Student associations must be involved in development of free speech policies
Post-secondary institutions enable opportunities for thought and discussion, diversifying the academic experience outside of the classroom.
However, the mandated introduction of a free speech policy in Ontario’s post-secondary system omitted those directly affected by this policy—post-secondary students.
Student leaders, specifically members of on-campus student associations, must be meaningfully involved throughout the policy development process and in the subsequent conversations regarding recommendations to improve the policies.
We deserve the opportunity to protect the students we were elected to represent.
The future leaders of our province are currently dispersed throughout Ontario’s post-secondary sector, working diligently to create safe, healthy, and reputable student bodies and campuses.
The involvement of student leaders is of paramount importance. Institutions need our insight, feedback, and concern to accurately determine the success of an on-campus free speech policy as we are the first ones to feel, and see, the policy’s impact.
Should institutions ignore the need for involving students, they risk creating an unreflective and inefficient policy that has serious implications toward funding, education, and the overall college experience.
Refusing to include students could create unnecessary tension between student associations, student groups and the institution, while potentially tarnishing the reputation of the institution itself.
The opposition between student associations and the institutions may disrupt ongoing financial negotiations, or be used as collateral for compliance, creating a dangerous precedent for students and student associations alike.
We know operational funding for institutions will be restricted should institutions and student associations not comply with new policies.
Though the government correlated penalization with the severity of non-compliance, no definitive measures as to how this would materialize have been established.
As a result, institutions may demand more authority or oversight on student events, student clubs, and guest presenters.
This would stifle our free speech.
Students know best. To limit the dangers of losing crucial funding and to encourage safe campuses, institutions cannot compromise on involving students – including minority, LGBTQ2, and international students—in policy development. Student associations are most familiar with how their student body reacts and participates in events, campaigns and advocacy efforts.
The government and institutions must recognize students as leaders in the development of policy around free speech.
Brittany Greig is the president of the College Student Alliance, which has advocated on behalf of Ontario college students in partnership with student leaders for over 40 years.