Advocacy during a pandemic: What your student representatives did to help ease your return to campus

In Uncategorized by samru-admin

The SAMRU Representation Executive Committee (REC) advocates on behalf of MRU students. This summer, your elected student representatives wanted to make sure that MRU’s return to campus strategy prioritized student needs. We wanted to ensure that students were safe, that there was minimal disruption, and that no student was denied their education because of their vaccination status.

MRU students can rest assured that their student representatives work incredibly hard to ensure student interests are taken seriously in any discussions. To accomplish this, your student representatives met with members of the university administration and with the faculty association and successfully advocated for:

  1. Easy access to campus and in-person course delivery
  2. Clarity on masking, rapid testing, privacy, and vaccination mandates
  3. Compassion and flexibility from faculty and admin
  4. Changing the withdrawal date and extending the winter break

To be transparent with our members, here are more details about our advocacy approach and what we achieved:

1) Access to campus and in-person delivery

As students ourselves, we believe it is in the best interests of all students to have the option to be in-person. This is because we all pay for facilities, support, resources, and a student experience that can only be felt in-person. As such, we advocated for student safety, but with uncomplicated access to campus.

It’s tough to balance advocating for in-person delivery while also ensuring a safe experience and student access to all of what the campus has to offer — but we believe that we have achieved this for students. Students will have access to all facilities, supports, resources and an in person student experience as long as students are complying with safety measures. These measures are in place to ensure that students can safely remain in person for this academic year (which we’ll go into next).

2) Masking, Rapid Testing & Vaccination Mandates

While we think it’s important to get vaccinated, we opposed mandatory vaccinations in the strictest sense because we firmly believe that no student should be denied their education because of their vaccination status. Instead, we let MRU know that it would be easier on students, and would ensure their privacy, if they could attest to being vaccinated. We continue to support mandatory masking as an appropriate measure, particularly with increasing outbreaks, such as the fourth wave we’re currently experiencing.

Our advocacy was successful and, as a result, no student will be denied their education because of their vaccination status. As an alternative, the university mandated that students undergo rapid testing for COVID, but they agreed with us that students should not be compelled to hand over personal medical records.

In addition to privacy concerns, we wanted to ensure students were not penalized for accidentally or intentionally failing to comply with these measures. As a result, students can opt out of the mandatory rapid testing if they submit a declaration that they’re fully vaccinated or, if partially vaccinated, plan to become fully vaccinated in the fall semester. This was a win that will save students time, retain privacy, and reduce anxiety! Please remember, though, MRU’s Aug 27 message to students notes that “people who do not complete the declaration will be automatically submitted to a rapid testing program, so it’s important for you to do that.”

The university also assured us that compassion and flexibility will remain key principles for the time being, and that the administration will focus on educating students who fail to comply rather than taking a hard line and disciplining students for non-compliance.

What does this all mean? Well, read on!

3) Compassionate & Flexible Faculty & Admin

In the early days of the pandemic, your student representatives successfully advocated for MRU’s faculty and administration to be flexible and compassionate with students during those uncertain times. Because of this, a majority of students did not face a drop in their GPAs last term.

Now that we’re returning to campus, the administration has promised that the MRU faculty and administration will continue to show compassion and flexibility to students during this period of transition and uncertainty.

As students become fully aware and confident in practicing the safety measures, this temporary reprieve will likely diminish, so the university has to clearly and adequately communicate safety measures and protocols to students. SAMRU will be monitoring and scrutinizing the effectiveness of MRU’s communication strategy for returning to campus.

4) Withdrawal Date & Extended Winter Break

Another student representative win from last year was to push the course withdrawal date to the end of classes and extend the winter break to give students adequate time to recover from the added stress of the pandemic and of the immediate transition to online delivery. We are once again advocating for this to happen in this academic year, emphasizing that the transition to in-person delivery will be just as stressful and challenging for students.

With discussions continuing, we urge MRU to ensure that these accommodations are implemented and communicated to students as soon as possible. Of course, we will continue to advocate for this on behalf of students.

Your Students’ Association is here to support you. If you are experiencing issues and need help or someone to talk to or point you in the right direction, please contact us at info@samru.ca.

That’s all for now. Please stay safe and keep updated on all of our advocacy on our Twitter account @samrurec and @samrubuzz!

Sincerely,

Your 2021-22 Representation Executive Council:
President Spirit River Striped Wolf, president@samru.ca 
VP Academic Yasmin Ahmed, vpacademic@samru.ca 
VP External Rachel Timmermans, vpexternal@samru.ca
VP Student Affairs Joseph Nguyen, vpstudentaffairs@samru.ca