Two weeks ago, the Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Legislative Council approved a trial run of the Student Advocacy Resource Committee (SARC). The new committee aims to guide students through McGill’s bureaucracy and to help make students’ voices heard within the administration and SSMU, according to David Benrimoh, who presented his vision of SARC to Council on Nov. 1. The trial run will end March 15, 2013.
SARC is Benrimoh’s creation. He is a first-year medical school student who has previously worked with SSMU and First Year Council. He said he saw the need for a service to help students navigate McGill’s institutional infrastructure.
“We felt that a lot of students at McGill have a lot of ideas, questions, and things they want to see changed, but they don’t necessarily know how to go about doing it,” Benrimoh said.
The group began this year as an interim club. Now that Council has passed the motion to create SARC, the club has achieved SSMU Committee status, in order to increase its credibility and make it more accountable to SSMU Council.
“[Now], we’re directly accountable to Council, and people know that we have the support and backing of [SSMU],” Benrimoh said.
Benrimoh is SARC’s head steward, which means he is responsible for supervising the committee and establishing its long-term vision. He said he hopes SARC can act as a liaison between students and those who can help address an individual student’s needs on campus, like SSMU’s elected representatives and administrators.
The Committee works on a case-by-case basis. Cases are divided under the categories of services, student government, and campus issues, and are dealt with accordingly by SARC.
“We [will] develop a campaign plan based off of [each] case,” Benrimoh said. “Some cases might have a need for events or setting up meetings with campus administrators. There’s all sorts of different venues we can help students take advantage of.”
After roughly three weeks of existence, SARC is currently dealing with a total of seven actual and potential cases.
“Potential cases [are those] where we have identified an issue or met with a requestor and where we have not yet signed the case but we are confident that we will in the very near future,” Benrimoh said. “We are very new and we haven’t yet had time to do the kind of outreach that is necessary to accrue a large number of cases … until now, we have been focused on actually getting set up.. . and training our stewards.”
SSMU Vice-President University Affairs Haley Dinel helps supervise SARC on behalf of SSMU, and will also sit on the Committee. Dinel said Benrimoh reports to both her and Council, and explained how committee members were chosen this year.
“The [current] stewards were chosen, and they went through their own internal application process,” she said. “[If SARC becomes a permanent committee], the names will be given to the SSMU nominating committee, and they’d be screened and interviewed.”
According to the motion presented to Council, stewards are committee members responsible for dealing with and writing reports on individual cases. In addition to the head steward, there are individual triage, services, campus issues, and student government stewards. The Committee also includes three councillors from SSMU.
At the Nov. 1 Council meeting, some SSMU councillors expressed concern over the creation of SARC as a permanent SSMU Committee. Arts Senator Max Zidel questioned the sustainability of the Committee.
“This proposal requires a lot of man power and a lot of interest and time, and although it’s wonderful that right now we have a group of students who are really fond of this idea, what happens when they graduate?” Zidel said. “I see trouble … finding enough students every year to fill the necessary positions.”
Despite his reservations, Zidel said he hopes the Committee will succeed.
“I think good things will come out of it,” he said. “The idea itself is good, which is that you want to make it easier for students to understand the way that the university works. I’m pleased that people want to fill this gap.”