You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

Advocacy is the start of all change and IGNITE’s student advocates do some real heavy lifting when it comes to making your voice heard. If you’ve attended any major advocacy-oriented event on campus, you’re likely to have crossed paths with our student advocates, Melany Palacios-Naranjo, a recent graduate from the Justice Studies program at the University of Guelph-Humber, and Jessica Carrera, a soon-to-be-graduate of the Hotel and Restaurant Operations Management program at Humber College.

Before we delve any further, here’s a quick recap about what they do: They’re students like you, and they focus on bridging the gap between the student community and Humber College or the University of Guelph-Humber. They participate in conversations with staff and faculty, ensuring that your voices are not just heard but truly valued. They also actively advocate for your best interests by engaging in meetings and sitting on committees that make important decisions that directly impact you and your student experience, establishing open avenues for communication and trust, with the goal of amplifying your voices and delivering practical solutions to your problems.

IGNITE Student Advocates Melany and Jessica walking down a staircase smiling.

Right from ensuring students understand how to negotiate a paid internship to ensuring you have nutritious food options on campus, your student advocates have been hustling to get things going!

Work Integrated Learning

A group of students in black outfits smiling.

A key priority for the student advocates has been advocating for paid co-ops or internships. They have been actively involved in various advocacy efforts related to work integrated learning, such as participating in committees to secure student feedback and perspectives, encouraging students to negotiate paid internships and coaching them on other ways they can ask to be compensated. Additionally, the team spoke with Derek Stockley, the associate vice-president, academic at Humber College, to discuss co-ops, student struggles, and better ways to enhance the support currently provided by Humber. 

The student advocates are developing a program called “Know Your Rights” to ensure students are aware of their rights during their co-ops and prevent exploitation. They suggest that while some employers may not be amenable to paid internships, they may be open to compensating students through a honorarium or even gift cards, which is better than nothing.

“Giving students unpaid placements, not providing them with food, not providing transportation or anything, it’s very stressful on students, especially when they’re on their own or when they’re coming to a new country and they can’t afford things,” Carrera says.

“Negotiating something toward the the middle of your internship or also having a conversation at the beginning to ask if there is a possibility of getting an honorarium for your hard work is important. Always remember, don’t take the first offer you get. Look for more internship opportunities because you might find something that’s much better and probably offers a little bit more for you. Don’t settle,” she adds.

Food on Campus

IGNITE staff handing out food laid out on tables to students.

An important aspect of the student advocates’ work involved pushing for nutritious and healthy food on campus. Sitting on the RFP Food Selection Committee to select the campus vendor, they, along with representatives from other departments at Humber, evaluated proposals from various vendors, prioritizing affordability, diverse food options, and healthy choices.

“We really worked towards ensuring that the students were the main priority of these food vendors, that it wasn’t just about raising the prices. It was about quality, we really wanted to ensure that students are being well fed at a reasonable price and having nutritious meals,” Palacios-Naranjo says.

“Diversity in food options was definitely one of our top priorities, because we have such a diverse, beautiful cultural background across all campuses, so diversity was at the front lines for us, as was nutrition and affordability. Those were definitely our top three because that’s really what students look for.”

Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging

IGNITE Student Advocate Melany speaking at the Black Excellence Showcase.

The student advocates help spread the word and make equity-deserving groups on campus aware of the financial assistance they can benefit from, including the Black Excellence Scholarship, the Pride Scholarship and the Indigenous Scholarship. “We really want to help ensure that these students that have all these beautiful, diverse backgrounds are getting the opportunity just like everybody else to study and not worry so much about their finances,” Palacios-Naranjo says.

The team also organized the Walk for Reconciliation in September to spread awareness of the Residential School System. Orange Shirt Day honours Residential School Survivors, which include those who are living and who passed on, along with those who never made it home. Orange Shirt Day also honours families and intergenerational survivors of the impact of the residential school system in Canada. 

IGNITE Student Advocate Jessica speaking at a lectern at a Pride event.

The student advocates sat on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA) Committee at Humber, which works to ensure that all parts of the campuses are fully accessible to those with disabilities. In addition, they also hosted the Black Excellence Showcase that featured food, music, performances and live demonstrations from different parts of the Black community. The event allowed several students to talk, connect and receive mentorship from the presenters, take what they learned and apply it in their lives.

“We had food from various cultural backgrounds be presented as well as the hair care.
It really helps students appreciate their background, and for others that don’t know much about it, it helps them form a better understanding and learn more of what it means to belong to each background and culture,” Palacios-Naranjo says.

International Student Tuition

A banner displaying "Need or Greed" organized by IGNITE student advocates to protest tuition increases for international students.

The student advocates have advocated for a freeze on tuition increases for international students, extending their first “Need or Greed” campaign hosted in 2022 to raise awareness about unfair and unsustainable increases in international student tuition. That year, IGNITE joined other student unions to advocate about the cost of tuition, which can rise as much as 20% in a year, and protested at Queen’s Park.

While the protest and advocacy was unsuccessful in preventing a tuition increase for international students in 2023-2024, the student advocates continued to advocate for other alternatives to reduce students’ burdens.

“We’re looking to enhance international student bursaries. We’re looking to provide more on campus jobs and to provide students with better support and training that will better equip them for first graduation and finding a job,” Palacios-Naranjo says. She notes that following their advocacy, Humber is working toward creating more bursaries for international students and increasing opportunities for them to work on campus.

Affordable housing

IGNITE Student Advocates Jessica and Melany meeting Humber College President & CEO Dr. Ann Marie Vaughan.

Accessible and affordable housing was another big priority for the student advocates. This is a complex issue that needs support from all levels of government. However, to find a faster solution in the meantime, the student advocates engaged with Spaces Shared,  a virtual platform that allows students looking for safe and affordable homesharing arrangements to match with older adult hosts, in a bid to have them promote their offerings to Humber students.

“There are people who need support like elderly people, and they will take a student in and the student would pay a certain amount of money for rent. But if you do help the elderly person out by helping do a chore or bring groceries in, they could reduce your rent. It helps support for someone who can’t really do much on their own anymore, and they’re not lonely,” Carerra says.

“We have also asked the people who are advertising Humber to prospective students to be very vocal and honest about how expensive it is to live here,” she adds.

Academic Program Representatives

IGNITE Student Advocate Jessica in conversation with a student.

The student advocates have also actively worked to increase the Academic Program Representatives (APR) across the campuses. APRs represent their program and give IGNITE their feedback, while also working with their Dean, Coordinator or program head to ensure that students are happy with the program. APRs conduct surveys and collect feedback from students to provide the student advocates with a better understanding of things that can potentially be changed to increase its value to students.

While successful in creating APR positions for UofGH programs, the team continues to advocate with Humber College program coordinators and Deans to assign APRs for its courses as well.

With that, it’s (finally) a wrap on this long and impressive (but not exhaustive) list of their achievements in the 2023-2024 academic year. We’re proud of the impressive work our student advocates have engaged in. From counselling individual students and helping them resolve disputes on a granular level, to advocating on higher-level issues impacting the student population at large, they have ensured that Humber students’ voices are heard. Kudos and thank you!

Feature photo via IGNITE

Want to see some of IGNITE’s advocacy-focused programs in action? Check out the 2024 Black Excellence Scholarship recipients and hear about their journey!

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