Don’t Criticize Your Student Government

If the past few weeks have taught me anything, it’s that criticism of student government is no longer allowed.

And I’m so not okay with that.

The last month has been an interesting one for the Dalhousie Student Union. They’re in the midst of deciding whether or not to leave their federal and provincial advocacy groups, and there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the decision. Elections just finished up, with the worst voter turnout in over a decade (10.9%), and one race declared invalid. And they just found out that their president is, in fact, not actually a student, which goes 100% against the union’s constitution.

For each of these issues, there are people with different opinions. Leave CASA and StudentsNS! Stay with CASA and StudentsNS! Vote for her! Vote for him! The president should resign! We should let the president stay! There have been a lot of questions, a lot of comments, and a lot of conversation. This is all good.

There has also been accusations of personal attacks, slander, and libel, which is not so good.

I was recently accused of slander. I wrote an article on pointing out a discrepancy in a presidential candidate’s  words and actions. She criticized the SUB renovations consultations as being non-comprehensive, and said that before making decisions, she wanted to make sure students were on board. Meanwhile, our advocacy review process has been widely condemned as biased and terrible, and yet she seemed to be perfectly fine with going forward with its recommendations. I pointed out this discrepancy. In the entire article, I didn’t actually say a single thing about the candidate herself, choosing to simply present the facts and let the reader form an opinion. Regardless, the very first comment accused me of slander.

A friend of mine was also recently accused of slander. She wrote an opinion article in our campus newspaper, criticizing the current VP Student Life, who was running for re-election, of doing a terrible job with varsity athletics, a part of his portfolio. Everything in the article was factually backed up, and the things she said were very obviously her opinion. And yet, she was reported to the elections committee for slander.

Finally, several people have been accused of launching personal attacks on our VP Academic & External, largely for criticizing the advocacy review process he was in charge of. While I can’t say there have been no personal attacks, all of the criticisms I’ve heard have been aimed at how he’s performed in his job, and not at him as an individual.

Slander, libel, and personal attacks. Since when are we not allowed to criticize the people we’ve elected into positions of power, people we’re paying $30 000+ per year to do their job? If I have a problem or a concern with their performance, you bet I’m going to voice it. I have every right to.

Perhaps those in elected positions need to realize that they’ve been put there by the students. Perhaps they need to realize that they’re there to do what students want them to do, not just to do whatever it is they want. Students should be holding their executive accountable, and the only way to do this is to ask questions, state opinions, point out inconsistencies, and demand answers.

Is this always going to be comfortable for executive members? No, it’s not. But it’s part of the job they signed up for.

I’m sorry if anyone felt like any of the things being said over the last month were slander, or were personal attacks. But you know what? They weren’t. They were true statements. They were personal opinions. And no, they weren’t always particularly nice.

But if you can’t handle that, you shouldn’t be in student politics.

Featured image by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Nicole Crozier

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