In 2019, MacEwan University dissolved the ombudsperson position on campus, whose role was to support students through the academic and non academic challenges they experienced during their time at MacEwan. This dissolvement left a gap in services that the Students’ Association of MacEwan University (SAMU) filled with the SAMU Student Advocacy Centre (SSAC).
The SSAC launched in July 2022, and the goal of the centre is to support students with academic or non-academic issues they are facing at MacEwan. If the centre doesn’t personally have the resources to help students, they connect students with the people who do.
“There’s definitely a need for this type of support for students at MacEwan,” says Isha Leibel, the student advocate and policy support specialist at the SSAC. “There’s a lot of different things that students have to deal with and go through.”
The SSAC has several different branches: internal advocacy, external advocacy, and individual student advocacy and policy support.
Internal and external advocacy are handled by the SAMU Executive Committee (EC). This advocacy can involve advocacy within SAMU or MacEwan and broader issues about student concerns that EC members can bring up with politicians and advocates outside of MacEwan.
Individual student advocacy and policy support is handled by centre representatives, including Leibel. She provides one-on-one support for students and will sit down with them and listen to the challenges and concerns they are facing academically and non-academically.
The support she provides can be anything from editing letters students plan to send to MacEwan, supporting students through meetings with the university, explaining university policies, helping students navigate plagiarism or academic misconduct accusations, and referring students to other resources if additional expertise or support is required.
Leibel says that the centre is also there to support students generally. “It could really just be (that) they’re having a tough year and they need some support, and they don’t know how to get through the year successfully without some support,” she says.
Leibel is a MacEwan alum, so she understands where students are coming from. “Although I had a really great experience at MacEwan — I really loved being in university — I know it’s really tough,” she says. “Student issues just within the university are tough, let alone facing (additional challenges) like familial issues.”
“Life comes up, stuff happens, and then you’ve got an exam the next day, or you’ve got three assignments due, and these things just really pile up,” she adds.
Leibel’s favourite part about her role is being able to connect with students. “We’re really happy to just be there and help them get through (difficult situations),” she says. “I know it can sound kind of scary, this big centre and going through policies, and the whole process with a lot of this stuff is quite nerve wracking…. So just being able to do some of that leg work for students… and just being able to talk to them and just being able to hear them out (is) my favourite part.”
“When I came across the job, I was just really excited to be that kind of support that I really had no idea existed when I was at MacEwan,” says Leibel. “I had no idea that there were these types of supports that you could lean on and that you could have someone to walk you through (university) policies.”
Right now, because the centre is so new, Leibel’s main goal is to let students know these advocacy services are available for them to utilize and that the centre isn’t as intimidating as it might seem.
“The biggest thing that we want students to know is that they’re not alone, that they have someone to go through really tough things with,” says Leibel. “If they’re ever overwhelmed and they’re not sure who to talk to, even if we’re not the right person for it, we will find the right person for them and we will connect them with the people that they need to get to.”
“We’re just here to support students.”
Students can get in touch with representatives at the Individual Advocacy Support Hub online. Alternatively, students can come directly to the SAMU building and talk to the front-of-desk staff on the third floor about meeting with a centre representative.