*Bear Grylls voice* Improvise, adapt, improve (the student experience with the CSA).

It’s the new year. So, IGNITE’s looking back on everything we accomplished in 2021.

We held three Real Talks events—with Ruth E. Carter and Sophia Amoruso, with Bretman Rock and Margaret Cho and with Tiffany Haddish. In the winter, we hosted JoJo at our Frost concert; and in the fall we held Frosh 2021 featuring 2 Chainz. Then, we partnered with Aisle to provide free sustainable period products.

And, of course—drumroll please!

One of the biggest decisions IGNITE made was joining the College Student Alliance (CSA)!

What is the College Student Alliance?

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The CSA is a not-for-profit organization that acts as a voice for Ontario students.

It works to improve post-secondary education at the provincial level; and it currently represents nearly 36,000 students (including you!).

The CSA’s five pillars are:

  1. Affordability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Accountability
  4. Transferability
  5. Quality

Within these pillars, it aims to improve tuition fees, OSAP, online learning and more.

Why should I care?

Well, in short, because you’re a student. The CSA advocates for improvements surrounding issues that affect post-secondary students. So, the decisions it makes directly affect you.

In the grand scheme, the CSA lobbies for policy changes and highlights student needs. But, to be more specific, its 2021 pre-budget included things like making student life more affordable, bettering virtual learning, bolstering mental health supports and providing increased resources to Indigenous students (you know, the kind of stuff that makes every day a little easier).

Looking back on 2021, the CSA made progress in important areas. Here’s how those steps will benefit you:

There will be more support for survivors

Fist in air and two hands shaking with the text "United We Fight".

The CSA pushed for clear policies that do not cause further harm to individuals who have experienced sexual violence—and it worked. 

In January 2021, the Ontario government strengthened sexual violence policies. Because of that, by Tuesday, March 1, 2022, Humber and UofGH are required to:

  • Protect students from irrelevant questions
  • Not ask questions about sexual history
  • Not ask questions about sexual expression
  • Ensure safety for survivors when coming forward
  • Protect survivors from fear of disciplinary action during reporting
"Be the change" and "See the change" text on a spinning Earth.

These changes aim to better protect individuals who have experienced sexual violence. Who are, disgracefully, more numerous than you think.

In 2019, 71 per cent of Canadian post-secondary students witnessed or experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, according to Statistics Canada. And, they reported:

  • 80 per cent of women and 86 per cent of men stated perpetrators of unwanted sexual behaviour were fellow students
  • Less than 8 per cent of women who survived sexual assault spoke about what happened with the school
  • Less than 6 per cent of men who survived sexual assault spoke about what happened with the school
  • Most students choose not to seek help

Clearly, support and action are critical.

There will be more funding for mental health initiatives

Hands holding up a sign that states "Mental Health is Health".

On Feb. 9, 2021, in response to ongoing CSA advocacy, the government invested an additional $7 million into mental health supports for college and university students. In total, $26.25 million went to increasing access to mental health and addiction services. 

These services include Good2Talk, which provides 24/7 free and confidential support by phone. Or, if you would rather communicate via text, you can message GOOD2TALKON to 686868 to reach the Good2Talk crisis text line.

On top of that, the Ontario government’s Mental Health Worker Grant places front-line mental health service workers directly on campuses.

Why’s that matter? It’s simple:

Young adults aged 18-24 (many of whom are post-secondary students) were more likely to report declining mental health during the pandemic. And, this was especially true for students at the intersection of marginalized identities. Specifically, 2SLGBTQ+ students, female-identifying students, Indigenous students, students that use substances and those with prior mental health concerns. Plus, an Ontario-based study found that 60 per cent of youth aged 14-28 were concerned about disruptions to their school and career path.

The COVID-19 pandemic also caused an increase in student anxiety and learning issues. For example, a May 2020 survey found 70 per cent of post-secondary respondents felt stressed, anxious or isolated. Simultaneously, 82 per cent were worried about their futures.

In short, accessibility is essential because mental health crises are rising.

International students will have more work and residence opportunities

The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) is pivotal to international students’ careers. Through the PGWP, graduates can work and qualify for permanent residence.

Blue block text on green background that states "I Got Your Back."

In December 2020, the CSA helped pen a letter to the Ontario government calling for the PGWP’s extension. This request was fulfilled on Feb.12, 2021, when the government allowed international students to complete their programs online and remain eligible for their PGWP.

This means graduates won’t miss out on work opportunities and can be sure of their residency plans.

What’s next for the College Student Alliance

Team of people in a circle placing hands together.

Many students already advocate for their rights—and IGNITE has initiatives to help. But extra support never hurts.

That’s why IGNITE joined CSA. We want to work with student alliances across Ontario to continue improving your life— because there’s strength in numbers. And in resources.

Speaking of which, not only does the CSA provide guidance in student advocacy, but it also conducts research on post-secondary issues. Afterall, there’s still more to be done, and students (like you!) are the driving force of innovation and prosperity.

On behalf of all Ontario students, barriers such as virtual learning and the labor market must still be addressed. Therefore, provincial polices must seek to improve and promote student success.

IGNITE and the College Student Alliance are working on these issues together, for you. And, in the meantime, we’re here to help you understand how our decisions impact your life.

Advocacy isn’t the only way IGNITE works for you. Check out our initiatives to springboard your career.

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