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A Year of Advocacy in Review

2020 has been a year that some might like to forget, but I think it is important to reflect on what this year has given to us. For many, it was the opportunity to go back to school, as shown in AU’s record-breaking enrollment numbers! It’s fantastic to see so how so many AU students have embraced this adversity and challenged themselves academically to meet their personal and professional goals. I want to send out a huge AUSU welcome, not only to those members who have adapted and made the decision to join us, but also to those who persevered through a year of so much uncertainty to continue their educational journey.

AU Campus in Athabasca, Alberta

I cannot help to reflect on all AUSU has accomplished this year despite the world looking so very different. Through our partnership with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) we were able to advocate directly to key decision makers for supports for students during this pandemic. With the federal governments doubling the grants they currently offer, many students were able to start and even continue with their studies this year.

CASA meeting with Honourable Shaun Chen

This year, AUSU also joined the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) to further advocate on behalf of AU students. As funding for post-secondary institutions belongs with the provincial government, no matter where you are studying as an AU student, decisionmakers in Alberta have a direct impact on your experience. While we have only been a member for around 6 months, we were able take part in some really fantastic initiatives. These included a socially distanced protest coined the Penguins for PSE which garnered international attention. We also hosted a student congress where post-secondary students from all over the province met online to discuss concerns, hopes, and their vision on what post-secondary education should look like and helped to solidify advocacy priorities in the future.

Alberta Student Leaders Conference 2020
CAUS Counterparts Fall meeting
Penguin protest at the Alberta Legislature

This year students faced their own hardships. One priority when the pandemic hit was to ensure learners had the flexibility needed to complete their courses. This included advocating for course extensions, flexible assessment options, and emergency supports. AUSU was able to contribute to two rounds of Emergency $1,000 Bursary’s AU offered which helped close to 500 students. As AU transitions into a new Integrated Learning Environment, we continue to advocate to ensure students are included in this transformational process.

Even with these challenges, AUSU remains committed to creating welcoming and safe spaces for our members to come and help us with our advocacy and initiatives. After we identified the need for diversity and inclusion in both ours and AU’s spaces we developed our own Equity, Diversity and Inclusion policy and committee.  Our 2SLGBTQ+ discord channel also launched in December. Additionally, I am proud to say that AUSU council has approved an Indigenous Student Circle which will be formed in the next couple of months.

Another project that was dear to my heart was the launching of AUSU’s Virtual Food Assistance program. Food insecurity is an issue for post-secondary students all over the country. Many students have access to resources like food banks, on their own campuses. This was an initiative I wanted to see moved into our virtual campus to ensure that those in need have access to the nutrition they need to support their learning. There is a misconception that AU students are all fully employed and therefore do not have a need for such resources, but with the rising costs of tuition, housing, and other necessities, food insecurity can happen to anyone, and this program will help to shed some light on AU students’ circumstances and help us to better advocate on their behalf.

Finally, AUSU was able to support our members through doubling all of our own awards and bursaries. We launched a virtual trivia night where we could connect as a community and (honestly the best part), win some prizes!

This year was marked by so many challenges, but I am proud of all that we were able to accomplish.