Jodi Afonso, president of the Student Union of Confederation College Inc. (SUCCI), is doing her best to encourage college students not waste this time away from class.
Since Oct. 16, when faculty at Ontario's 24 colleges went on strike, students-including those at the Confederation College campus here in Fort Frances-have been left with a lot of free time.
But given the uncertainty of when the strike might end, the days are less like a vacation and more like waiting in limbo.
“Anyone with assignments that were given before the break should complete them during this time,” Afonso suggested as a way to keep up on school work.
She also stressed students should be taking this time to study and review what they've learned so the break does not completely damage their semester.
In Thunder Bay, where Afonso is based, the student union has been doing its part to make sure students aren't wasting away the days and still are engaged in school events.
“We have been running board game nights, movies, and healthy food activities,” Afonso noted.
“We want to keep all of our programming running because it is important to keep the students engaged at this time,” she explained.
The student union also has been helping students understand the situation and what is going on with their school year.
“For the first week, it was mostly students asking for information and for us to answer questions about the strike,” Afonso recalled.
“But still a lot of people have been reaching out to us recently with their concerns,” she added.
Afonso was one of eight student union presidents who met with Premier Kathleen Wynne and Advanced Education and Skills Development minister Deb Matthews last Thursday to discuss student concerns.
College Employer Council bargaining chair Sonia Del Missier and Ontario Public Service Employees Union bargaining chair JP Hornick also were in attendance.
Afonso said Matthews heard student concerns about the quality of education, finances, employment, and housing—and was aware of them.
“We also brought up the mental health of students, which is very important right now as there is a lot of stress and uncertainty,” she noted.
Afonso said if the school year gets extended, it creates a lot of problems for students who already have made plans to go home or are expecting to move out of their current housing at that time.
“All of a sudden, you have to find a place to stay for two months that maybe wasn't budgeted for,” she remarked.
The problem is worse for international students dealing with visas and generally a more expensive trip home.
“There were also talks regarding international students and how they are currently only allowed to work 20 hours off campus at this time, as the faculty strike is not a scheduled break,” Afonso explained.
This means they don't even get the chance to work for the extra money they may need if the semester is extended.
“Minister Matthews said she would look into this matter and get back to us,” she added.
Trade students, who normally are eligible to receive employment insurance during their eight-week certification training, also are being left in the lurch.
“Because the colleges are on strike, they can't get their E.I. and we believe this is unfairly penalizing those students,” Afonso said.
The next steps for Afonso and the student union will involve even more advocating for students—and putting more pressure on the Ontario government to intervene.
She and SUCCI vice-president Vignesh Viswanathan travelled to Queen's Park today (Nov. 1) to attend a “Students First Rally” organized by the College Students Alliance.
They also will continue the conversation about how the strike is affecting students across Ontario.