After the McGill administration rejected the School of Social Work’s decision to hold distance learning courses independently until at least February 25, the Social Work Students’ Association (SWSA) held a meeting General (AG) on January 17 to discuss the possibility of a strike. The strike motion was successfully passed, with 70 votes for, three against and two abstentions. The SWSA had previously detailed its concerns in an open letter to McGill administration ahead of the AGM and the vote.
The strike is expected to last until February 25, when another GA will be called to vote on whether or not to continue March 4. Students will strike in-person School of Social Work classes for the duration of the strike. However, they will continue to take on-the-job training and are encouraged to take these courses delivered online. The SWSA will end the strike if McGill grants the School of Social Work complete independence in choosing how and when its students return to in-person learning.
AG students, such as Jo Roy, U3 Social Work, felt the SWSA’s decision to strike was in line with social work ethics.
“[Social work] really is a helping and caring profession and the ethos of it is very much in tandem with what we just did,” Roy said in an interview with The McGill Tribune.
Codey Martin, U3 Social Work, echoed Roy’s sentiments, noting that approving the strike motion was an effort to apply social work principles in real life.
“These are the fundamental basics of the social work program that we are currently learning, […] to put into practice all the course content learned in the three-year degree,” said Martin. “It comes down to supporting each other.”
Alyssa Salaciak, U2 Social Work and Internal Affairs Coordinator at SWSA, was the GA Chair. With the strike underway, Salaciak is responsible for supporting social work students by hosting Zoom meetings for students to voice concerns or offer advice to one another.
“Now that we have agreed to strike, what does that mean for [SWSA]?” said Salaciak. “[It means] support students the way they do because it’s pretty scary […] We’re here for you. We are there for each other.
Hannah Kirk, U3 Social Work, has an internship with seniors and seniors living in Kahnawake, Mohawk territory located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. Like other social work students, Kirk worries about the risk of contracting COVID-19 in in-person classes and spreading it to Indigenous communities she interacts with.
“The implications for me, as a white person, of going to a class of 40, getting COVID-19, going to the reserve and spreading it are really heavy, and McGill is responsible for that,” said Kirk. “When it comes to making decisions that protect the Indigenous community […] they don’t care.
The SWSA is not the only student body at McGill promoting school-specific autonomy when it comes to remote learning. The Education Graduate Student Association (EGSS) announced a strike vote on January 19. The Law Students Association will hold a special general meeting on January 28 to discuss student concerns and the possibility of a strike.
According to Martin, the strike motion is just the start of a bigger movement for the SWSA.
“I think it’s going to build momentum and people are really going to start voicing their concern and speaking out for a better understanding of the situation that McGill and other institutions are putting people in,” Martin said. “As much as I want to be in person, I would love to be in person, but unfortunately in the last 21 months without contracting a virus, I kind of want that to continue.”