Photo Credit: The Mike archives
The conundrum of student governments and how useful they actually are
Shmily Lin, The Mike Staff Writer
I had just closed out the second town hall for the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) elections a week prior.
It had been a hectic campaigning period. Being a first-year and having never experienced student council elections before, I hadn’t a single clue what I was doing. Speeding through Canva templates to make cute Instagram posts, getting nominations for my position, creating campaign videos — it was a nightmare.
And it was awesome.
Don’t get me wrong, it was certainly stressful. But getting involved in student government has opened my eyes to more than just that they exist, but also to why they matter. Knowing that the SMCSU is directly involved in planning major events for my college and that The University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) helps fund clubs on campus seems somewhat intuitive after the fact, but can be hard to see when “student union” tends to be synonymous with scandals and a plethora of Instagram follower requests in March.
Despite how people feel about student politics as a whole, it’s undeniable that their existence is a standard for most major universities across the globe. You’d be hard-pressed to find a university that doesn’t have some type of student union.
Personally, what that tells me is that student government is useful, even if the purpose isn’t always clear. Otherwise, it wouldn’t exist.
That was really my entire motivation for getting involved in student government this year. Being something that I avoided through the entirety of high school, I found it something mystical and alien—I needed to understand its purpose.
Jumping through different councils, working with various unions and persons, I’ve only come to the conclusion that student governments are simply too inherently different to narrow down a specific purpose.
I find this to be a likely reason why students often have a hard time answering what their student governments actually do. Because they do a lot, but they are also highly specific. UTSU provides healthcare and dental plans to students at the University, which is something other unions don’t. Some unions represent faculties, others colleges, and the rest some other odd subset of the population.
In either case, these student governments are essential. They have unique responsibilities that contribute to the University one way or another, and they’ve either become too ingrained or too costly to replace.
And so ultimately, student governments are useful. They have to be, even if they’re hard to describe.
Could there be better systems? Probably. But that’s largely irrelevant — student unions aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. An essential part of any university experience, the University of Toronto is no different.