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.