Updates and Statements
Updates and Statements
We wanted to give a big thank you to everyone who participated in our Student Solidarity activities this past week. With your help, we gathered just under 800 student signatures calling on the College to do better when it comes to students. Your Students’ Union coordinated between Kelowna, Penticton, and Salmon Arm campuses to ask our institution to put students first and asked you to lend your support. In addition to the events on November 2nd, we also presented to the OC Leadership council on Friday, October 28th, outlining the challenges students are facing. Moreover, we received a letter of support from the OC Faculty Association (OCFA), as well as local and national coverage. On Friday, November 4, the OCSU hand delivered the signed letters to President Neil Fassina.
This past Sunday, November 6, the OCSU Board had the opportunity to meet in person with both OC President Neil Fassina and VP Students Meri Kim Oliver. During our regular board meeting, we discussed a range of issues that impact OC students. Since the board had already scheduled for Meri Kim to attend this meeting well in advance of our Student Solidarity events on November 2nd most of our questions were focused on the VP Students portfolio. The President did the majority of the talking on behalf of OC. This meeting was just shy of 90 minutes, and we appreciate that Meri Kim and Neil took the time on Sunday to join us on campus to discuss issues we have raised. The President and VP Students answered most of the board’s questions thoroughly, though we feel it is safe to say that both parties know there is still much work to be done.
Here are the questions asked of Okanagan College Leadership by your elected student representatives.
Going forward, we plan to continue to meet with OC Leadership. We believe that one day of action is only the beginning. From here, we hope to sit down with the President and the other college leaders to see where our two organizations can come together and make sure student voices are heard and taken seriously. We recognize Okanagan College is severely underfunded – at around 56% – by the government. Thus we are also committed to meeting with Okanagan Members of the Legislative Assembly and communicating with the Minister of Advanced Education, Anne Kang, to ensure our elected Government representatives understand the needs and situations of students – their constituents.
We will also continue to engage directly with you, our members. We will still provide services, advocacy, and events for you to ensure that you have the best post-secondary experience possible. We will forge ahead to raise awareness for the Fund It Fix It campaign, and Fairness for International Students campaign. We ask you, our membership, to keep signing pledges and petitions. Student action works! Together we can accomplish amazing things, like the recent removal of interest on federal student loans. If we remain committed together, we can ensure that student needs, such as affordable and predictable international fees, and affordable food options are met.
The OCSU is asking its members to join us in a Student Solidarity Walk Out on November 2nd at 10:30am because Okanagan College is leaving students out of conversations and decisions; because Okanagan College has abandoned its historic student-centered values; and because Okanagan College has had a steep decline of quality, and student centered, delivery of services. We are gathering in the courtyard and will be making a public statement to students of OC, OC leadership, and the BC Government about our four demands of Okanagan College:
Students are encouraged to wear all black, submit pre-drafted letters to OC leadership, the Board of Governors, and the Ministry of Advanced Education, and to stand in solidarity with each other and OCSU in asking our institution to do better for its students. OCSU student reps will begin the event with a march past the President and Executive offices in the S-Building at 10:25am. All students are welcome to march with us from there, or they can join us outside in the courtyard at 10:30.
We sincerely hope we can count on your support, the more students who stand with us, the more likely we will be able to enact change.
This speech was presented to the Okanagan College Leadership Council on Friday, October 28 by OCSU Federation Representative/Kelowna Chairperson Maxine Cristobal and Executive Chairperson Jennifer Gullins.
We are here today on behalf of our members from the Kelowna, Penticton and Salmon Arm campuses to present to you the needs and concerns of our peers, your students at OC. As elected representatives, we feel that our members are the heartbeat of our institution and our goal today is to shed light on the topics that we know can make direct changes and have positive impacts for our peers. Without students there is no OC, and if we can all agree on that, then we should be able to work together to address the needs of students.
Our presentation will sound a little different from the others you have heard today. We aren’t ‘pitching’ ideas for earmarked funds, rather we are bringing concerns from our peers directly to this table and we are asking for a demonstrated support of students, as a priority of this organization. Our hope is that we can work together to ensure the students of Okanagan College are receiving the respect, resources, and care they deserve.
Last year we presented on a wide range of topics and made many suggestions. Some of which were acted on, and some we feel have not been satisfactorily addressed and so we are bringing them back to your table. We also surveyed our student members directly about how they felt about some of the services provided by OC and we will be sharing portions of their feedback later today.
First, there are a few concerning themes that we will be speaking on, such as Okanagan College leaving students out of conversations and decisions, Okanagan College abandoning its historic student-centered values, and Okanagan College seeing a steep decline in quality and student-centered delivery of services.
When we say that Okanagan College is leaving students out of conversations and decisions, we mean that there has been a recent change in removing student observers from the College Board of Governors. These important roles were a symbol of transparency between the actions of the Board in front of an audience that included students, students who held a seat at the table. This is a sizable institution and removing students, even those who are not voting members, means that communication lines are thinned and valuable feedback may be missed. Transparency at all levels of an institution is vital, and the swift removal of Student Board Observers is troubling when no alternative option was presented, nor was it ever identified as a problem.
When we say that Okanagan College is leaving students out of conversations and decisions, we mean there is now no appropriate or meaningful consultations with student groups on tuition fee decisions and financial outlook of OC. For years our organizations have participated in a meaningful presentation that was planned weeks in advance, included many students, and was a space for productive dialogue. This year all we were given was a quick zoom check in with an audience of one with no context leading up to the meeting. This was not a consultation, nor was it transparent.
When we say that Okanagan College is leaving students out of conversations and decisions, we mean it is counter-intuitive to refuse to accommodate student schedules for institutional committee work. If student feedback is vital for effective decision making within these groups, then student time and schedules need to be equally valued. Students are trying to participate in committees by giving up their already limited free time. However, it is challenging for students to feel included in meaningful conversations if we are treated like second-tier committee members with schedules considered too complicated to work around.
When we say Okanagan College has abandoned its student-centered values we mean that increasing international fees for the sake of “staying competitive” with other institutions is unjustified. The Board of Governors was recently advised to approve an increase of 8.6% for international student tuition fees effective September 2023. That is an increase of hundreds of extra dollars for each student to come up with next year. Previously there was a trend of steady increases of 3%, so we feel justified in our concern over this reckless disregard for students when we saw how crippled many institutions were when international student enrollment declined. It’s speculation on the backs of international students. That’s inherently unfair and ethically questionable. We can appreciate that you feel as though the government has forced your hand to rely on students who happen to be from a different geographical location to help fill the underfunding dilemma. Regardless, this spike in tuition fees is unjust on students that are already paying more than their fair share. You need to demand the Board of Governors cancel the 8.6% international fee increase in favour of a more reasonable and equitable solution.
When we say Okanagan College has abandoned its student-centered values we mean that the sudden and unexplained vanishing of the cafeteria and subsequent replacement with the Okanagan Market means that the only options for students are expensive local vendors instead of student-friendly priced ones. It does not appear that the decision to remove this vital service was made for any reason other than potential cost savings and the communication plan was abysmal. While we recognize that the provincial government continues to underfund post-secondary institutions, it is your responsibility to ensure that students have access to affordable food options on campus. There are more appropriate ways to find cost savings than a service that both employed students, and fed the campus community at a student friendly price to boot. We encourage you to re-open the cafeteria and abandon the Okanagan market concept. This service was a pillar for meeting students where they were at, where students could afford food and felt comfortable to linger in a space for them.
When we say Okanagan College has abandoned its student-centered values we mean that we implored leadership to join us in directly lobbying the provincial government to improve the Post-secondary education funding structure by publicly endorsing the Fund It Fix It campaign, but we were told this would not happen. We were confused when this initiative was flatly declined last year because this lobbying action would inherently improve your own financial situation. This minimal lobby effort on your part could change the lives of your students, and the potential of future students for years to come. It’s the lowest hanging fruit to support students, so once again, we implore you to reconsider.
We can acknowledge that those were some hard truths to swallow. These are uncomfortable topics, and we have no doubt that you will want to spend the question period defending your inactions. But the fact of the matter is that students don’t want to hear excuses, and students see that there is chronic inaction at this institution to do equitable work. However, these uncomfortable topics are your calls to action, and students want to see demonstrated change in the ways you care for, and hopefully still value, them. A series of small changes for the betterment of students instead of a focus on cost-saving measures is our recommendation for prioritizing the year ahead.
We know that you as leaders hold a considerable amount of power when it comes to supporting the needs of students and can make real, tangible positive change. Here are our suggestions for improvements based on direct student feedback on some of your existing services at the college.
We recently conducted a survey of over 300 students studying in Kelowna to gather their insight into a variety of on-campus services, including our own. What we learned is that students are facing immense challenges, and are struggling. We are hopeful that the feedback we provide you with now will inspire you to put dollars into action. We know that the decisions of funding departments are within your portfolio and we encourage you to strongly consider placing effective student support at the forefront of all decisions going forward.
We present on the vital nature of the counselling department every year, and while we do acknowledge that positive changes have occurred, there is still lots of room for improvement. A few years ago the introduction of a limit of 10 counselling sessions per student occurred. This change had good intentions and to help reduce the workload on a team far too small to support the number of students in Kelowna. However, what we hear from students is that they are now so afraid to access this service and use up their 10 session limit that they are now avoiding this service until they reach a possible crisis.
Here are some quotes from students regarding the counselling department:
“I was told I only have 10 free sessions, so I don’t want to run out if I really need them in the future. I understand why only 10 are allowed but I definitely feel as though counselling is not as accessible because I do not want to run out.”
Another student said:
“I was told the waiting list was extensive and the counsellors were overworked, it does not feel like a safe space to take my trauma.”
We are certain that the introduction of the 10 appointment cap was not intended to cause fear and consequently stop students from accessing counselling, in case they might need this support. But this unintended side effect is a direct example of decreased student support.
It appears the vast majority of students who reach their 10 appointment cap are referred to the Foundry, which is a great alternative service, but is only available to students under 25. We will repeat our message to you that counselling is understaffed and the 10 appointment limit remains a barrier to students. The fewer barriers students face the more room for success they will have, which means more graduates and more funding for you.
We also wanted to flag for your attention that culturally sensitive counselling services will be required down the road not only for increasing numbers, and supporting current international students but also for an appropriate indigenization plan as well.
Finances are another stressor for students. Most students are informed of financial aid, in fact it is possibly the best advertised service at OC. Though informed, 60% of surveyed students said that they did not apply for financial aid through OC. Most students started to apply for aid but found the application process challenging, overwhelming and felt exposed, vulnerable and ashamed of their financial situation.
The intense probing nature of the applications made many students feel that this was not worth doing. This is another example of a barrier to student support. We know that OC is keen to ensure that money is not left on the table each year, yet the process leaves accessibility to be desired. If you are not familiar with the applications for financial aid within OC, we do recommend you test it out for yourself so you can understand what students undergo in order to ask for financial support. Perhaps it is time to consider a more equitable solution with a focus on restorative justice when providing financial aid.
We have witnessed our own food banks go from used fairly often to completely overrun due to the financial challenges students are facing. Everyday it’s harder for students to get by, everyday students are questioning will my budget pay for food, gas or rent? Will I work more and study less, and therefore extend my graduation timeline? We know that retention and graduation rates are incredibly important. We also know that funding is better when students are studying full-time. When considering the financial aid application process surveyed students said:
“It takes a long time compared to my other schools”
“Accessibility is the only reason I passed up applying. The process is very long and tedious, which is understandable, but as a full time student I simply didn’t have the time to deal with all of the bureaucratic processes involved.”
In our survey, 56% of students said food services are not affordable, or way too expensive for students. 20% said they avoid buying food on campus due to the high costs. Many say there is an inadequate variety on campus, and 76% believe that there is a lack of available food services. This particularly impacts students who are taking classes after 4pm. When consulted about variety, there appears to be a complete lack of offerings, including nothing much for gluten or dairy free options. Many students want to see both the Cafeteria and OC Serves Up return. If you were not aware, OC Serves up is a food security service provided by and for students on campus. It helped culinary students hone their craft, while providing other students with security to get at least one meal while they were on campus. This service was popular and helped ensure that student budgets were supported by offering free meals. These services were replaced by The Okanagan Market and expensive food trucks, which if you have eaten at either you will note that these are not reasonable options when it comes to affordability, and the food truck’s reliability is debatable.
We all love to support local businesses, however there is a time and a place where supporting local is appropriate, but this is not that time. The Okanagan Market appears to be a temporary service and gives students sticker-shock and false hope that a better solution is coming. The price point of the majority of items at the market is out of reach for many students, and this current plan vastly underserves the needs of students. Hot food made in front of you is far more appreciated than a cold pre-made to-go container ever will be. The cafeteria was once a busy bustling space, but is now uncomfortably quiet and avoided due to the apathetic nature of this service.
Both Kelowna and Penticton have seen an overhaul of leased cafes and we know that current food vendors are doing their best with services and prices, and our concerns do not lie with them.
The removal of the cafeteria in Kelowna is a challenge, but the complete loss of all food services in Salmon Arm is far worse. It has been over two years without a food provider until last week when a $3 soup & bun day was held to meet the needs of students. However, what Salmon Arm students deserve is a well thought-out long-term plan and adequate food service provisions that meet the diverse needs of these students.
The sad reality is that students are struggling, and putting up additional barriers on food services is unacceptable. The loss of the cafeteria has meant that students are even more reluctant to hang around on campus, and it’s growing harder for students to feel connected to their campus community if they feel that there is nowhere on campus for them to even grab something to eat. We all know that retention and graduation is more likely when students feel connected to their campus community. Once again the easy fix would be to reinstate the cafeteria, which would be a big improvement in the lives of students, and a positive impact on the campus community.
Students had these points to share about the food trucks and Okanagan Market:
“…The food should be ready to go for peak lunch times. The other college I attended had the culinary students making hot meals and had it ready to go for the peak lunch times. The meals were amazing and no more than $8 for anything. In my opinion that is a lot better than leasing out kiosks that charge $13 for a sandwich, It’s nothing but a cash grab”
“Food here is Expensive, the food trucks they bring in are not reasonable for students…”
“Eating here is stupidly unaffordable…for you know….broke college students…”
We could go on, but in the interest of time we will conclude here. Last year we provided you with a variety of choices to consider and options to do good for your students. Being mindful of fiscal restraint, this year we’ve simplified it. We need fresh perspectives, new ideas and solutions to the challenges we are facing today. The recent trend from current leadership has led to changes that have been detrimental to our students in order to cut costs against the bottom line. We want good meaningful change, and we know this institution is capable based on the experience and expertise of each person in this room. Cancel the 8.6% tuition fee increase on international students in favour of a more reasonable and equitable solution for international students.Equity is something you have stated as a priority in your strategic plan. This is a great place to demonstrate that you mean what you say when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion as international students are an integral part of the campus community.
Our hope is that we can continue to be collaborative going forward, and that everyone here is receptive to implementing productive change. We believe that our role is to identify service and support gaps, and that together we can improve the lives of OC students outside of the classroom. We hope that your priorities this year will see a return of students as the focus of all decision making. We are certain that great changes will be coming for the students who study here now and in the future.
Thank you for your time and action.
The Okanagan College Faculty Association supports our students in every way that we can, and even though faculty roles are diverse, we all know that our students are the heart of Okanagan College. Because of this, faculty hone and develop their teaching and support skills with student needs in mind. Today, the students protest, and their actions and concerns are front and center as they speak their needs. Faculty are here in their support, as always.
Students and faculty struggled together through the pandemic, inventing new ways to connect and learn, without much fanfare. It was hard. We did it together. The college helped give us a venue for success, with unprecedented collegial teamwork of all stakeholders working together. Participation and opportunities for key information access are being eroded beyond pre-pandemic levels when the return to in-person teaching and learning would have predicted the opposite. As Faculty Association President, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Faculty Association sees some commonalities between the concerns voiced by students, and our own experiences in the new direction the College is moving. So, when our students are declaring that they are being marginalized from key discussions on tuition increases, budget, and representation, we stand with them to support their right to be fully consulted in decisions that impact them. The role and importance of faculty and student voices forming the direction of the organization is not simply aspirational. It is legally defined in the BC College and Institutes Act and is reflected in our Board of Governors and Education Council composition.
The Counselling Services department would like to formally acknowledge the ongoing challenges that OCSU continues to face as well as the hard work and advocacy you tirelessly do on behalf of your members. On the Kelowna campus, members of our department had the privilege of attending the November 2nd Student Solidarity Walk Out, to support and stand with OCSU in challenging OC leadership to address the important concerns that you raised. Though our department has a specific campus role in supporting students, our sense is that you have identified both pragmatic and systemic concerns which negatively impact students’ personal and academic success and wellbeing.
Over the years, we have valued the collaboration with and connection to OCSU. Though OCSU and Counselling Services have different venues in which to advocate for our respective priorities, we hope it’s fair to say that we share some of the same values and goals. OCSU generously shares information that assists us with improving our services and though more could certainly be done on our end, there have been several occasions in which OCSU has collaborated with us to launch projects that support student mental health and wellness.
Our department takes some pride in the fact that OCSU asks our department challenging questions and highlights both the importance of counselling as well as some of our limitations when advocating for your members’ needs. We like to think of ourselves as a department that invites and appreciates potentially confronting perspectives and constructive criticism. We are often frustrated with the ways that students are excluded from important institutional conversations and, as (non-instructional) faculty members, we share many of the perspectives and experiences recently outlined in OCFA’s letter of support. Though our department has also been guilty, at times, of not inviting other stakeholder perspectives, it is always very exciting and resonant when OCSU membership feedback informs our departmental discussions, pilot projects, and budget proposal documents.
In the spirit of continued collaboration and transparency, we wanted to provide a note of clarification on the Counselling Services’ information presented to OC leadership council (on October 28/22). The 10 session limit, for example, was initiated at the department level, largely motivated by the value of ensuring that any OC student could access services in a timely and equitable manner and, secondly, as a way to maintain our ability to offer clinical supports in an individual appointment format (as many other PSIs have adopted service models that don’t necessarily align with our values and students’ preferences). This departmental policy was then reviewed and approved by Student Services’ administration.
We also wanted to acknowledge the timeliness and appropriateness of highlighting the need for cultural competency in our ability to support OC students and align with directions and goals of OC’s guiding documents. This issue is one that our department has certainly discussed and begun to consider more earnestly in recent years. We look forward to continued conversations with and input from OCSU as to how culturally sensitive counselling supports should be delivered and the steps and training required to ensure that this is done well. As the intent of this this letter was to express our support in these challenging times, we trust that there will be future opportunities and formats in which to discuss these and other (e.g., wait times, community referrals) operational dynamics as well as some collaborative next steps and opportunities.
With much respect and support,
-OC Counselling Services
To: Emily Carr Students’ Union, Premier David Eby, Minister Anne Kang and Honourable Selina
Cc: Emily Carr University Board of Governors & Administration
The OCSU is writing this letter of support for the student walk out by the Emily Carr Students’
Union on December 1st in opposition to the proposed increases to International Student fees for
Emily Carr international students and members of the ECSU. The Okanagan College Students’
Union strongly opposes the proposed increases to international students including 30% for new
students and 10% for returning students. International students are already paying four times
more in fees than their domestic counterparts. In 2017, international students contributed $4.15
billion in spending, created 31,400 jobs, and contributed $2.37 billion to the provincial GDP.
They are already contributing their fair share to the BC economy. This continual pillaging of
international students is discriminatory, predatory and inexcusable.
We are calling on Premier David Eby, Minister Anne Kang, and Honourable Selina Robinson to
support the BC Federation of Students, and all post-secondary students of British Columbia by
implementing legislation to regulate international student fee increases in an equitable manner
to domestic students.
We also call on our elected officials to reinvest in post-secondary education through additional
government funding which has dwindled to just 43.6% in total operating revenue, down from
more than 80% in the 1980s, and more than 90% in the 1970s. With a reported $5 Billion
surplus, this is the opportune time to support our future work force and policy makers.
The students of British Columbia have had enough of our post-secondary institutions and
government treating international students like cash cows. We stand in solidarity with the ECSU,
and all international students in BC, and across Canada. We demand better for our peers.
Okanagan College Students’ Union
Local 1 BC Federation of Students
Health and Dental:
PLEASE NOTE: As of January 9 2023, our phone lines are down due to the network outage at Okanagan College. We cannot accept phone calls at this time.
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