Dr. Rosanne Waters is the Policy and Research Analyst for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). She earned an undergraduate degree in history at Brock University, and a master’s and doctoral degree in historical studies. Recently, she took the time to answer a few questions about her involvement with CASA and the direction of the organization for The Voice Magazine. Here she talks in the context of the CASA Policy and Strat 2017 Conference.
How did you become involved with CASA?
I worked in the Ontario Legislature and I worked for just under a year in the Ontario government as a public servant in policy work.
I was curious about the historical studies that I pursued in my undergraduate and master’s degree, so I did a Ph.D. following this. After that, and shortly after defending my thesis, I was lucky. I gave birth to a beautiful daughter.
By that time my family was living in Ottawa. I was looking for something interesting to do and to get back into the work force. I wanted to find something where I would be able to use the research and analytical skills I had developed during my studies and also work on politics and current affairs.
CASA immediately interested me because I have an interest in the topics CASA works on. I value them. I feel very strongly about the value of post-secondary education. A job was posted when I was beginning to look for work and I applied. It is an organization I had heard a little bit about before and I did a little bit more research into it. I immediately saw that it aligned with my values and things I worked on previously. I was fortunate to get the job.
What do you think is the biggest reason that people don’t know about CASA? Why is it important that they do know about it?
That’s a very good question. I think delegates who come and engage in the committee work, drive the policy, develop the advocacy asks, and, in general, have direct involvement in the organization have a close feel for it.
But the average student, they don’t necessarily have the direct engagement with it on a regular basis that the delegates do. Having said that, I hope all students will recognize the benefits of advocating for a better system of grants and loans. I think those benefit students across the board.
I think it is essential that more people understand and can hopefully engage with our organization. I know as a member driven organization we look to our student delegates and all students for direction on the policies and issues that are important to them now.
Having direct student engagement, this is where our understanding of what is important comes from. It is how we learn how to make sure the needs of students are met. It is important to make sure students understand the ways they can engage with CASA and share their expertise to make sure we are representing them.
Between CASA’s Foundations 2017 Conference in late May and the Policy and Strat Conference in late July there was correspondence and organization around priority theme selection. Based on the needs of students, the student leaders, and their analysis, what were some of the top themes? What direction do they seem to be taking?
Basically, the process we followed was, at our Foundations Conference, the delegates are very involved. We had many brainstorming activities for the delegates to talk about: the different kinds of issues that matter on their campuses, and to find the common ground across campuses in terms of the concerns of students to find where improvements can be made.
These ranged from student research, to improving educational materials, to supporting students, to improving access for Indigenous learners, and to taking on financial and non-financial barriers. Also, support for international students was an important issue.
The board put forward some recommendations. We will see what the membership decides at this conference. The benefit of an organization like ours is that we’ve developed expertise from membership over time on a variety of issues that matter to students. This time around, our membership will pick their priorities for the year, but we always have additional opportunities to advocate on a wide range of issues through consultations, our ability to work on research papers, engaging on social and traditional media, and so on.
It will be a busy year. I am looking forward to contributing.
What do you think is the take-home message for student associations, not part of CASA, that could become an observer or part of it in the long term?
I hope the message is that the federal government, though not directly delivering education in the same way as provinces, does have a huge role to play. It factors in terms of billions of dollars, whether through the Tri-Council agencies, Canada Student Loans, and all kinds of other ways.
I hope the message is that engaging with the federal government and making sure students have a voice at the federal level is extremely important. With all of those investments, it is important students have their say, and CASA is part of that.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the AUSU VPFA. He works with various organizations, and runs In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, and In-Sight Publishing.