Lack of school spirit a downer, but not without cause

Nov. 26, 2015 might seem like eons ago to most students, but for UVic Pride it may still sting. On that day, the school-wide referendum on a proposed fee increase by $0.74 per semester for full-time students and $0.37 per semester for part-time students resulted in a 54.2 per cent “no” majority, leaving Pride “surprised and disheartened” and no doubt wondering why 83 per cent of the student population failed to show up to the polls. For weeks before the day of the vote there were posters, flyers, and chalk drawings all over campus, not to mention a booth at Petch Fountain and a “Voteline Bling” parody video circulating on Facebook.

But there’s a simple answer to the lack of turnout: students didn’t care. It might be hard to hear, but it’s the truth. UVic is a school of millennials; for the most part we’re oblivious, apathetic, and incredibly self-centered (and if you’re offended by this sentence, you’re proving my point). Low turnout in referendums, elections, and sports events has been a chronic problem: last spring the school was plastered with posters of potential directors-at-large and executive directors, but only 19 per cent of the student population voted then, and only 17 per cent six weeks ago. Every time there’s a sports game, there’s sure to be a Vikes Nation tent and awkward classroom or dorm invasions by overeager ambassadors, but other than home openers, empty seats at Centennial Stadium or CARSA are a given. A lack of awareness isn’t the problem. When the entrances to almost every building on campus are coated with posters and the Bibliocafé is littered with flyers, it’s hard not to notice that something’s going on. But how do you make people care?

One thing the Liberal party prided themselves on during the last federal election was their ability to connect with everyday Canadians, and while that might sound like vague politi-speak, it worked. While the Conservatives hammered attack ads through TV screens and Stephen Harper fear-mongered from podiums, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals went door to door and met everyday people. The moral of the story being: if you want more votes, you need to personally engage voters. The same goes for sports events. Gimmicky carnival games and cheap prizes aren’t going to create any sort of meaningful investment in varsity athletics. Students at UVic are looking for a sense of belonging, not a free pizza (although I wouldn’t say no to either). What will get them into the bleachers is a friend who wants them to be there, not just an ambassador who sees them as someone to fill out the numbers.

Surprisingly, the Pride referendum had very little in the way of personal stories. You’d think that a community such as the LGBTQ one at UVic would be chock full of amazing stories of courage and struggle, stories that — had they been told — could’ve not only increased the vote count but increased UVic’s empathy as a whole. Perhaps instead of Drake parodies and endless Facebook GIFs, what people really needed was human interaction.

Students in 2015 are peppered with social media, posters, emails, and texts non-stop. But real human interaction isn’t as common as it used to be. At almost any given time on campus, there are students who are bored and lonely and pretending to study, scrolling through their news feeds. Find them and talk to them. They might not care about whatever issue you’re promoting, but by adding a human aspect to the endless signage, they’ll be forced to see things differently. At the very least, next time you want my $0.74, give me your two cents.

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Our Skeptical Spirit: A Response

Dear Mr. Ogden,

After reading you latest article about Millennial apathy, I felt compelled to respectfully tell you that you’re wrong. I won’t speak to sporting at UVic, but I would like to address the Pride referendum. I understand your frustration at the inaction you see from our peers, and why you view inaction as apathy. If a cause is important, and you know about it, yet you don’t participate, than you must not care, right? Your rationale makes sense, but you are incorrect.

A growing body of research challenges the assumption that we (Millennials) are apathetic, such as the “Message Not Delivered” report from Samara Canada. The report found that Millennials are actually quite engaged and educated on social and political issues. However, we are skeptical. We feel alienated from old political systems that don’t seem to offer real change. These systems often allow incompetence (and sometimes even corruption) to flourish. Sure, Trudeau “connected” with young voters last election. It wasn’t just because he dispelled their apathy by reaching out to them on a personal level though. Mulcair and Harper were reaching out to youth too, in their own ways. So why did Trudeau succeed where these other two failed?

Part of what set Trudeau from these other two leaders was that he seemed to be promising real, believable change. He was offering an outline of how he would fix our old, broken system. Youth want a government system that works, but we know the government system we have now generally doesn’t work, so we don’t participate. Trudeau didn’t need to awaken us to the issues in this election. We are very aware of the problems Canada faces economically, environmentally, socially, and democratically. We care enough to spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years furthering that awareness at university. Years of broken promises and scandals from politicians have made us warry though. Trudeau didn’t overcome our apathy, because we aren’t apathetic. He overcame
our healthy and well-founded skepticism of the Federal political system. Trudeau succeeded where others failed because he offered what appeared to be the best hope for change.

We will see if the hope placed in Trudeau leads to the promised change. In the meantime though, lessons from the election can be applied in students’ societies like the UVSS. Society fees are high, and many students feel our organizations are ineffective at best, or are doomed to end up like Kwantlen at worst. Further, while UVSS directors are in my experience wonderful people, their recent gaffs haven’t gone unnoticed by the student body. Many students are concerned that our winner-take-all, slate-dominated, single-term system is not effective at holding our officials accountable. Students want an open conversation about accountability, funding priorities, and how our society is run. Therefore, it’s understandable that they are skeptical about a “business as usual” approach when it comes to another fee increase.
In Nova Scotia, a recent report on student government recommended changes to help increase transparency, accountability, and responsiveness. These are the kind of changes most students want to see at the UVSS. Until it happens, personal appeals to participate in the society will have little effect because we lack confidence in the underlying system. Restore that confidence though, and students will come out and vote. Mr. Ogden, when we can believe in the system, then you will see our spirit.

Best,

D.

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Joke of an article. Insult your reader base, bring politics into a conversation about school spirit, fail to mention that there was a “with us or against us” attitude and end by saying that you should force others to see things differently.

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