Originally published in The Aquinian on February 19, 2019.
I want to address concerns that have been brought to my attention about flyers that appear to have been circulated on campus last week with the Canadian Federation of Students brand.
To begin, I want to be clear: the conversation about access to postsecondary education in New Brunswick is hardly new for students at St. Thomas. New Brunswick is not some backwater province that those pretending to speak for our students can simply walk into and insist unfaithfully that they know everything. Maybe that works elsewhere, but a well-established debate exists here, with informed players - including student leaders, policy makers, and legislators - and has been a priority in political discussions for years. To come here now and suggest that the New Brunswick postsecondary community doesn’t know how to talk about affordability is laughable and should indicate to all students that these individuals are not serious about the overall wellbeing of students.
Student leaders in this province know firsthand the issues of access and affordability in New Brunswick; these are the students who are best positioned to speak to these issues and advocate on behalf of current and future St. Thomas students and our counterparts. Six generations of student leaders have fought so that New Brunswick now provides free tuition to low- and middle-income students. These programs ensure that students in the most need receive financial support through upfront, non-repayable grants. Last year alone, almost half of STU students received these grants.
Therefore, it would be a betrayal of St. Thomas’ students to adopt an inherently regressive approach to student aid - especially when we have fought to establish a tuition relief scheme in New Brunswick which experts have labelled one of the most progressive in the world.
Make no mistake: these flyers are advocating for free tuition for students from the wealthiest families. No cooked up tax scheme by these individuals would overcome the fact that while the poorest students would still struggle with housing, books, and living costs, the wealthiest students would benefit more than they were before.
While this new government looks to trim expenditures, the STUSU and its partners at the NBSA will continue to fight to secure free tuition for the most marginalized students. We will not ask the government to entertain the ludicrous notion that New Brunswick’s poorest students should subsidise its richest. These are not the values of the St. Thomas community.
A misplaced fixation on universality - with no evidence that this particular approach improves access - suggests a bankruptcy of creativity in developing access policies. Last week, the STUSU and our partners across the province took meetings with various players in the postsecondary sector to fight for New Brunswick students. We are pushing government to upgrade the infrastructure of our public institutions to make our campuses more physically, socially, and academically accessible. We continue to seek financial support to expand mental health services for students, and we are insisting on a legislative framework to combat and mitigate sexual violence on campus.
While we do this, individuals would choose to spread misinformation - about the STUSU, about the values of the St. Thomas community, and about me personally. I refute this approach. That sort of ‘representation’ is inadequate for St. Thomas’ students.
Instead, on behalf of our community and our students, the STUSU and our partners at the NBSA and CASA will remain committed to advocating for greater access to the postsecondary sector. We will continue to challenge and breakdown income barriers for low-income and first-generation students. We will continue to stand up for marginalized students. We will continue to be the voice of students who need the most support from their student union and their university.
Brianna Workman, St. Thomas University Students’ Union President