Hello, MRU students,
The calendar has officially flipped over, and we’re into the new year of 2024. But while students were writing exams, enjoying events, and even graduating (congratulations, by the way!) over the past year, your Representation Executive Council (REC) was advocating for what matters most to you, our members!
From left to right, 2023-24’s REC team includes:
- REC Vice-President External Prabhjit Grewal (they/them)
- REC Vice-President Academic Tala Abu Hayyaneh (she/her)
- REC Vice-President Student Affairs Anisa Tilston (she/they)
- REC President Joseph Nguyen (he/him)
Want to get to know your REC members a little better? Check out their bios and start-of-term interviews to learn all about why they decided to advocate for you!
But as the year concludes, let’s take a look back on all the wins and strives that your Representation Executive Council made on behalf of you in 2023!
Starting out strong
After months of campaigning, REC elections took place in March, with one previous incumbent running again and three open positions to fill with new advocacy leaders.
Following the ballot count from over 800 voting members, Joseph was elected to reprise his role as REC President for a second straight term, marking his third term as a REC member after he first served as the VP of Student Affairs back in 2021-2022. He is also just the second REC member to have ever served three terms!
Tala was elected as the new VP Academic, receiving over 80% approval to serve the position.
Anisa was elected as the new VP Student Affairs, also securing over 80% approval on her ballot.
Following elections, Prabhjit was announced as the new VP External, hired by the Student Governing Board and Students’ Association to fill the vacant position.
Although Joseph was the only returning REC member, Tala, Anisa, and Prabhjit were themselves no strangers to student advocacy. All three had previous experience volunteering and making changes around SAMRU for years before their elections.
- Tala served as a dedicated and multifaceted leader at the Student Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU), significantly contributing to the betterment of the student community. Starting in September 2018, she took on a pivotal role in the World University Service of Canada’s Student Refugee Program at MRU. As an organizer and Social Support Lead, Tala was instrumental in establishing the program, coordinating with the university administration and the student association, and facilitating the arrival and support of the first sponsored student in August 2021.
In her tenure with the SAMRU’s Representational Executive Advisory Committee from September 2022 to April 2023, and previously as Vice President in various advisory committees from January 2018 to June 2021, Tala honed her leadership and communication skills. She participated in over 50 General Faculties Council and its sub-committee meetings played a key role in student representation, and participated in influential advocacy campaigns, such as Open Educational Resources, Tuition Demonstration, and Get Out The Vote.
Furthermore, Tala’s involvement with the Mount Royal University Policy Studies Students’ Society from March 2018 to April 2023 showcased her versatile leadership abilities. She served in various executive roles, including President, Vice President Finance, Vice President Communications, and Vice President Events. Tala effectively communicated with members in these positions, ensuring transparency in executive decisions. Her skills in event planning were evident as she designed and executed engaging events, collaborated closely with the SAMRU Clubs Coordinator, and managed the executive team, thereby ensuring successful event outcomes and efficient role distribution.
- Anisa served as a volunteer in various SAMRU centres, including most recently at the Peer Support Centre (PSC).
- Prabhjit served as Pride Centre Ambassador.
As elections concluded, the newly announced REC were on board to advocate for you, the students, for the next 12 months. Since then, they’ve achieved quite a bit. Let’s dive into those wins.
Throughout the summer months, REC was active in updating their position statements. The SAMRU Representation Position Statements serve as the baseline for the advocacy efforts your REC team hopes to achieve for you during their terms.
To learn all about what’s on REC’s radar, check out the current position statements here.
Tackling affordability issues for students
With the costs of, well, everything continuing to rise, making sure post-secondary didn’t completely dry up students’ bank accounts was a top priority for REC over their terms.
Tala has been advocating for the implementation of Zero Textbooks Costs (ZTCs) and having classes clarify explicitly whether a textbook will be necessary in course outlines. MRU spoke in favour of adopting these notions, and they are being considered for the 2024-25 school year!
Tala was also a guest panellist at the Doughnuts with the Dean discussion, where she discussed methods MRU could employ to help make course materials more affordable.
For international students prior to the Fall Semester, working hours were limited to 20 hours per week — approximately that of a part-time job. However, many international students face higher tuition than domestic students on top of paying for the essentials such as residence, rent, food, and transportation.
To combat this amidst the rising cost of living, international students were given a temporary exemption to this rule, allowing them to work up to 40 hours per week until the end of December. However, this is a temporary measure.
After countless hours of advocacy from REC and other elected student representatives, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship of Canada announced that the 20-hour work week exemption would be extended until the end of the 2023-24 academic year at the end of April.
REC’s advocacy has not ended regarding this issue, however, as they plan to continue advocating for international students until they are permitted to work up to 40 hours per week permanently.
Advocating for student housing
In the Fall Semester, an unprecedented student housing crisis took hold of students across Alberta, with residences reaching capacity across the province and students unable to afford ever-increasing rent prices. These circumstances hit students particularly hard, including your student representatives.
Joseph and Prabhjit presented at Calgary City Council’s public hearing on affordable housing, where they spoke in favour of a list of recommendations to fix the issue. Throughout their speeches, they shared student housing anecdotes submitted from MRU students to City Councillors, outlining the student perspective of the housing plight. Through this advocacy, City Council voted to approve the recommendations which will result in more condos and townhouses being built; such an increase in Calgary’s housing supply will predictably decrease rent for students.
Across the Fall Semester, the Calgary Journal published a series of articles focusing on the issues many students face while attempting to secure affordable housing, whether that be in residence, near-campus housing, or even finding a place to live at all. You can read the articles here.
Joseph was featured in one of the articles, sharing his personal rental experiences and landlord horror stories as he attempted to secure affordable housing — a sentiment that many post-secondary students have shared as residences reach capacity and rent continues to rise.
He was also a guest panellist at the Calgary Journal’s Public Forum of Student Housing, alongside other notable speakers (including City Councillor Courtney Walcott), as they reviewed how the city can end the student housing crisis. Discussion points ranged from more compact and affordable developments to improved tenant rights.
Strives for better transit and transportation
Students have brought forward a myriad of needs and suggestions when it comes to transit and transportation on campus. REC has honed in on parking throughout their terms. With so many advocacy efforts and wins, we have to shorten this section to a list:
- REC continues to fight for cheaper student parking during exam seasons and non-peak parking times
- Tala and Anisa tabled at the Campus Carnival, receiving direct suggestions from students on how the parking situation can be improved
- During a meeting with MRU’s Director of Business Services, Tala proposed a roof over lots A & B, topped with solar panels, giving students more options for sheltered parking and aligning with MRU’s Sustainability Goals
- Additionally, Tala advocated for a towing grace period during finals, clarity on flex passes for students, and the option to pay via debit card
- Joseph advocated for a tow lot to be implemented right on campus, so drivers who don’t pay take up much-needed spots can be re-located in order to open spaces for paying students
- Joseph also suggested better right of way and directional traffic signs in the parkade to limit accidents
- Prabhjit was able to secure students the ability to pay their parking tickets in person, rather than being forced to use the online portal
However, improved and streamlined parking wasn’t the only transportation improvement REC had on the docket.
Many individuals who don’t drive as a part of their commute have experienced exceptionally long wait times, leading to full buses and students being left behind as buses reach capacity. The main culprit in this is the MAX Yellow, the most-used public transit option for those travelling to MRU via transit.
After months of relentless advocacy, REC’s efforts paid off, with the City of Calgary announcing that the MAX Yellow line would begin running every 11 minutes at peak time, a substantial time-save for those who rely on this route to get around the city. REC’s advocacy doesn’t end there, as they continue to press regarding transit availability on campus.
Gender and sexual-based violence advocacy
In September of 2023, the Government of Alberta released their Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Alberta Post-Secondary Education report. This survey of over 13,000 post-secondary students was a disturbing yet unsurprising exposure of how widespread and prevalent gender and sexual-based violence are in post-secondary settings.
SAMRU’s REC released a statement about the disturbing results of this survey and noted their advocacy goals going forward.
To help educate and build awareness about the findings of the report and about healthy relationships, REC hosted Consent Week in collaboration with Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse (CCASA). Anisa and Prabhjit joined CCASA in West Gate Social to provide an engaging and informative conversation about what consent means to all university students.
Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)
To simultaneously advocate and celebrate equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), REC implemented several EDI efforts in and around campus.
Anisa met with MRU’s office of EDI to learn more about how the university trains staff, faculty, and students around EDI best practices – ensuring a safe campus environment for all. She also advocated for the EDI office to do more to include students in their events and advocated for the EDI office to create programming for International Day for Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).
Anisa and Tala released a statement sharing camaraderie with and celebrating persons with disabilities on campus.
To highlight common ableist prejudice on campus and to help recognize and include those with disabilities, Anisa took part in MRU’s Conversations that Matter Panel: Ableism and EDI.
Issues that matter to students
In September, your REC team met with the Minister of Advanced Education, Rajan Sawhney, discussing advocacy efforts regarding gender-based violence prevention, the creation of student housing, keeping public research publicly available, and incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into education as a learning tool.
Speaking of AI, Tala was a panellist for the Higher Education Strategy Associates AI Roundtable Meeting, where she highlighted the student perspective on AI in a post-secondary setting and discussed REC’s AI advocacy goals, including the implementation of clear guidelines surrounding the use and efficacy of AI within student projects. You can watch the full panel here.
While serving as the Vice-Chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS), Prabhjit spearheaded the Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) Student Art Festival, an Alberta Government-funded initiative encouraging all post-secondary BIPOC students to submit their artwork for display across the province. This culminated in the BIPOC Student Art Showcase, where in November, West Gate Social and other CAUS school venues transformed into a gallery of local talent, displaying BIPOC students’ pieces from MRU and across Alberta.
Following the outcry of many students and consultation with MRU and other post-secondaries, Tala is actively advocating for more research into the timing of Fall Reading Week. Previous research regarding Reading Week’s timing is almost a decade old, so Tala hopes to clarify whether the Thanksgiving long weekend placement is the best option for students when compared to the November break other post-secondaries employ. She spoke with The Reflector surrounding Reading Week’s placement in a story you can read here.
These were only a selection of advocacy wins your REC team achieved over the course of their 2023 terms. Want to learn more about how REC has been advocating for you? Be sure to check out our previous monthly REC highlight blogs.
Your REC members have been employed in their respective roles full-time for nine months now, and each and every day is full of advocacy and representation happening behind the scenes — all dedicated to improving your student experience at MRU.
Visit this link to learn more about your student representatives this year, view updated position descriptions of each member of REC, see their position statements and advocacy priorities, and even learn how YOU could apply to become an elected student representative! Applications for all four positions are open until January 31, 2024, so apply now!
Keep your eyes open for updates, statements, and more on these and other upcoming initiatives on social media by following @samrurec on X (formerly Twitter). If you have questions, don’t hesitate to email your representatives at email@example.com.