Student engangement loses its sex appeal

Student engagement is the no longer the two sexiest words in post-secondary vernacular. All too often bandied about as a reason to do this or that, to spend this money or not spend any at all, the idea behind ‘student engagement’ has become almost meaningless. With students expected to pull A’s, work part time to support their academic career, maintain a semblance of a social life, and get involved in school activities it is no wonder that dark shadows grace many an eye and stress is palpable in the hallways.

At an institution, Students’ Unions are based around the very idea of an active and engaged student body and without such, these bottom up organizations would be fairly inconsequential. It is no wonder then that our very own Students’ Union, the ULSU, constantly fights the good fight, proving that our UofL students are active and responsive. At the very least, page twelve of The Meliorist proves that there is somewhat of a Chuck Norris loving – classmate call out – disgruntled roommate student community here.

Recently, there have been grumblings about newly placed barriers the University administration and the various departments within have put up to discourage club activity on campus and over all students ‘good times’. There have been significant changes in the attitudes the ULSU has taken regarding clubs and their vigilance to ensure that rules and regulations are being followed. Observing the number of events and the outstanding attendance for club activities, this is not acting as a deterrent to event organizers.

Speaking to Alex Masse, Vice President Academic for the ULSU, he commented on club restrictions, “Everyone at the SU thinks that clubs should be able to go out and have dinner at a restaurant, or help promote a concert, for example like the Headbangers want to do. Everyone wants to make it happen, but it’s on our books that it can’t happen.”

Student events have been increasing by both the ULSU and clubs at large. As well, events and speakers being brought in by the University of Lethbridge to engage students and community members at a more visceral level, an education outside of the classroom, continue to be of excellent quality and well attended.

Student engagement is not a one sided issue. It is not just a matter of students not caring, or not being interested in exploring new idea’s and paradigms. In fact, to believe in true student apathy is a disregard for the sacrifice students make to continue their education at a post-secondary institution.

The reality is, students are no longer just students. Students hold part-time jobs alongside attending full time classes. Financial restrictions place a greater emphasis on success in academics as well as time spent working to ensure rent is paid, food can be eaten, and tuition is forked over.

Tuition in Alberta continues to rise, worrying many that it will soon reach unaffordable rates. Albertan students now pay the third highest tuition in the country. A province that can afford to promise two billion to a green washing initiative sadly does not prioritize education to the same extent.

Those who are involved, especially those who work to advocate changes to post-secondary education, understand the pressures many students are under. Masse, “I do see where students are coming from when they do come across as being disengaged. Quite frankly, we are dealing with a campus where so many people are spending so many of their waking hours just trying to do well in school and then dedicating the rest to work. I don’t think that it is so much that students don’t want to be engaged, I think that haven’t bothered to care because they are already hurting from all the other burdens placed on them, because of the amount of actual paid employment students need in order to get through a degree without having a crippling amount of debt. It’s really hard to find the time to come out to hear such and such person speak about whatever topic, regardless oh how important it is.”

Students are engaged, and they do care. The continuous efforts being put into their academics and into ensuring they are financially stable enough to remain in post-secondary education demonstrates that. It is our institutions and our governments that need to prove to students that they also care, that the work and effort is noticed. Lowering tuition rates, ensuring there is adequate on campus housing, and fiscally prioritizing funding to post-secondary education will have a lasting impact on students and on their communities. Students will give back in volunteer time, in student engagement, and in making this campus a better and more vibrant community for all.

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