On November 18, the SUO held its Annual General Meeting. This meeting is an opportunity for the student body of UBCO to hear about the SUO’s operations including their financial audit, and the previous executives' accomplishments.
This meeting began with Abid Wahab, VP Finance and Administration, discussing the 2020/2021 budget. In comparison to the previous year, the budget was slightly altered this year to accommodate the transition to online-schooling. Notably, service expenses like Frosh were cut out; not to mention the SUO predicted an estimated $184,000 loss for businesses on campus that were kept open for students.
The latter estimated loss sparked participant questions of why the SUO did not just cut business fees if there are losses being incurred. The SUO responded saying they continue to provide services to students since they pay $147 for the SUO fee. In addition, the businesses remain open to maintain their integrity as they have worked hard in the past. Although Wahab justified that the SUO also received a grant that could offset the losses faced by campus businesses.
Numerous other questions were posed concerning the budget, which the SUO answered to the best of their ability. These included asking the SUO for justification for $0 on accessibility, equity, and inclusion, as well as the rationale behind other fees that students have to endure despite learning online, like the Athletics and Recreation fee. Since the SUO fee does consist of a fairly large portion of the student tuition, it is understandable why students have questions concerning how their money is allocated. After all, students do pay a fairly large tuition fee, which is even higher if you are an international student.
Following this budget report, another report was provided on the audit of financial statements. The statement was deemed clean, meaning that there were no discrepancies in the SUO’s finances and everything checked out fairly. Following the audit, the current SUO executives were provided the chance to comment on the accomplishments and changes made by their predecessors during the 2019/2020 school year—this is outlined in the following paragraphs.
The previous VP Finance and Administration had successfully addressed the need to increase financial transparency to students. Furthermore, the VP Finance had established COVID-19 Emergency Financial Assistance in March 2020 for UBCO members that were financially impacted by the pandemic and assisted others in need as well. It is worth noting that this was established in a very short period of time due to the sudden onset of the pandemic, definitely a commendable initiative.
The previous VP Campus Life, Ali Poostizadeh, had established the SUO volunteer program in addition to aiding in the 2019 Campus Climate Strike leading to UBCO launching a Climate Emergency Plan. However, perhaps one of the most popular events of the year was a talk by guest speaker Dr. Yusef Salaam, a member of the “Exonerated Five”, which had been a sold-out event.
The previous VP of External Affairs, Taylor Dotto, had a part in successfully advocating for the BC access grant on behalf of the SUO -- a needs-based grant, not a loan, which is what students wanted. In addition, the UBCO Water Bottle Ban in 2019 was implemented across all SUO businesses. This was also successful in leading to further discussion for sustainability initiatives in the SUO. Also, the SUO put on several events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).
Holly Denby, the previous VP of Internal Affairs, had established some bylaw and regulation changes, such as implementing compliance regulations that mandate sexual misconduct training for all board of directors. Other changes added were compliant regulations to help improve the inclusivity of spaces with the help of the SUO.
Finally, the President, Romil Jain, had successfully established the Pantry, a student food bank located on campus. The President had also created two new staff roles to support students, and allow for more intricate events among other duties. The President was also responsible for other initiatives such as developing future plans and creating the first-ever SUO Student Experience Survey.
The SUO Annual General Meeting is an important event as it allows students to understand the SUO’s future decisions and past accomplishments. According to SUO President Ali Poostizadeh:
“The Annual General Meeting is the SUO's most crucial governance meeting of the year. It is where essential tasks are carried out such as passing bylaw changes that govern the organization, approving the financial audit of the SUO's past year, as well as the executive report which details what work the SUO Executive carried out the previous year. The only way a government, even a student government, can be held accountable is when the voters, or in this case members, play an active role by participating in events like this, attending meetings, and voting in elections. While it may seem as though the Union doesn't affect your life, I can not stress the impact the SUO has on every student at UBC Okanagan. Not only does every student pay into the organization, but we speak on behalf of you to the government and administration, lobbying for issues like reduction of financial barriers to education, capital development of the campus, and more. The organization has progressed rapidly in the last few years, successfully lobbying for changes that have bettered student life; this was only possible due to the participation of our members. Being an active member gives you the opportunity to not only have a voice in the SUO, but also in the wider UBC community.”
In accordance with Poostizadeh’s statement, the SUO is an active organization on campus with the responsibility of improving student lives. Events such as the Annual General Meeting allows everyday students to hear about the SUO’s past and future initiatives and judge for themselves if this organization is serving the students to the best of their ability.