The What, Why, and How of CASA

What is CASA?
CASA, or the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, was established in 1995. It was a response to post-secondary institutions recognizing the need for an organization to defend and promote student priorities at the federal level. It is a non-partisan, not-for-profit voice for Canadian students at polytechnic, undergraduate and graduate institutions. Its goals are accomplished through policy development and lobbying.

Each year, the CASA membership votes on the issues important to them in terms of advocacy including meetings with Members of Parliament. CASA represents about 250,000 students across Canada from the 21 schools represented by CASA’s member student associations.

Agreeing to a partnership with the UEQ (Union des Etudiants du Quebec) recently, CASA will engage with UEQ in federal advocacy. UEQ is like CASA and represents many schools and students throughout Quebec.

The Ontario Graduate Student Alliance (OGSA) has talked with CASA to create a partnership to increase visibility of Ontario graduate students. Throughout the past 20 years, CASA has been successful in a number of different educational initiatives developed by student leaders.

Why is CASA Important?
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations serves several important functions. It first creates an environment where student executives from post-secondary institutions can dialogue and narrow issues important to their constituents.

These dialogues with other student leaders help representatives understand the challenges of other post-secondary students. As well, by allowing a variety of student leaders to collaborate on the development and implementation of policies and advocacy asks, CASA helps to ensure that a consistent message about student needs is delivered to the federal government.

CASA also trains student executives each year, from how to answer media questions, to mock meetings with a Member of Parliament, to presentations from various stakeholders. CASA provides learning opportunities to prepare each student executive for various advocacy roles.

Finally, the different committees of CASA members ensure old policies are reviewed, new policy positions are developed, and that the organization and staff are functioning at their full capacity.

How Does CASA Relate to Me?
CASA work sometimes entails wearing two hats. With the first, as a member of CASA, student executives can chair committees, attend conferences, have a plenary vote, make decisions around board composition, and vote on the issues that should be focused on for the year.

With the second hat, student executives are regular student members, as with the other 250,000 members. As a student member, especially as, for example, a distance or graduate student, a student executive or member may see their role as ensuring their concerns are represented in discussions and decisions.

It is important to bear in mind, though: distance and graduate students comprise a small percentage of the delegates at CASA. So it is a priority to give the perspective of the these students, as Athabasca University often attracts learners who may not fit the typical student profile.

As a student member, Lindsay, for instance, sees CASA as an opportunity to know what the Athabasca University Graduate Students’ Association (AUGSA) is doing with the fees it receives from each student. Scott, if wearing the AUSU hat, would see this as an opportunity for the Athabasca University Students Union.

Ultimately, CASA is a tool allowing student executives to collaborate and find ways to represent advocate for the student members at post-secondary institutions.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the AUSU VPFA. He works with various organizations, and runs In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, and In-Sight Publishing.