If you checked out the tables at New Student Orientation or U-Join, you probably experienced something akin to sensory over load as student groups, services, publications, initiatives, collectives, clubs, and associations, vied for your attention. Enthusiastic representatives at the table tell you to check them out, to put your email here, to get involved.
If you were one of those representatives behind those tables, you probably at one point asked yourself that maddeningly oft repeated question: How do we get students involved?
I don’t want to ask that question here. I want to ask something else: What are we asking for from people when we talk about “student involvement?”
I’ve written before about how being part of The Cascade has changed my life and how happy I am to be part of it. But I also know that my ability to be involved in it would probably be undercut if I weren’t living with my parents, if my financial standing weren’t as stable as it is, or if I had to take care of someone’s immediate needs other than my own. Because I have the time to invest myself in something beyond simply making ends meet, I have the ability to get involved.
Implied in the question of how to get students involved, then, is “how able are you to get involved?” In other words, it becomes a question of privilege.
Because of my involvement with the paper, I was invited to attend an annual Canadian student journalism conference in Ottawa last January. Having the opportunity to discuss issues pertinent to the world of student journalism with other editors and journalists, so similarly engrossed in it all, was illuminating and empowering. Similar invitations to conferences, summits, and conventions — usually offering leadership development and skill and connection-building for a small group of students — are extended to other groups on campus, like the Student Union Society, CIVL Radio, and some clubs and associations like eSports Valley.
While these opportunities should definitely be seized, I cannot help but wonder whether giving them to students who have the ability to get involved reinforces the privilege that allows them to get so involved in the first place.
And if one’s co-curricular record — a university record that recognizes extra-curricular activities and the skills and experiences acquired from them — is taken at all seriously by potential employers or grad schools, then those with the privilege of getting involved on campus will win every time.
How about a CCR for single mothers balancing schoolwork with a job and a child or two? How about a conference for those unable to immediately funnel their passions into something on campus because they’re busy trying to stay afloat?
If you think often about student engagement at UFV, you’re probably aware of the image of UFV as a commuter school. Students go to class, and then go home — where’s the place for student engagement in that scenario?
But it’s the flexibility that UFV has as a so-called commuter school that also allows people to get a relatively cheap post-secondary education while balancing other commitments. Their experiences outside the classroom are as meaningful as those of engaged students, and should be accounted for if we’re going to start keeping track of what kinds of experiences are marketable.
This isn’t intended to dismiss the merits of engagement. If you can, find a place at UFV where you can funnel that passion. But let’s not leave behind those that can’t.