At its most recent meeting, IGNITE’s Board of Directors voted to renew the student union’s membership with the College Student Alliance (CSA), a coalition of college student associations from across Ontario that lobbies for the interests of Ontario’s college students to the provincial government. From advocating for better mental health supports and affordable housing to fighting to alleviate food insecurity among students, the CSA ensures student issues reach the ears of Ontario’s political leaders.
To understand why IGNITE chose to renew its membership with the CSA, the work it does, and why all this matters to students, we spoke with Azi Afousi, CSA president, and Jasmine Bates, member of IGNITE’s Board of Directors and IGNITE’s representative on the CSA board.
The CSA’s priorities align with IGNITE goals
The CSA’s efforts to improve student well-being focuses on working with the government to solve food and housing insecurity, build better mental health supports and and improve international students’ educational experience. From IGNITE’s perspective, each of these issues are critical pieces of the puzzle that must be solved to ensure students have a rewarding education.
“Some of the key issues that we’ve identified based off of feedback from students is affordability, mental health, housing, food insecurity, paid work-integrated-learning, diversity, inclusion and belonging, and definitely international student support. What we value is that most of these priorities are really in line with the CSA’s advocacy priorities already,” said Bates.
Why IGNITE partners with the CSA
While there’s a great many things that IGNITE’s Board of Directors do to ensure students have a rewarding time during their education, there are limitations to what a student union can do to draw the attention of the provincial government to issues. The CSA, however, enjoys that direct line of access to legislators and key decision makers as a registered lobbyist.
“As student leaders, we know our students’ needs and wants, but we don’t have that direct link to communicate our recommendations to the government; that’s where the CSA comes in. We really value the CSA’s role as a registered lobbyist with the Office of the Integrity Commissioner of Ontario, which essentially means that the CSA advocates on behalf of our student body and other Ontario college students. So, they’re kind of the ones that are offering that on-the-ground perspective of our students,” Bates said.
“As a provincial advocacy group, we’ve been around for many decades, so there’s an infrastructure and relationship built with the provincial government,” Afousi points out.
CSA’s research-driven policy advocacy
Research-driven insight is crucial in advocating for students’ issues as it provides a solid foundation for informed decision-making and policy recommendations. Through research, the CSA is able to gather evidence to support their claims, identify key issues affecting students, and propose effective solutions. This data-driven approach enhances the credibility of their arguments and ensures that advocacy efforts are based on facts rather than assumptions.
“The CSA’s approach to advocacy is founded on developing student-driven, evidence-based policy recommendations. A key factor of our renewal decision is the different research-based recommendations from the CSA, specifically from their research and policy lead, who really analyzes and forms provincial recommendations for many of the students issues that we’ve raised, and that other CSA members have raised,” Bates said.
For example, the CSA is currently seeking opinions from Ontario’s current international students with respect to the IRCC’s latest regulatory changes. You can share your opinion on the issue here.
CSA’s advocacy efforts pay off
As Afousi notes, the time between lobbying for student issues and seeing results is often a long period, as is the nature of creating change on a policy level. It’s a game of patience, perseverance and continued effort. Notwithstanding that, the CSA has seen various campaigns come to fruition.
On Jan. 29, 2024, Sean Fraser, Federal Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, announced that colleges and universities would be granted access to the Apartment Construction Loan Program, which will allow post-secondary institutions to receive low-cost federal loans to construct on and off campus student residences. This was a big win for the CSA, which has long advocated for affordable and more accessible student housing. The CSA had even brought up the issue with detailed solutions in its 2023/2024 Issues Brief.
Another front the CSA has seen success in is training its members associations. In line with efforts to increase engagement between college student associations, the CSA holds three annual conferences. Each conference brings together student leaders from various Ontario college student associations to offer governance training and the opportunity to meet and work with MPPs from Queen’s Park.
Starting off your advocacy journey
Advocacy hones valuable skills such as research, communication, and leadership, providing a platform for personal and professional growth. Additionally, there are a lot of benefits to engaging in advocacy work, but where does one begin? Just take the plunge, Afousi says.
She started out with no knowledge about lobbying. In fact, her advocacy journey was accidental. When Humber College mandated that students return back to campus during the pandemic, she kicked off a petition to request changes and give students more time. Afousi found advocating for students to be a fruitful experience. Shortly after, she ran for elections to join IGNITE’s Board of Directors. Eventually, after a stint on the board, she successfully ran for the CSA’s president position.
“Talk to your associations. Talk to the people who are currently there, who understand what the job entails. There are many different areas that you could be an advocate in, and it’s important to see where your passions and skills lie. Just go for it. Participate. Be involved. That’s where you start to realize what it is that you love and what it is that you’re good at,” she says.
As evidenced from our fruitful conversations with Bates and Afousi, advocacy can help change countless student lives. If you are considering advocacy and want to help transform students’ experiences, consider running to be on IGNITE’s board. You can learn more right here! If you’d like to learn more about the CSA’s efforts, check this out too!
As you kick off your journey to being a student advocate, are you looking to grow your public speaking skills? Check out our article on how you can develop confidence speaking in front of an audience.