URSU talks rallies, remote work, and rights

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Back in my day, going to class meant hiking up 10 flights of stairs at 8 a.m. URSU logo/Jeremy Davis manipulated by Kate Thiessen

A look at what your students’ union has been up to since their AGM

As the uncertainty of the pandemic continues, the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) plans on combatting student concerns. The current and temporary shift to online learning came with the cancellation of Winter Welcome Week on campus. While many of the events were cancelled, one virtual event commenced with the visitation of Senator Mobina Jaffer.

Hannah Tait, president of URSU, said that there has never been a better time to combat student uncertainty. Many international students have travelled across the globe before learning that the decision was made for classes to temporarily transfer to online learning. “Our job is to kind of complement and extend the services provided by the residences,” said Tait.

Other methods to aid international students include attempts to lower skyrocketing tuition fees. Plans to have a tuition freeze rally aimed for the beginning of February have been temporarily stalled until better programming has been instated for a safe rally. URSU General Manager Talha Akbar explains:

“One of the priorities from the annual general meeting we held last semester was around international students and creating an international student caucus and fighting for international student rights and against tuition fees for international students. We did plan a rally for February 2 around freezing tuition fees franchise with students, international students were working both on our executive on our board and students that are that have been cheering are adamant that we find a way to make that rally up. And again, COVID-pending and with obvious precaution, social distancing…if you look at the tuition fees for international students and across the board are increasing at unbelievable rates.”

The University of Regina temporarily froze tuition during the 2020-2021 academic year, but increased tuition once again in the Fall of 2021. Akbar continues to explain how high tuition rates can put students into difficult or unmanageable situations:

“It’s really important that we all build solidarity. We are trying to make sure that international students’ concerns are acknowledged, and have their voices raised about high tuition rates. On average, there is a lot of interest on tuition, which is incredibly problematic. It leads to a lot of students who end up in like very precarious work situations because of how high the tuition fees are.”  

Other services that URSU is providing to help student include URSU Cares, which provides food support through the community fridge and pantry, URSU Thrifts, which provides clothing for cold winter months, and emergency bursaries which are available through application on the URSU website that can aid students in urgent situations.

Previously, rapid tests were available at the front desk and Akbar said that they are working towards getting more to give out to students. Students are welcome to check if they have secured more at the front desk. Lysol wipes are also available for students who would like to wipe down surfaces they work at or to keep for emergency.

“We are continuing to do consultations with students,” said Tait. “We have done consultations with our board, a lot of society presidents – or, all of the society presidents, as well as individual students, student groups, as well as ensuring that a lot of students have that opinion. We are actually preparing a couple different ways to provide more opportunities for feedback for students who are going to go and write an email full of concerns. We are going to have that feedback option available.”

Gauging different concerns is of the upmost priority to Tait. URSU student halls are a time when students can go and talk with Tait alongside the rest of the executive board about concerns relating to any aspect of academic life or livelihood around campus.

“We did shift to remote work once again,” Tait mentioned, including the URSU student halls. “We were going to fully open the office in a semester, but with the temporary shift to online learning we had to go back to remote work. That doesn’t mean there’s still some folks working in the office, I’m still in the office and students, like essential student[AD1]  staff are working still. We have no intention of laying off any staff. We are trying to support as many of our student staff as possible and our staff to make sure that there is no, there’s no issues, but also, we want to ensure their safety. So, for right now, like we did have to make the decision to go into remote work or that hybrid type of model.”

Employees on the executive board are required to work 30 hours per week in-office but, because of the pandemic, employees have been allowed to fill their hours while working at home. Executive hours can be found on the URSU website, though we’ve been informed some may be temporarily unavailable while the previous month’s hours are being filled.

Long awaited campus life has been halted while proper precautionary protocols are put in place. With minimal students on campus, the Lazy Owl has been temporarily closed to keep transmission rates low. The Lazy Owl was only open until 7 p.m. in the evenings during the fall term to compensate with low volumes of students. It was planned that there would be a grand re-opening for the Lazy Owl with extended hours until 11 p.m., however this has been temporarily pushed back until case numbers lower.

Akbar explained that there are plans to manage current uncertainties. “We are exploring hours and we’re figuring out how we will continue operation, whether it’s going to be like a delivery model or like a pickup type of situation. We are watching Omicron really carefully and putting efforts into working with like local vendors to see our delivery options and things like that as well.”

URSU is not only advocating for a safe return to campus, but also a safe return to in-person learning. Tait pointed out that mandatory in-person participation marks may deter students from staying home if they are having symptoms of COVID-19.

“We are concerned that some of those participation marks or mandatory attendance is going to be encouraging people who have symptoms or have COVID-19, it’s going to encourage them to come to class. Ensuring that our syllabuses aren’t encouraging sick people to come to campus is very important,” said Tait. Students are encouraged to reach out to URSU if their syllabi mention mandatory attendance or class participation so that proper safety protocols can be ensured for students.

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