ASFA: Real Change Is On The Way

Concordia’s Arts and Science Federation is restructuring their model.

ASFA voted to change its structure at a special council meeting on Thurs. Jan. 28, 2016 Photo Josh Fischlin

It’s been an interesting year for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations—and the fun isn’t over.

A proposal to restructure the federation was approved at a special council meeting on Thursday in an attempt to combat the “toxic atmosphere” staining its reputation.

ASFA has been through a lot: a high profile sexual harassment and racism scandal, a hopeful change-orientated campaign in October and a recent surge in executive resignations.

After an optimistic election campaign in October, with the Support Change slate pitted against ASFA United, hope for real change was in the air.

Six of the seven victorious executive candidates were from the Support Change slate—it was time to take ASFA in a new direction.

Despite the optimism expressed during their campaign, four of those executives recently resigned, yet another hitch in a series of troubles faced by the federation.

The reasons for the resignations were varied. Some left for personal or academic reasons, but the supposed “toxic environment” has been an undeniable underlying theme in the federation, and has influenced the recent drop in executives.

Stephen Karchut, VP Internal, External and Communications for the First Peoples Studies Member Association spoke about the environment plaguing the federation at the meeting on Thursday.

“I feel like something has to change within ASFA. It’s a super toxic environment. You can read it in the news, you can feel it in the room,” he said. “It’s very political when it doesn’t have to be this political. It doesn’t have to be this strung out; it doesn’t have to be this hard to make changes at a student body level.”

From “big association” to “funding body”

After all of the issues that have surfaced in the recent past, ASFA is in the midst of reinventing itself.

The spirit of the proposed change is to give more autonomy to ASFA’s member associations. The federation would act as a “funding body,” while also providing consent and anti-oppression training to its MAs.

“Essentially we’re cutting out anything that ASFA does, and we’re just giving all the autonomy to the member associations,” Jenna Cocullo, General Coordinator of ASFA, said about the proposal. “ASFA will really just be there for the simplicity of allocating budgets.”

If the new mandate were implemented, the executive team would be shaved down from seven positions to a mere three—Internal Coordinator, Finance Coordinator, and Advocacy Coordinator.

Finance would help manage budgets and funding; Internal would assist with MA’s policy reviews, elections and general bureaucracy; and Advocacy would be in charge of planning consent training, anti-oppression training and workshop planning.

By eliminating the Academic Coordinator, as well as the Social Coordinator, the mandates that were filled by those positions will no longer exist and influence ASFA.

Getting rid of Social Coordinator, for example, will cause the federation to no longer have an executive position mandated to plan parties and social events, which have been some of the most criticized aspects of ASFA.

These events have become known for enabling students to “get drunk and then just take advantage of one another,” Cocullo said.

“I feel like it will just change a lot of the culture dynamics within the ASFA office, which gets projected onto all students through the events that they do,” she explained.

“I feel like it will just change a lot of the culture dynamics within the ASFA office, which gets projected onto all students through the events that they do.” — Jenna Cocullo, General Coordinator of ASFA

Bridging the gap between MAs and executives

Cocullo also spoke about how executive decisions have influenced MAs negatively in the past.

For example, last year one of the executives got a beer contract for an event that MAs were forced to use, even though some did not want it.

“When ASFA has to spend all their time organizing Frosh and all these other events, it’s taking away time that could be going towards the member associations, taking away money that could be going towards them,” Cocullo said.

Currently executives are serving a double mandate—the one that they campaigned on, and the one that they’re meant to carry out for their MAs. This can cause difficulties.

“You get into this double mandate situation, where you ran on a platform—and students elected you based on that platform—but then council is mandating you to do something completely different,” she explained.

By getting rid of the Social and Academic Coordinator positions, the executives will have less of an unwanted influence on ASFA’s member associations.

The proposal also suggests the creation of an independent MA that would be called the Community at Large Member Association. A total of 1,803 students—those who are currently not represented by an ASFA councillor—would be counted under the new MA.

The Community at Large Member Association would also be available to students who might disagree with the mandate of their already-represented departments.

“All students can get involved, no matter which department they’re in,” Cocullo explained.

Unrepresented students still pay into ASFA, so this would be a way for them to get involved.

“Also, those who may not agree with the politics of their MA, or what’s going on with their MA that year, will essentially have a different venue of getting involved as well,” she continued.

The counter-narrative

Several people spoke against the restructuring proposal approved at Thursday’s meeting, including psychology student councillor Lizzy Duong and independent councillors Etienne de Blois and Frankie Sunnyshine.

Duong does not believe that there was enough consultation regarding the proposal before it was presented for approval at council. The new executive structure was brought up to policy committee, but it was “briefly mentioned” and rushed, she said.

“The president wasn’t really taking our opinions and collaborating on thoughts together, she just wanted us to approve it because the executive approved it,” she said about Cocullo. “We wanted to take time to think this over and work together, but then she kind of just took the proposal and did it herself. There wasn’t really much of a consultation.”

However, the main reason she is opposed to the proposal is because it suggests the discontinuation of ASFA social and academic events.

Some events honour students with strong academic achievement, with $4,000 allocated to those who make outstanding contributions to student life, Duong said.

“It’s uncomfortable to know they want to remove an award that honours someone that passed,” Duong continued.

She believes that the issues at ASFA will not be properly address by the proposal.

To tackle the issues at the federation, Duong suggested an expansion of the executive team, rather than a contraction. In her view, positions like Academic and Loyola should be separated in order to alleviate the burden of having multiple mandates.

“The proposition would be to split the positions—to create more positions—and also to make them more definitive, exact and less vague,” she explained.

De Blois was also outspoken in his opposition to the proposal. In his view, calling the idea that changing by-laws and titles will lead to a culture change “overly simplistic.”

“ASFA does not have a structural problem in terms of its by-laws, it has a tradition problem. Continuous oppression, sexism and racism have been tolerated over and over again. And it’s become pervasive to ASFA’s culture,” he said at council.

“That’s the problem. But changing the structure of ASFA’s by-laws will in no way change its tradition.”