Organising Together: Canroots 2019

| Chantelle Spicer | Organisers from labour, the environmental movement, tenants’ rights, and youth advocates gathered together in Vancouver on April 13 & 14 for a conference to reflect on challenges and victories over the previous year and make plans moving forward. The event, Canroots West 2019: Together We Win put on by Organize BC, focused on the power of mass movements when they are able to work together, following the lead of those most affected by social inequities and marginalization. What many took away from the conference, myself included, was the pivotal moment we are in considering the visibility of climate change and ongoing social injustice within our communities.

The range of speakers addressed their area of expertise while also including the importance of organising together for change. Keynote addresses came from individuals with various social movement backgrounds including Sharmarke Dubow, City Councillor in Victoria, Musqueam women’s and land rights activist St’agid Jaadl, and Sophia Zaia of the Sunrise Movement, which is progressing the Green New Deal in the States. Many workshops and speakers spoke to the role of digital and social media in raising awareness within union membership or the public, but also the real need to move this awareness into real world action.

Nikita McDaniel of the Save Cottonwood initiative in the Kootenay region attended the conference and was inspired by the opportunities to learn from other social movements.

“Over the weekend, I feel like Canroots far exceeded my expectations. Not only did I get the chance to learn from the experience of the speakers, but I was provided with the opportunity to connect with and learn from the other attendees. I was astounded by all the efforts being expended to solving the more complicated issues we face. In being surrounded by this wealth of knowledge, I came home revitalized and with a new view for my own campaign to save Cottonwood and Apex.”

Of particular interest to me were workshops and conversations surrounding the labour movement and their role in cross-issue organising and consciousness raising. Over the past decades, unionization in Canada has been on the decline – in 1958, more than 50% of BC’s workers were unionized, but by 2014 the unionized labour force had shrank to 30%. So how do labour unions stay relevant not only for their membership, but also better address larger social issues we all face together? How do we raise awareness and mobilize all workers regardless of unionization rates?

First up on my conference schedule were Emma Pullman and Stefan Avlijas, campaigns and communications organisers from the BC Government Employees Union. The heart of this presentation was also my heart – reminding us all of where we come from historically as a labour movement to inform how we move forward through this second gilded age. Avlijas spoke to the disconnection many workers feel within their workplaces as labour unions have grown in size and merged. In many cases, this has severed the person-to-person relationship that are key to mobilizing and organising. The focus then becomes how do we meaningfully reconnect workers to each other, their rights, and their context in the realities of intersecting issues – all of which centres around the need to raise class consciousness.

Foundational to this is shifting union structure away from bureacractic leadership and putting power back into the hands of the workers. Organisers within the BCGEU have seen meaningful leadership coming from their members on issues that matter to them such as housing, climate change, and the opioid epidemic.

“No collective agreement can fix affordable housing or climate change. We need to use labour unions as vehicle for building class consciousness within our membership to make this kind of large scale change. Its not happening in secret, like the bargaining process, its out in the open for all to join in,” stated Avlijas.

With this in mind, union Locals organised regular opportunities for workers to get together to discuss issues and solutions for the problems they see around them, making the union about more than bargaining and entering workers in the campaigns and conversations.

It is my hope that unions increasingly undertake this kind of foundational work to inspire and (re)connect their membership, but also for the membership – for workers – to demand more of their unions. This is point is particularly driven home by recent BCGEU defence of a two-tier pay scale for community-base social service workers. In recognizing the need to organise with and between other social movements, so to do we need to work for the rights and equality of all workers.

Also on the program was an opportunity to hear from long-time union leaders Marie Pantellis and Harjeet Dahmi from the Hospital Employees Union, who spoke to organising women of colour within an unstable industry. HEU employees were highly impacted by Bill 29, which was introduced by the Liberals in 2002, allowing the province to tear up the B.C. Hospital Employees’ Union contract and led to the layoff of more than 8,000 unionized health-care workers. Though Bill 29 was repealed in 2008 after being declared unconstitutional, it left a legacy of exploitation amongst hospital workers such as contract flipping (the practice of terminating existing unionized employees under one contract and then hiring the same employees for lesser wages and benefits under a new contract), leading to highly precarious employment for workers already marginalized by existing systems.

Pantellis and Harjeet spoke to a very different kind of union and organising style than that expressed by the BCGEU. In the case of HEU workers, the vast majority of their membership are women of colour who live and take part in their own community and cultures (many of which are hesitant to take part in union activism), many speak English as a second language, and work 2-3 jobs. This means that organisers become a part of community and family life, building lasting relationships of trust. It also means that organisers must have an understanding of the cultural reality for their workers (ie. will their husband allow them to join the union, to rally, or protest?) However, once organised, the workers are quick to build a community, creating more worker-led, worker centred mobilizing.

The second day opened with conversations about transitions into greener economies through the Green New Deal, which has been making headlines in the States and now in Canada as we move towards a federal election. The central pillars for this deal, as related by speaker Sophia Zaia, include equity seeking initiatives to ensure justice and opportunity for all communities. The success of policy and industry change on this scale will require the coming together of all mass movements, unifying their power.

In hearing of the Green New Deal, I am always hopeful, but left uneasy in my belief that reforms of this magnitude are not possible under a capitalist system. With exploitation of workers and the land at its heart, I do not believe it is possible to reform capitalism in a way that makes space for justice and equity. Despite reforms coming from federal and provincial BC governments over the past 3 years – changes many viewed as hopeful – the realities of inequality for many people on the ground has not shifted at all.

No one recognized this more fully than keynote speaker St’agid Jaadl, who humbled me with her honest and open conversation with the audience from her perspective as an Indigenous activist. “I am often tired,” she sated. “I look around and see the need for change in my people, in my community, and feel the weight of the effort required and the strength of colonialism. We cannot rely on governments to make this change – no matter right wing or left wing…its all part of the same bird. It takes a constant reminder that there are others working beside me – my ancestors, communities in all corners of our country, allies I cannot even imagine – to keep going.”

Like the theme of the Canroots conference implies, this kind of allyship and cross-equity work is integral to success in organising moving forward. There needs to be a recognition across all social movements that principled relationships need to be built to ensure social justice is at the heart of our work. I think it was important for me as an advocate to hear from and about the people on the ground working to enact change in their own way, reaching out to others in solidarity to make bigger change….the concentric circles of hope, learning, and work.

It will be interesting (and important) to see how (and if) these conversations become a part of larger national conversation with the impending Federal election. In many cases, our lives and the environments we know depend on all incorporation of profound hope, critical reflection, and meaningful change into policies at all levels of government (…or a revolution).


A Timely Reflection

Book Review: White Fang

| Chantelle Spicer | With the end of term comes the ability to read for pleasure again. There is nothing more pleasurable and comfortinf for me than returning to some of my favourite literature from childhood. First on the list this spring was White Fang by Jack London. I loved this book so much as a child for it’s great story about a wolf; however, as an adult, I am able to see it from so many different angles, deepening my love and appreciation of this classic. This book is especially relevant for me given recent news about wolf culls due to what are seen as predatory stressors on declining caribou populations. First published in 1906, White Fang examines an environment, set of ethics, and lifestyle very different from the Victorian upbringing that Jack London and his readership were saturated in at the time. It opened the minds of many minds of that era to not only a different worldview, but also a presented a divergence from classical literature as it was contemporarily known.  

Within the wild and stark beauty of the Canadian Yukon, the reader is transported to a potential freedom that most of us dream of today. In both an economic sense, such as the Gold Rush, and a personal or spiritual sense, through the splendor of the natural world, the characters and reader are allowed to dream of a life which is truly theirs. The main human character of the story, Weedon Scott, is doing exactly this, journeying into the depths of the frozen North, searching for gold to secure a better life. Little does he know, that along the way, he will become, through the eyes of London, the portrayal of the best in humanity. 

The main protagonist of this book is, untraditionally, a wolf-dog, White Fang, born into the wild and introduced into “civilized” human existence through abuse and cruelty as a pit-fighting dog. This kind of existence, shown no kindness whatsoever by his owners, shapes him to be an aggressive and morose animal. When he is nearly killed in a fight against a bull-dog, he is saved, both physically and emotionally, by Scott. White Fang’s transformation from a viscous beast into a loving animal is a marvelous study by London in the transformative power of love, affection, and kindness.  

The underlying themes of this story are elegant and hopeful, driven home by the virtuous spirit of Weedon Scott. At a time when the Gold Rush was introducing European culture to the traditional ways of the people of the Yukon, when humans were trying to shape the existence of nature, we are shown there is hope that kindness can be an influencing factor. Another theme lies in the representation of Nature (capital N!) within London’s writing, which illustrates the pristine beauty as well as the incredible power of the land. While the Industrial Revolution was happening in both the US and Britain during the late 1800s to early 1900s, it was important to for London to point out that “Nature” is a power unto itself and works by rules outside of our own human goals and morals. These types of messages make the story truly timeless outside of its early 20th century setting and are especially relevant to our current relationship with “Nature,” with landscapes having shifted from places to be feared, then domains to be exploited, and finally as regions to be saved.

This reading of the story is particularly timely in conjunction with a current environmental practice occurring within B.C. and Alberta – the wolf cull. The relationship that we have with these animals is incredibly interesting – we revere our companions, the domesticated dogs, while making villains their kin, wolves. This feeling of animosity towards wolves has been a part of humanity’s relationship with nature of centuries – an animosity based in economic fear for farmers, feelings of fear against the wildness of the animals themselves.  

This comes to a head in contemporary society through the unscientific and unethical dilemma of the cull in our Northern lands. The governments of both provinces have declared that the “wolf control program will have to go on for at least a decade, [with] other animals [needing] to be killed” in an effort to protect at risk caribou herds.

In 2015, Deputy Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, Resource Stewardship Division, Tom Ethier stated that 180 wolves being shot from helicopter in the South Peace and South Selkirk regions during one winter as part of a five year project. The multi-year, immediate action program, with a goal of 1,400 wolves eventually being culled to save dwindling isolated caribou herds, such as the South Selkirk herd, which is the only mountain caribou herd in the world. This population of caribou have seen their numbers drop from the hundreds, to 46 in 2009 and then to 18 in March of this year. 

Ethier stated at the time that “we’re going to be doing this for the next five years. At the end of those five years, we’re going to do that analysis as to whether this effort was worth it.”

Given that the Selkirk herds were listed as locally extinct in January of this year, it seems the death of these animals was in vain. The loss of this caribou population is significant when viewing the animals as ambassadors of the local environment and forestry policy.

Young caribou are kept in a captive pen in Northern BC to protect them from predators such as wolves

Following decline in the forestry industry around 2018, the industry has rebounded, creating jobs and supporting communities. However, the impact on the forests has been an increasingly fractured landscapes. This has a cumulative impact which not only removes habitat, but also disrupts migration patterns and makes herds more susceptible to things such as predation and road collisions. Rather than focus on protection of these areas, the government has focused on a more short-sighted, band-aid view of the situation, which has resulted in a tax-payer funded kill program of one of BC’s most iconic wild animals – wolves.  

At this time, 51 individual scientists, 19 environmental groups, and thousands of citizens have petitioned the provincial government to reform and eliminate this cull. The Valhalla Wilderness Society has proposed a 251,000 hectare protection area which contains critical habitat, which along with the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement and the Endangered Species Act, would take great strides towards properly protecting caribou herds for the long-term.  

In Northern BC, management of caribou, wolves, and the forest has created deep divisions within Northern BC communities. With the forestry industry calling for more supports and protections for the sector’s jobs and Indigenous communities and environmentalists calling for more supports for landscapes under increasing industrial pressures, great strides will need to be made for balanced policy. It will also take a shift in how we understand the issue in that that both industry and caribou require the same thing – mature conifer forests. There is a desperate need to stop pitting workers against the environment, recognizing that evidence-based caribou protection and supports are actually good for sustainable forestry management and jobs.

Also, please go and (re)read White Fang or any other favourite childhood literature – it really was a treat.

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HWW: Santanna Hernandez

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of Selkirk College Students’ Union, Student of Social Work with an Indigenous Specialization

Why did you decide to join the students’ union?

Back in 2014 the Liberal government cut funding to adult basic education. For me this was so frustrating because I know I wouldn’t be here today without free access to adult basic education. At the time I did not know what to do about that frustration. Shortly after I started classes on the castlegar campus where the SCSU was running the campaign “Dont close the doors”, from then I was hooked. I found the place I was meant to be.

Why is a post-secondary education important to you?

Growing up as an Indigenous student, I was never really told post secondary was where I should be, or could be. Once I had my own children I knew I never wanted them to feel that way. I also knew that I wanted to provide them with ever opportunity to succeed. In order to be more secure financially I needed a better career path, which meant I needed that post secondary education. I always was fascinated with the medical industry so I knew post secondary would be a long journey and that I needed to learn to love the gifts it could give me.

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

To me there is two changes that would need to happen together. The first being that post secondary should be free so it is accessible to all, but with that being said some huge systemic changes need to happen for marginalized groups to feel safe in this environment. As someone who was often the only Indigenous student in the room, there has always been a different expectation of me as a student. Either my sole purpose felt as though I was there to help educate non-indigenous people, or it seemed as though I was graded differently because a certain level of vulnerability was expected for me to seem genuine. This could be true of all minority groups in post secondary. Systemic change is a hard thing to achieve but is very necessary to allow academia to be accessible for anyone who wishes to strive for it.

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

My favourite thing about the Kootenay Region is the quality family life I have here. I’m minutes away from amazing camping and boating. My kids are able to grow up near their grandparents. We have a beautiful community who cares about one another in the best ways possible. 


The Fight Against Fees: A Look Back on a Year of Student Activism

Part One: Why We Fight

| Chantelle Spicer |Following years of governmental neglect, mismanagement, and under-funding in post-secondary, students across the province are organising to fight back against ever-increasing fees.

Decreased operational funding for post-secondary institutions has resulted in capitalist funding models that view students as consumers and undermines the values of a post-secondary education to our communities. This shift in how we view and publicly support education through funding is a violation of social contract that has existed in Canada since the Second World War, whereby working class families could rely on their ability to send their young people to post-secondary.

Instead, what families and young people are facing is institutional and public policy culture that requires individuals to shoulder all the costs of education. This results in students being deterred from entering post-secondary due to fear of debt, escalating drop out rates due to financial burden, or debt loads averaging $34,500 at graduation. On top of these costs are things we all share as a community – decreasing affordability or accessibility of housing, food insecurity, and lack of child care.

For many this means not even considering a post-secondary education as a reality in their lives or plans. Selkirk College Students’ Union Chair, Santanna Hernandez, did not believe that higher education was attainable for her as an Indigenous woman. Now, completing her Bachelors of Social Work with an Indigenous specialization, she recognizes that this is more than personal, but part of a larger conversation of accessibility nation-wide. 

“As someone who found post secondary inaccessible until my adult years, I want to ensure anyone who wants to access post secondary has the opportunity. We need to continue to fight so no one grows up like I did thinking it was out of reach.”

Students at Selkirk College attend the Board of Governors meeting for the vote on increasing domestic student tuition fees.

This neoliberal post-secondary structure has resulted in decreased accessibility to education for may working class students and communities already marginalized. It has also resulted in exploitation of whole demographics of students.

Phil Henderson, a student organiser at the University of Victoria recognizes the insidious impacts of this, stating: “this results in more homogenous and increasingly bourgeois student body – a phenomenon that is only deepened and exacerbated by the way in which institutions like UVic have chosen to target international students for such exorbitant increases because they lack the protected status afforded to domestic students. In this way, importantly, neoliberalization of education both relies on and reinforces processes of othering and of structural racism and xenophobia.”

Organisers with the Tuition Freeze Now campaign from Simon Fraser University speak to this further, stating: 

“We are students who find ourselves within institutions that exist to reproduce a complex social system. This system is based on the gendered exploitation of more than half the population and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, and it sustains it through white supremacist violence..the world we find ourselves in is not organized for equity or fairness.”

Students rally together as part of the Tuition Freeze Now campaign during the SFU Board of Governors meeting

Though many reading this do not need an education on issues facing students, building a consciousness about the systemic issues facing students is important. Having an understanding that issues faced by students are shared and fought against is also important. In the face of growing inequality in our society and removed decision-making happening within institutional governance, knowing there are those out there fighting for rights to education can provide perspective or inspire further action.

During the 2018-1029 academic year, student groups at the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, Langara College, and our own Selkirk College students fought for a tuition freeze, one of the first steps towards acknowledging the cost of education and the need for affordability. This series will provide voices of student organisers on the frontlines of fighting for student rights as they move forward with intent towards affordable and accessible education. The shape of these campaigns played out uniquely according to the environment of each campus and directive of organisers, though all show dedication to providing a socialized system that allows our community members to pursue their goals through a quality post-secondary education.


HWW: Muditha Heenkenda

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

Muditha Heenkenda, Instructor,  Environment and Geomatics

What drove you to become a professor?

I would say I grew up with books – seeing my parents teaching mathematics, science, and arts because my both parents were teachers. As a little girl, I used to imitate them and tried to teach my younger brother. I think that is where I started my interest to be a teacher. After completing my Master of Geoinformation Science degree at the Wageningen University, the Netherlands, I was hired at the University of Twente, the Netherlands as a lecturer in Surveying and Photogrammetry. I loved it and found myself as a strong and successful teacher there. However, I decided to upgrade my knowledge and moved to Charles Darwin University, Australia to do a PhD. Once I have completed my studies, we moved to Canada. I was hired at Selkirk College shortly after landing to Canada and this is my first job in Canada. It turned out I must have been good at it as I am receiving lot of appreciation and I have received the SCOPE award last year. 

What inspires you to continue being a professor?

Students and the ever changing technology I am dealing with! I am learning from students every day, when they understand concepts and making nice maps – I am delighted and inspired. Then I don’t think about the time and effort put together to get updated with the new technology and incorporating them to the classroom. That is how I ended up developing two new courses addressing cutting edge remote sensing technology last year.     

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

More scholarship opportunities & no cell phones in the classroom. Those two were the first thing came to my mind. I benefited from scholarships for higher education, if not, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I have seen and of course experienced student’s financial struggles. Financial burdens should not serve as a limiting force for potential students. Therefore an increasing number of scholarships would be one of the solutions. I also benefitted not having a smart phone for 24/7 when I was studying. Introducing new technology to the classroom is something I agree more than 100%, but non-stop texting, chatting or blinking screens every now and then with new messages are not my favorites. I believe that the phone takes more attention than subject matters discussed in the class – I don’t need to be a mean teacher but I hope everyone teaching in the education system recently, no matter what the level is, agrees with me.

What do you see as the values of education in society today?

No matter the program of study, education improves personal lives and helps societies run smoothly – people are mindful, live longer and happier. Apart from the subject matters, education will develop soft skills of a person like critical thinking, decision making, team work, public speaking, attention to details etc. These are valuable skills for the life as well as for the workforce. As many economists agree today, the education is directly correlates with the economic growth and the stability of the society. 

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

As a skilled migrant, moving here from Calgary, I have definitely got used to slower, rural shape of life. I appreciate the fresh air, less traffic and the beautiful environment. I am not sure whether we are included to the community but we are surviving and trying to maintain good relationships with everyone. 


Student Advocates Seek Action on Sexualized Violence Policies

| Chantelle Spicer | On March 18, student advocates from across the country met in Ottawa to discuss an impending national framework to guide post-secondary institutions in their implementation of anti-violence policies. The framework will act as a comprehensive resource to guide post-secondary institutions’ actions in preventing and addressing gender-based violence on campus.

This work is part of the mandate given to Minister Maryam Monsef following her appointment as Minister of the newly created Department of Women and Gender Equality. The new Department replaces the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in Canada, of which Monsef is the former Chair. The work is being undertaken by an advisory council within the Department and includes members who have extensive experience in preventing and addressing gender-based violence in a post-secondary setting.

Thirty “listening and learning” sessions have or will take place throughout March and early April, along with open, online submissions, will make the consultation process, with input being specifically gathered from student-led organisations such as Silence is Violence from the University of Toronto, third-party organizations that exist in post-secondary institutions, as well as administrators and counsellors from across the country. The process is being funded by $5.5 million dollars over 5 years as part of the 2018 budget.

During the March 18 session, students who have experience in anti-violence advocacy had the opportunity to discuss the realities of the implementation of the legislated post-secondary policies, procedures, and educational campaigns.

Many students are skeptical of not only the implementation of policies on campuses, but also the ability of a national framework to improve the experiences of survivors.

Mira El Hussein of the student-led movement Silence is Violence states, “Consultations and frameworks are important, of course, but I’m personally concerned about the possibility that this framework will not include any form of accountability measures to hold these institutions responsible for their treatment of survivors.”

Hussein explains that as universities are implementing anti-sexualized violence policies, there are issues around the policies and procedures being  unclear, maintaining the institution’s interests above those of survivors, and are essentially brought in to tick off a checkbox as opposed to actually enact any meaningful, structural change. A recent report from Silence is Violence Again outlined all these issues and more.

“We have been doing the work. We have been consulting our communities. We have been fighting,” Hussein states. “I’m hard pressed to believe that a framework will come close to solving the problems of chronic underfunding of services, fundamental administrative neglect, and an unwillingness to listen to voices that so desperately need to be heard, like the voices of IBPOC survivors, 2SLGBTQ survivors, disabled survivors, survivors who are sex workers etc. With all that said, I’m looking forward to seeing the actual draft soon, I think that that will be a defining moment.”

Currently, the Selkirk College Students’ Union is analyzing the College’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Policy through criteria outlined by the national organistaion Students for Consent Culture (formerly Our Turn). This analysis could help direct education to be incorporated into student and residence orientation for the Fall 2019 semester. The College is scheduled to review the policy in January of 2020, providing plenty of time for consideration and incorporation of student concerns that may arise from the current review.

The College has undertaken some work to educate the campus community on the issues of violence and harassment. This includes the development of a hand guide and web content offering direction for those who have experienced violence.

Despite this, Rebekkah Ankenmann, Director at-Large at the SCSU, is concerned about the shortfalls in the policy and resources available for students.

“Being critical of institutional sexual violence policy is of utmost important as these are the policies that determined how we will be treated at our most vulnerable points. Allowing full power of this process to be put into the institution creates an imbalance towards the students. It is our education and lives that are going to be strongly impacted. Policy needs to be centred around making the survivor feel empowered to make the decisions that are right for them. Policy needs to leave the antiquated perspective of protecting the institution in the past.”

Connor Spencer, Outreach Coordinator for the SFCC, explains the importance of considering the unique need of rural campuses in this work.

“We need to make sure that rural campuses are not being left out of discussions about concrete ways we can address campus sexual violence – there needs to be a recognition that the realities for rural campuses looks different and therefore the solutions need to be different. Provinces need to commit more funding, regional committees that can do external investigations and oversight need to be set up, and confidentiality needs to be handled in a way that understands the needs of a smaller community.”

This work is part of a larger national conversation, particularly following the recent release of province-wide survey results undertaken by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. Results showed that 63% of university students and 50% of college students reported they have experience some type of sexual harassment.

The draft National Framework is scheduled to be announced and presented in May.


Identifying Realities Faced by International Students in Post-Secondary

International students come to Canada for an opportunity to access one of the top ranked countries for higher education globally. Yet 16 years of flat or reduced core funding to universities and colleges has resulted in institutions being forced into a reliance on ever- increasing fees charged to international students.

Currently, British Columbia hosts almost one-third of all international students in the country. The province has experienced the largest increase in proportions of international students at institutions of any province: between 2004 and 2013 the proportion of international students increased by 6.7% (from 10.9% to 17.6%). Unprotected by a legislated cap, as domestic students are, international student fees at universities in BC have risen 538% since 1991.

It is clear that the value and impact of international students extends much farther than the campus at which they are studying. International students contribute to the local economy on things such as living expenses, arts and culture, and recreation. According to a report for Global Affairs Canada, it is calculated that in 2015 these expenditures totalled $3.12 billion in annual spending, contributing to over 26,000 jobs. This is a direct contribution of $1.77 billion to the provincial GDP and over $176 million in income taxes. With this data, it is easy to see the ways that the federal and provincial governments rely on international education as a crucial export to boost their respective economies; however, without regulation this is a highly unstable situation, which could collapse without warning.

Though important, it is not economies that this article is concerned with, but rather those impacted by the exploitive nature of international student fees – the students themselves – and the needs for better supports and protections.

Across the province, one of the biggest financial challenges facing international students is the inability to properly budget for a 4-year degree. In any given year, fees may increase by as much as 9-18% with increases based on whatever the institution deems required to balance its budget. This is an unsustainable model that often results in students struggling to stay in BC to finish their studies.

At Selkirk College, international student tuition fees were frozen during the 2017-18 academic year, though a recent Board of Governors decision will have incoming students will facing a 10% increase in May.

A secondary challenge to the current policy context is that there are no notice requirements for fee increases. Institutions are able to implement substantial fee increases with only a few weeks of notice, leaving students scrambling for resources from their home countries. Unlike domestic students, international students who fail to obtain the necessary resources face not only removal from their courses and programs, but also removal from the country – oftentimes tens of thousands of dollars in debt and no degree to show for it.

“The reality is that students are in search of a better life for themselves and families; Canada provides that opportunity, and so they risk everything,” states Yasmine Monrose. If Selkirk College wants to create and promote a healthy campus environment, they need to take this into consideration when planning and strategizing for the academic year.”

The stressors that international students face are similar to those faced by domestic students, ranging from access to safe and affordable housing to employment support to counselling. However, these issues are compounded by feelings of isolation and culture shock. Students and their allies are currently putting pressure on institutions to offer the support international students need, rather than focusing on increasing the numbers to meet financial need.

Monrose encourages the Selkirk community to do better for international students stating: “In essence, Selkirk College needs to be aware of the gravity of the issues facing international students. International students have very limited choices for assistance. As a result, they rely solely on the college for support in dealing with these issues. Therefore, the college needs to ensure that the activities held on campus are inclusive and expose students to various cultures that exist on campus.”

“As an Indian student, I know what issues I face,” says Ramanjeet Kaur in speaking about a event today that invites community members to learn about and discuss the realities international students face in our communities. “We want to address this openly so that everybody gets a better understanding and we can take action on issues.”

Kaur says challenges faced by international students include accommodation, employment, transportation and acceptance. Many of the issues are not unique to international learners, but due to the cultural differences, difficulties can become compounded. Students want to let those interested know a little bit more about themselves and how they navigate both challenges and opportunities.

Institutions are aware of the pressures international students face and the ongoing work that is required to alleviate this. At Selkirk College, a number of supports are offered that specifically target the need for inclusion. This includes assistance with immigration, accommodations, and employment supports. This spring a 2-year international student education plan will begin to be implemented, which will encourage more inclusive structures within curriculum. 

Rhonda Schmitz, the Director of Student Development, explains that Selkirk College is always seeking new ways to support international students.

The Selkirk College community will engage in meaningful dialogue with all employees and students to enhance our understanding and awareness of the rich rewards of inclusion and diversity and we plan sharing our learnings with interested community partners through a variety of communication strategies, such as presentations and social media.”

Research has shown that when institutions take these actions to embrace diversity and create socially supportive school contexts, this can improve the social inclusion and academic success of not just international students, but all students. The benefits of this will be seen in the long term: international students who feel better integrated and greater belonging in their community are much more likely to complete their studies, and are more likely to stay after graduation and become part of British Columbian society and labour force.

“In many ways, Canada is a very tolerant country, but the quickest way for that to break down is when people stop talking,” Janzen, an instructor in the Peace and Justice Studies department states. “Immigration and race are two topics on which people have very strong opinions, and yet at the same time, we seem to be very hesitant to talk about them, outside anonymous online forums. We need to develop safe spaces where we can come together to have important conversations, while at the same time, get to know each other.”

Selkirk College Students Union, along with partner unions in the BC Federation of Students, are currently campaigning on this issue through “Fairness for International Students,” which highlights the need for support and to raise awareness around those most exploited by the current system. The BCFS undertook extensive research to contribute to the campaign, which recommends amendments to the Tuition Fee Limit Policy to include regulations that provides protection for international students and a provincial educational plan that includes supports for international students to assist in their cultural, social, and academic integration.

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of the SCSU explains that it’s important for domestic students to stand up for fairness for international students.“What domestic students do not realize is that our education needs international students. Not only are we richer for getting to know these incredible people from around the world, but due to drastic under funding from the government many institutions are dependent on international students and therefore would not exist for domestic students to attend. This system needs to be fair for all students, as we all contribute to our educational and broader communities in many – and equal – ways.”

An event this evening seeks to provide community members an opportunity to discuss this nuanced and important topic more in depth. International students who are part of the Peace Studies 101 class will share their experience and those in attendance will be encouraged to bring forward questions. The event runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, March 29 at St.Rita’s Church in Castlegar (513 7th Avenue).


Educational Equity Through Free Menstrual Products

| Chantelle Spicer | Across the country, public institutions from libraries to high schools are beginning to offer free menstrual products, with many colleges and universities across the country beginning to contribute to the movement.

Currently, only a handful of post-secondary institutions offer free menstrual products including Centennial College, Mount St Vincent University, Carleton University, and University of Kings College. In the province, Langara College is currently considering how to implement the initiative.

Nancy Pollak, coordinator of the women’s studies program at Langara College, states taking action on this is important as “it does make a difference in women’s ability to participate in their communities wholeheartedly.”

The efforts of advocates at Centennial College have been made through the Free the Tampons campaign, which is dedicated to breaking down stigmas around menstruation and raising awareness around issues of equity for all who menstruate.

Shannon Brooks, Centennial’s associate vice-president of corporate services, said the initiative was proposed by a male staff member, who having taken for granted that using the restroom was an all-inclusive, complimentary service, was dismayed to learn that people who menstruate have to provide for their own supplies.

“It’s one of those things that it’s always been that way, so you don’t really think about it,” Brooks said. “To me, this is a way of changing expectations.”

Recent victories in menstrual-related equity have been celebrated within the British Columbia K-12 system when the New Westminster School Board voted to install coin-free dispensers in every girls’ and universal bathroom in every school in their district, becoming the first in Canada to adopt such a policy.  

The idea came from Douglas College professor Selina Tribe, who pitched the initiative to the school board.

“We know that girls, if they can’t manage their periods properly, will remove themselves from activities, from extracurricular or athletic activities, also social activities, and in the worst case, they will actually miss school.”

In May, a survey was conducted by Plan International Canada, and found that one-third of women under the age of 25 in Canada have struggled to pay for menstrual products. This is particularly important in post-secondary considering the rates of student hunger and poverty generally.

“Tampons are pricey for any woman, but women who can hardly afford to buy food can’t afford to buy a $10 box of tampons, leaving them to choose between food or feeling comfortable when on their period,” states a Selkirk College student who wished to remain anonymous.

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HWW: Kim Pham

Building communities, allies, and partnerships is an important part of post-secondary and life generally. We welcome you to get to know the members of our Selkirk College community!

Kim Pham, Secretary, Selkirk College Students’ Union

Why did you decide to join the students’ union?

I decided to join Students Union primarily out of curiosity. After the Skills training in Kelowna, I felt that I belong to a dedicated group of people fighting for students’ rights. I love that idea because I have to fund my own education. This feeling motivates me and inspires me to be part of the students movement, as I know we are helping many students and their families.

Why is a post-secondary education important to you?

A post-secondary education is important to me because I want to have a better job. I am currently working in a fast food restaurant. The job is physically hard and precarious. It means I can be easily replaced. I believe everyone wants a job security where we can work at our best potential, rather than a job that we have to always worry about being replaced. In order to have a better job, I need knowledge and skills provided through education.

If there is one thing you could change about academia, what would it be?

 I would like to have a fairness for international students. As an international student myself, I want to have a capped tuition fee increase like domestic students have or at least to be able to budget for the fee. Similar to my workplace, not knowing how much my tuition will increase leaves me feeling precarious in something that is very important.

What is your favourite thing about the Kootenay region?

I like fresh air, beautiful landscapes and friendly people in the Kootenay regions. I have made many friends, so I feel included and close to my community. 


What to Read for Reading Week

| Chantelle Spicer | Spring Break within popular culture has often come to mean parties in the sun, probably too much drinking, and exotic locales, but the reality for many college and university students is a week of time dedicated to study, write papers, and get caught up on reading. This has become so much the trend that many institutions (Selkirk included) now call the week off “Reading Week.”

Hopefully, especially given the rise on awareness of student mental health, students are taking time away from their studies to do something they really enjoy.

For some, this may mean reading for the simple pleasure of story rather than the obligation of a syllabus. For others, it may be part of a New Years resolution to spend more time reading rather than scrolling social media. Regardless, studies show that reading improves one’s ability to empathize, writing skills, and reduces stress.

As we settle into reading week, here are five books that have delighted me over the past year

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

I first listened to this as an audiobook while doing housework, but often found myself stopping to listen to the subtle magic that is this story. After two chapters, I had to go out and get this book so I could curl up on the couch and dedicate myself to the story. This book weaves together relationships between author and reader (breaking the 4th wall is so fashionable now!), past and present, humour and sadness, fact and fiction, history and myth. It would be impossible to sum up a narrative that covers everything from Zen Buddhism to feminism in a way that would do justice to the intricacies of Ozeki’s storytelling. Lets just say, if you want reminders of the magic that exist in everyday life, go out and find this book (if you are into audiobooks, the author reads all her own work)! I just finished this book in November and I already can’t wait to sink into it again.

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, Bob Joesph

Following a viral article for the CBC in 2016, this book explores the relationship that Indigenous peoples across Canada have with their land, governments, and the economy as defined by legislation. In an age of “reconciliation” (whatever that means to you), this is an important read for anyone seeking to know why and how social inequalities persist for Indigenous communities. Not only identifying problems with the Act, Joseph also explains why Indigenous self-determination would result in a better country for every Canadian. He dissects the complex issues around truth and reconciliation, and clearly demonstrates why learning about the Indian Act’s cruel, enduring legacy is essential for the country to move toward true reconciliation. Though it may seem a heavy topic, it is divided into sections that allow you to easily pick up and put down the book whenever you need to.

WishTree, Katherine Applegate

This is one of those books that is probably for kids, but appeals to adults who are still in touch with a solid sense of childlike wonderment. For those who are interested in a quick (you can probably finish this book in one bath or relaxing afternoon) , but impactful read, this one is for you. The story is based on the cultural phenomenon or understanding of “Wishing Trees,” which are individual trees that are used as places or objects of wishes or offerings depending on the local tradition. The story is narrated by the Tree itself, who observes its neighbourhood goings on, including a Muslim family moving in. This story has a marvellous animal and human cast. Helping Red in the quest for neighbourhood peace is a menagerie of animals that call the tree home and whose interactions add another layer to this story about the pleasures and difficulties of overcoming differences. The book is beautifully illustrated and sure to be enjoyed by almost any audience.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris

The only author who can make me laugh more than Sedaris is Douglas Adams – I mean laughing out loud on the bus with people looking at me askance. Similar to Ozeki, I highly suggest checking out his audiobooks as he reads all of them, sometimes recorded live on an authors tour, giving real depth and life to each story…which it should as each story is a sarcastically funny, brutally honest, and touching reflection of his life with his family, partner, the art of writing, or medical procedures (these come up quite a bit in his books!). With 26 stories to chose from, this book is great for a quick mental break when you need to gain some perspective and not take things so seriously. Luckily, he is a pretty prolific writer, so if you like this one there is plenty more to indulge in

The Sun and Her Flowers, Rupi Kaur

Poetry is pretty amazing – you don’t have to get invested in a whole story and yet it can still deeply impact you. There are so many poets out there, particularly female poets, who are subverting ideas of poetry imposed on us from high school English – Rupi Kaur is absolutely one of those folks. Following on the heels of her first collection, milk and honey, this book is a celebration of love and healing in all its forms. It is divided into five chapters: wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming.  Each poem is illustrated by the author and is rarely more than 10 lines long, meaning I spend most of my time savouring each line to keep myself from rushing through in my hunger for the next one. Highly suggested for anyone who thinks poetry is too daunting or unrelatable. (also highly suggested is watching her spoken word on youtube – poetry really comes alive when you give it a voice!)

Fifteen Dogs, Andre Alexis

You will never look at dogs the same way again! This is a humorous, elegantly written, and profound novel that explores the “gift” of human reasoning and language when they are bequeathed to a 15 dogs in a veterinary clinic by two Greek Gods in a wager. Sound ridiculous? It absolutely is, but in the best ways. This is a short read (only 160 pages), but very effectively examines what we see as universal truths about human nature by transferring consciousness and conscience to animals. Alexis masterfully dissects the discrepancies in the way humans think and feel, by posing large questions, such as: What is happiness? And what makes a life truly fulfilled? What is the role of love in a good life?

Happy Reading! Have suggestions for books or responses to these? Lets us know at sentineleditor@selkirkstudents.ca