The Capilano Students’ Union turns 50 Series #4

Past members of the executive reflect upon their time at the CSU, how it’s changed, and what they hope for its future

Bridget Stringer-Holden (she/her) // News Editor
Mikaela Johnson // Illustrator

Cherian Itty (he/him) served as a Board of Governors (BoG) representative at the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) in 2006, where he attended board meetings and was involved in CSU decision-making — even on non-BoG-related items, such as approving the budget or social justice issues.

Back then, the CSU was still part of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) — a federation of student unions around the country — and was trying to strike an international student committee, which was big at the time.

Although they were one of 31 founding members, internal politics and corruption allegations that were made towards CFS executives caused the CSU, along with fellow founding member student union Simon Fraser University (SFU), to speak about leaving the CFS, as it wasn’t being run properly. “We managed to pull out in 2007-2008, I think,” said Itty. “They made it really difficult to defederate, but we managed to do it.”

At the CSU, Itty noted a good relationship between the hired vice-presidents (the executive) and the rest of the board. “We could see that some of the other student unions — who we met through the CFS — didn’t have that kind of support,” he said, noting that in the other student unions, “the students were basically taking orders from the paid executives so to speak.”

At that point in time, the CSU wasn’t equipped to onboard international students into its culture and structures though, which was a bit of a challenge for him personally. “As an individual, I think the biggest challenge was the Canadian civic-political landscape. I was an international student, so everything was new to me,” he said. “It was a big learning experience — it’s very different from how it was, say back in India.”

He also found that there were issues with turnover, meaning that the students were very new to the world of student politics. “I think it still remains an ongoing problem,” he said, “by the time the students are ready to manage the executive, they move on.” However, during his term, Itty explained that the CSU was trying their best to implement structures so that new students — in their first, or in their final year — could come in and be able to direct the executives, as opposed to the other way around.

Other memorable initiatives during his term included laying the groundwork for the U-Pass and trying to switch over to compostable food packaging, as well as the ongoing talk of getting a student union building and trying to re-organize the structure of clubs on campus.

He underlined the importance of having a seat at the table with whatever the university was working on, something he has recently been approaching from the other side as BoG Chair for the past two years. When he was a student, he had to fight for a seat at the table when discussions about compostable food packaging came up, even though it was regarding one of the largest causes of waste production on campus. Then, once gaining a seat at the table, there was the hurdle of being taken seriously by the BoG and the Senate. “I’m hoping it’s much different now, but that was big back then,” he remembers.

During his term as BoG Chair, he’s done his best to ensure that the student representatives have space to share their thoughts. While the staff and faculty might have a slight difference of opinions, students often bring those unexpected kinds of questions and ideas, which are beneficial to the university.

Looking back to his student days, he realized he was punching way above his weight class. “Without fully knowing exactly what was going on, I seemed to have opinions, positions, and questions,” he said. “But, with hindsight, that’s the way to do it.” 

He knows that some students are worried that they will be seen as being too naive, but hopes that won’t hold them back because if they don’t ask, probably no one else will. “Ask embarrassing and destabilizing questions,” he advises. “We only have a short time to serve, on the Board or the Senate — there’s no “bad” questions or “bad” opinions.

In the future, Itty hopes that the CSU will continue their advocacy regarding housing and transit, but also dream big in terms of on-campus offerings so that they can become a larger part of the university experience. “There is a large and a much needed space for the CSU to occupy, I’m hoping they can find ways to continue to do that for and enrich the student experience on campus — be it through housing or food and beverage or events,” he says, suggesting a student pub through the hospitality management program graduates. “I mean, starting a pub is just one small example, there’s so many more ways to step up,” he notes, excited to see where the CSU goes next.

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