Commentary, Opinion

Remembering McGill’s past to progress its future

With the new school year starting, many students prepare to fall back into their routines on McGill’s campus. Among the new classes and experiences to be had, many look forward to a fresh start in the Fall semester. While it may be tempting to leave the issues of last year in the past, it is important to remember the McGill administration’s insufficient action and shortcomings over the past year to continue working towards a better future by actively pursuing unfinished initiatives.

Last year, McGill saw several student-led protests take a stand on issues of social justice on campus. One of these protests, led by McGill’s social work students, questioned McGill’s labour practices. McGill’s Bachelor of Social Work program, in adherence with Quebec provincial policy, mandates that two unpaid internship placements be held during the last two years of the degree, each 400 hours long. To require that upper year undergraduate students work uncompensated for 400 hours while balancing academic responsibilities is unreasonable, and as mentioned by the President of the Association of McGill University Support Employees Ella Hartsoe, experience does not pay rent. While McGill is not alone in maintaining such a requirement, students remain unhappy with the administration’s inability to effectively communicate with provincial offices regarding the issue and the lack of a reparative policy offering some sort of compensation. Currently, no resolution has been reached between the protestors, McGill, and the Ministry of Education. McGill’s continued hesitancy to accomodate the needs of the social work students is yet another reason why student activism remains vital.

In addition to the November 2018 social work student protest, many students also protested the McGill Men’s Varsity team name. Thanks to student activists such as Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Tomas Jirousek, the previous team name was changed. Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier announced last June that a new name will be decided by the beginning of the sports season in Fall 2020. The #ChangeTheName campaign is an example where student led activism has resulted in administrative response, resulting in a palpable change. Change resulting from student activism is possible within the walls of McGill, as long as the social issues addressed by past students are not forgotten or ignored by the incoming class. 

In April 2018, McGill’s mismanagement of sexual misconduct allegations motivated students to  stage a walkout to protest the administration’s handling of sexual violence cases from staff. In July  2019, McGill launched a mandatory online course regarding sexual misconduct alongside a revised sexual violence policy, and a new special investigator to look into new allegations. McGill has made significant progress all because of the student activists who worked tirelessly to make the campus a safe and inclusive space for survivors of sexual violence. Although some of these new policy developments still fall short of making campus fully safe and inclusive, McGill activists have spearheaded commendable progress. 

Student protests have the power to improve the university’s values, the quality of student life and safety, and create real policy changes. While some of these protests have direct payoffs for students, many are still not given the attention they deserve by the McGill administration. Going into this new school year, McGill students and faculty alike must remember the pressing issues lingering from past school years and take action to address them once and for all.  This is especially important for the first-years joining McGill, to acknowledge all the changes made from tireless work from student activists. Progress made by past generations at McGill will continue to have a meaningful impact for future students.

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