Kyle Sholes, Student, FIMS. OPENWIDE Volume 16 Issue 3
The best way to solve a problem is by talking about it, and that’s exactly what those who attended the Engage Western conference did: we talked. I was inspired to hear different members of the Western and London communities speak about how important students are to the city, how much students have to offer, and how much London has to offer in return. At the start of the day I felt there was no limit to what the students, the university, and the city could accomplish by working together. And then, suddenly, this inspiration disappeared.
No, the day wasn’t too long, nor were the speakers boring. I didn’t lose my inspiration because of what I was hearing at Engage Western, rather I lost it because of what I wasn’t hearing. First off, I was one of only a handful of students in the room. The absence of a strong student voice was where my inspiration first began to wane. Secondly, I came to the realization that everyone in the room already knew and agreed with what everyone else had to say, more or less. We were all at the event because we recognized the impact students could have on London and vice versa. Spending the majority of the day, then, talking about why student engagement is important lead to redundancy in the place of progress. I kept waiting for the conversation to open up, for us to interact with our peers and develop connections and strategies to work towards meaningful student engagement, but this never happened. A fleeting table discussion and a group “promise” to take action were the only tangible results I could see filing out of the room at the end of the day.
However, where I lost inspiration I found determination. As I said before, it truly was inspiring to see so many people in the room committed to working towards student engagement in London. The question I am now determined to answer is: how do we get these people to work together in such a way that we achieve our goals rather than just talking about them?
The immediate answer I have to offer is simple: we bring students to the table.
Many at Engage Western seemed to think the opportunities for engagement between students and London are endless and the responsibility lies with university and city actors to market London and all it has to offer. While I did learn that these opportunities are quite plentiful, I can only agree with this sentiment in part. Where my interest lies is not in convincing students that London is a great for them, but rather in proving to students that they can be great for London. This is easier said than done, I understand, but a first step is including student voices in the conversation so we all feel invested in the city and the beneficial opportunities that present themselves.
I started by saying the best way to solve a problem is by talking about it. Adding more students to the conversation will allow us to do not only this, but also to reflect on why we have a problem in the first place. Through talking to students we can determine why current opportunities are not being taken and whether or not the issue is actually with London’s marketability or something more broad. In doing so we can make a major shift in conversations like those held at Engage Western.
Instead of talking about how students should be involved with London, we can talk about how students want to be involved with London.
To know what students want out of our city will give us traction in dealing with the topic of student engagement, letting us build meaningful connections and opportunities from which everyone — students, the university, and the city alike — can benefit. That is what positive change looks like. It’s unfortunate, though, because this change is only going to be accomplished once we know what other students think. And, sadly, at Engage Western no one was asking.