Photo by Jake Kivanc

The new crew: Madonna Dennis, Miriam Valdez-Carletti, Lamees Wajahat, Julianna Garofalo, Linda Nguyen, Kevin John Siazon and Augustine Ng. (Photo by Jake Kivanc)

 

In the wake of a major overhaul, RSJ student group is a well-oiled machine

October 27, 2015

by Leah Hansen

For the last three years, the Journalism Course Union has been a student-run powerhouse, organizing events for journalism students, starting and selling a line of JCU clothing, and helping students connect with industry professionals. Prior to the 2013-2014 school year though, the JCU was a modest organization, hosting at most one sparsely-attended event a year.

Until Jasmin Husain decided to change things. The now fourth-year student became a first-year representative in 2012 and realized very quickly that the JCU was not all that it could be.

“I started going to meetings and I noticed that there weren’t a lot of people showing up. It was typically me, the president, the vice president and then no one else would come,” she said. “Even the president didn’t seem committed to events and ideas.”

The first and only event hosted by the JCU that year was an annual networking event, a pub talk at the Imperial Pub, that aimed to connect current students with established journalists in the industry.

“There were only about seven people who showed up to our event,” Husain said. “I was a little discouraged. It just felt like we didn’t really put a lot of effort into planning it.”

Disappointed with the lack of interest she saw, even among the organization’s executives, Husain ran for president of the JCU after her first year. She ran unopposed, and soon after gaining the position, she did a complete overhaul.

New positions were introduced and announced to students — the response she received was overwhelming. She, along with the vice-president of the JCU, interviewed nearly 30 people for about eight new positions and the JCU as we know it was born.

“We just put ourselves a little more on the map,” Husain said. “I think that was the big thing for me, was just getting all the other people on the team to promote the JCU and let students know we were there for them and we wanted to run events that they want to attend.”

There was nowhere to go from there but up. The first event the JCU hosted with Husain as president was a frosh event for incoming first-years — despite having modest hopes for turnout, the event was a success.

From there, it was on to hosting a fall potluck, a haunted house around Halloween and even a journalism school formal, which includes awards for the best works of student journalism as chosen by current journalism students.

Even the annual networking event, the pub talk, was completely reimagined.

“We recruited a lot of first-years and it was a really successful year for us,” she said. “We held our pub talks networking night event, but in comparison to the previous year, we had over 70 kids show up. The Imperial Pub was full to the point where people had to share chairs.”

Today’s JCU is a well-oiled machine, with six people in executive positions working in close cooperation with each other as they offer journalism students the chance to unwind, network, meet fellow j-schoolers or liaise with faculty members about any concern.

“Our biggest goal is definitely just connecting all of the years together and building a community,” said Madonna Dennis, this year’s JCU president. “Our field is very competitive, so when people enter the school, they have that mindset. But we’re here to learn and we should be building a better community.”

This year’s fall event, Fallin,’ was well-received, said Dennis. Everyone was encouraged to bring an ingredient to be combined into a shared soup, she said, and there were various activities for students to do to help fend off midterm stress.

“With previous years, we’ve been focusing on more big events, but we’ve heard from people that they want smaller events that are more chill, where people can come in and actually get to talk to people and it won’t be so formal,” Dennis said.

Being the voice of journalism students, while also managing to hold fun events that help relieve the pressures of school, is the JCU’s most important job, said Lamees Wajahat, vice president of events and operations.

“Because our program is quite small, it’s made us a lot more active with each other in between the years,” she said. “We just do a lot more fun things to it doesn’t necessarily seem like all we do is school work.”

The current JCU offers students a chance at being part of a community, said Dennis, and gives them a much more rounded university experience.

“I just hope that people look to the JCU to be representatives of students,” she said. “I hope they realize that they can always come talk to us if they have any concerns and we will be the ones to help them work through that and make sure that their message is being heard.”

leah.hansen@ryerson.ca