If you’re a student at Waterloo, you know what’s up. I am writing for two reasons. First, I want to take a public position on this issue, and explain why I am voting the way I am. Secondly, I want to stress the importance of making an informed, thoughtful decision guided by facts---not words that are meant to whip people up in a frenzy and everybody’s voting, but nobody actually knows why they’re voting the way they are. I guess I’m asking whoever reads this to ask themselves how informed they really are. You might think that this referendum is simply about the existence of one organization, but it is much more than that. It is about the people we want to be and the values we want to uphold at Waterloo.
As a former member and chair of WiCS undergraduate, this is why I support WPIRG.
WiCS undergraduate branched off from the faculty “big” WiCS committee with the aim of “maintaining its ideological independence”, according to its founder. Now, we primarily receive funding from MathSoc (for events that are open to all students), and the faculty committee “big” WiCS (for our Big CSters events).
Suppose WiCS undergraduate wanted to run a women-only computer science workshop for non-CS majors. Big WiCS would not fund us since we are not directly benefitting the students of SCS. MathSoc would not fund us because it is a women-only event. BlackBerry or Google might fund us, but not without asking us to display their logo, promote their brand, and essentially affiliate ourselves with them.
Suppose we wanted to run an event openly discussing the current interview process and its flaws. $big-tech-company would certainly not fund us, as creators of that process. Big WiCS would probably not fund us, since the faculty often works with and supports those companies. If we chose to make the event women-only, MathSoc would not fund us either.
These are examples of events that promote our values of technical excellence, accountability and inclusivity, for which is it not as easy to secure funding. In these situations, WPIRG would fund us. They are our only independent source of funding. It is through them that we are able to provide our services, independent of the agendas of external groups. It is the only organization that I have seen to fully and wholeheartedly support our cause, over the past year that I have been involved with the committee.
As a student at Waterloo, this is why I support WPIRG.
It is an an organization that protests the hike of international tuition, runs feminism-for-men events, assists students that have been misled by landlords (most recently, ICON), funds the Aboriginal Students Association, the Muslim Students Association, UW Students For Justice In Pakistan, UW Black Association for Student Expression, to name only a few. These are groups serving to protect the rights, the voices, the interests of severely underrepresented and marginalized communities in our societies that receive support and funding from WPIRG, free of any conditions and stipulations. It baffles me that the Opt In movement calls any of this replaceable or redundant.
If WPIRG loses this vote, there will be no any way to make the fee “opt in” on Quest. The organization will be defunded, and these organizations, many of whom are primarily funded by WPIRG will not exist the way they did before.
This entire campaign has left a bad taste in my mouth, more because of the ugliness and abuse that gave birth to it than anything else. I know perfectly well meaning and friendly people that support Opt-In, but I am vastly uncomfortable with the people who are the faces of this campaign. Their engagement with people who do not align themselves with them is rude and borderline abusive. This movement was born out of a hate campaign towards a student who had their facebook comments plastered on the [front page of the school newspaper (http://imgur.com/nhoLV6q) and still continues to receive online abuse for a mistake that they have repeatedly apologized for.
These are not people I would like as my leaders. These are not the people I want representing me.
WPIRG is not a perfect organization, devoid of problems. But the question here isn’t if WPIRG is flawed. The question is if we think if those flaws merit a complete dissolution of this organization — a stance that is absurd and extremist.
Some students might feel like they don’t have a strong enough opinion and decide to abstain from voting. Some organizations might decide that they are going to remain politically neutral, aiming to refrain from hurting or helping either side. There might be those who think that as students who don’t directly benefit from WPIRG, they shouldn’t be asked to pay a fee. Even worse, there might be many students who are painfully misinformed, consuming only the content that the fine subreddit of my university churns out on an hourly basis, or the paltry four illogical points on which this entire campaign has been erected.
But passiveness in this situation is actively harmful. When we refuse to speak, we are giving a voice to those that want to dissolve an organization that exists to protect the underprivileged. When we do not educate ourselves and rely on those that scream “student independence”, “social justice warriors”, “control where your dollars go”, and “politically radical”, we risk casting votes that mean nothing, votes that were never ours to begin with.
We cannot afford to give power to a group that trivializes the the significance of an organization like WPIRG. We cannot afford to be bystanders. We cannot afford to be ignorant.