“It was very informative and there was a lot of information on how to get involved with CSA and what CSA does.”

Naisha Suthaharan

In May, IGNITE attended MayCon, the second of three conferences hosted by the College Student Alliance (CSA) annually. Each conference dives into a different topic and brings together student unions and leaders from various Ontario colleges.

Before we get into what happened at MayCon, let’s break down what the CSA is all about.

The College Student Alliance is a non-partisan organization whose aim is to fight for college students’ rights. The CSA collaborates with different student unions, post-secondary education stakeholders and government officials to enhance the college experience.

Earlier in 2024, IGNITE’s Board of Directors renewed its membership with the College Student Alliance; being a member of the CSA has many perks. The alliance focuses on important issues such as food insecurity and housing, which are also top priorities for IGNITE at Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber. The CSA uses data to identify key student issues and has a direct line to government officials, helping influence policies that impact your post-secondary experience.

The CSA MayCon recently took place and was packed with discussions on various advocacy priorities – when I say “packed,” I mean it; it was a full-day meeting. We spoke with our student advocate, Naisha Suthaharan, who attended the conference, to get the inside scoop on the event’s highlights and key discussions.

2023-2024 key achievements

MayCon is all about training for the upcoming school year, so it’s important to reflect on last year’s achievements.

Externally, the CSA helped organize the Blue Ribbon Panel, a group of experts between the government and educational institutions focused on improving student experience. The CSA worked closely with this panel, leveraging their findings and making recommendations. Do you recall the new cap on international student visas? The CSA took part in it, helping with recommendations to protect international students, which IGNITE strongly supports.

On the other side, internally, the CSA reinforced IGNITE’s commitment to the organization by helping draft the Issues Brief. This document highlights key policy issues and recommendations in five areas: mental health, housing, international students, work-integrated learning and food insecurity – all of which IGNITE advocates for. The CSA also engaged with over 15 officials and stakeholders to push their research report’s findings. Being part of an organization with direct government contacts is crucial for IGNITE to communicate students’ issues effectively.

The CSA also developed a Three-Year Strategic Framework that focuses on three areas: building capacity to better enable the success of the members, empowering strong and outcome-based advocacy and connecting and supporting student leaders.

Want to learn more about their achievements? Check out the CSA’s website!

2023-2024 focus areas and initiatives

To better represent students, a map is necessary to lay down advocacy foundations. Throughout the year, CSA focused on the five key issues mentioned before. Here’s a breakdown of each area and what CSA is doing about it.

The CSA concluded that food insecurity is a growing concern, with three in five students affected by the issue. Among all the recommendations, the organization focuses on the implementation of the Food Coupon Program for low-income students.

The alliance also understands that on and off-campus housing is unaffordable, inaccessible and unsafe. CSA suggests institutions build housing for students, create a new definition of what affordable housing means and manage vacancies better.

Affordable, accessible and effective mental health services are crucial for them – aligning with IGNITE principles. The CSA’s recommendations include promoting mental health awareness on campus, investing in additional support and enabling innovative mental health care.

According to the organization, international students need predictable tuition fees and more awareness of their struggles. CSA found that international students face adverse outcomes, are often unfairly perceived to be taking advantage of the system and are frequently recruited irresponsibly for profit. CSA calls for better funding and responsible recruitment practices.

And finally, work-integrated learning (WIL). While IGNITE strongly advocates that students should get paid for their co-ops and internships, CSA points out that international students have limited access to WIL. They recommend the creation of financial incentives for employers, employer-college partnerships and WIL international student advisors.

During the 2023-2024 period, CSA had some big advocacy wins such as the expansion of the Apartment Construction Loan Program and the introduction of Bill 166.

CSA is looking forward to growing its membership, improving communication among members and continuing to support students and faculty across Ontario.

IGNITE key takeaways from the conference

IGNITE representatives attended MayCon and brought back some takeaways.

Suthaharan mentions the approval of the new CSA board members:

IGNITE attendees voted on food insecurity, international tuition and racism as key issues at the conference. Suthaharan also highlighted our very own Jessica Carrera winning the CSA Advocacy Scholarship award! Carrera’s been a student advocate for two years, often championing issues like food insecurity and WIL.

Suthaharan emphasizes that these CSA conferences have an indirect but significant impact on the lives of Humber and UofGH students. Through CSA, IGNITE’s concerns can reach parliament, helping to improve student life.

“Leaving the meeting, it was insightful to see where we are doing good and where we can fix ourselves. I was able to see we are not in the dark; there’s other people that are willing to back us up and support us,” Suthaharan said.

Picture of Student Advocate, Naisha Suthaharan giving a speech on the Pride Flag Raising event at the North campus.
Picture by IGNITE.

The partnership between IGNITE and the College Student Alliance gives our student leaders great opportunities to connect with others and make a difference in the college experience, not just at our campuses but all over Ontario. IGNITE is focused on important issues like international students, mental health and food insecurity. That’s why we’re excited to have recently renewed our membership with the CSA.

If you want to learn more about food insecuritywork-integrated learning or the CSA in general, check out their website!

And if you have any questions about how IGNITE is working on these issues, hit us up on our socials @shareignite.

Feature image courtesy of IGNITE.

Are you wondering what our student advocates do? Learn more about five key initiatives championed by IGNITE’s student advocates!

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