won’t you regulate them?” “Why won’t you make a commitment and say domestic students’ tuitions can be increased by three percent and apply something similar to international fees, although lower because international fees are substantially higher?”
How do you plan to attack the problems associated with student debt and the feeling of helplessness that many graduating students have in terms of finding a meaningful job?
In terms of addressing these problems, we have sort of started with our lower tuition campaign. We want to increase alternative funding, meaning the Ontario government would pay more than what they currently pay to Trent, which is around 50 percent of what it costs to educate domestic students. International students are a whole different issue we need to tackle as well. We should try to secure more funding from the Ontario government so Trent doesn’t have to cut courses or increase tuition.
The TCSA does plan to go to the board of governors of Trent and ask them to openly say tuition is too high. I want them to make a statement saying that tuition is too high and that we do not want to increase it. Let’s engage in talks with the university to enable a conversation with the government, which would hopefully alleviate student debt.
Moving forward from that, I would love to have the TCSA host job workshops in partnership with the Career Centre and different departments to teach people how to translate their skills and to be able to market themselves to employers so they can get jobs. There is no reason for students to be graduating with 40, 50, or 60 thousand dollars of debt and only be able to get a part-time job or low skilled jobs at an entry level.
We are part of CFS [Canadian Federation of Students] and they are encouraging every university union to engage their students and say, “Let’s put pressure on the provincial government.” As a united front of students in Ontario and Canada, we need to make a collective statement saying enough is enough. In part, most people [who] are making this decision benefited from a highly subsidized tuition.
One of the first things I want do is to talk to the president of the alumni association and seek a partnership to address these kinds of issues.