Image by K. Ho

Ivan Leonce’s Teach-In Speech: “That’s not consultation; that’s notice”

Thank you so much for having me speak, and there’s so much to speak to but so little time, so I’m just going to dive right into it and share my thoughts on two things today.

The first is on what the university will have you believe is a “democratic” consultation process. A process, in which, and I quote the university here, “your voice counts”.

But will it really?

Is it really a democratic consultation process when the university has already decided what the problem is (that we’re behind on charging our students), how they’re going to fix it (increase student fees) and exactly how long it is going to take them to convince us that they’re right (30 days)? All of this before bringing us into the loop .

That’s not consultation; that’s notice.

I implore you to ask yourselves, better yet, ask the university – how long have they been sitting on this? How long have they had to look at the situation, the data, to gather the information, to think about it and talk about it, discuss it and come up with a decision on the best way forwards.

30 days? I don’t know about you, but, I very much doubt it.

And they know, that in those 30 days we have midterms and papers, scholarship requirements and jobs, families to take of, lives.

They know that anything less than the time they have had, any less resources, any less information – is insufficient. They trust that we trust them to make the best decisions for us. We shouldn’t.

UBC touts itself as a university that attracts the best and brightest minds from around the world, we are told that we are among the most brilliant and critically thinking students out there. Yet we are being treated like sheep, undeserving of equal participation in decision making, incapable of autonomy.

You see, I imagine a better process.

A process where we are the key decision makers on issues that ultimately are about and affect us, the students. A process where, when the university has a problem, we collaborate on the solution, we have access to the same data, the same information, we have the same time, we discuss together from day one on how to overcome it.

Not a one where we are thrown a ridiculous 4 step infographic on how increasing tuition will somehow benefit students, an infographic that erases the students that the increase will not benefit, the students that this increase will harm.

That’s the second thing I wanted to talk to you about.

It’s easy for the university to decide that increasing fees is the best way forward when they are so very far removed from the consequences of that increase.

When they are so very far removed from the reality of being a poor, queer, international student of colour. I am already facing a number of barriers to education as it is. I can’t fathom how much more difficult it would have been if I had to pay 10% more tuition and 20% more for housing in my first year. Can you?

I’m not usually one for absolutes, but, I promise you, at least for me, it would have been impossible.

Education and affordable housing is a right, not a privilege.

But the university is slowly changing that for us.

Every 100 dollars pegged on to tuition means 100 less poor students attending UBC.

Every hike in housing fees means more people of colour moving 3 hours away from campus.

And for what?

To raise “the value” of our degree?

Let me break that logic down real quick for you:

The value of a UBC degree is only relative to the value of degrees from other universities.

The value of a UBC degree is only relative to the status of not having that degree, or any degree.

That is where the university and I agree.

But this is where we don’t.

When the path to value is through increased fees. It is the poorest students who suffer. It is the poorest students who become unable to cross those checkpoints of 10% and 20%.
It is the poorest students who become unable to attend UBC.

Sure.

Many of us will get by, by being forced into sex work or back into abusive families and relationships, back to a life of harm and horror that I promise you,  the UBC administration have either never experienced or have the luxury of forgetting about.

But for most of us, that too will not be enough.

And maybe the university is on to something, maybe increasing tuition can increase the “value of our degree”. Maybe higher tuition will mean higher value

But what of the students that can’t afford high tuition.

What of the students who can’t afford a UBC degree.

Since we’ve already agreed that value is relative…

What will be the value of their degree?

Funded by the tuition of the poorest students.

Funded by the lowest tuitions.

What happens when there universities follow UBC’s excellent example of raising tuition to raise value.

What will be the value of those without university degrees.

You don’t have to look far… Ask yourselves, how does society value *you*, how is UBC treating *you* right now, how much do *you* get paid.

I know my time is short, so I’ll leave you with a quick joke I shared with my friends the other day. We were saying that it’s funny how UBC is always quick to congratulate us on overcoming so many barriers to our education, yet find no qualms in building these barriers themselves.  And I said that it’s starting to feel like we’re in the Hunger Games and the students are all the capitol’s prized victors.

We laughed, sure, but none of us denied the truth of that comparison.

I don’t know about you, but I for one am tired of being paraded about like some kind of infantilized token incapable of actual autonomy.

We are told that we are leaders, we are told that we are change makers, that we are the ones who are best equipped to solve the problems that our predecessors could not …

It is time for UBC to start treating us like it, and it is time for us to start demanding that we are.

Thank you, good luck with your midterms.


 

Ivan is a member of Colour Connected Against Racism, an AMS resource group that provides support and information to students who feel alienated and disempowered due to discrimination. They organize events on various issues pertaining to peoples of colour, and lobby the University and other institutions to implement necessary changes. 

  • Maneo Mohale

    Thank you so much for this, Ivan.