Together apart: In difficult times, student leader Andrew Gallant kept students connected

June 22, 2021 by Cynthia Macdonald - A&S News

“You Belong Here.”

As president of the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA) during the 2020-2021 school year, Andrew Gallant held the college’s motto in mind every day as he endeavoured to let all members know they shared a bond — even when COVID-19 prevented them from interacting in person.

Four years ago, Gallant got involved in student government to make friends and create a sense of belonging for himself. He easily achieved that objective, and many others as well.

“I ended up running in the by-election to represent my residence and I won,” he says. “It was the first time I’d ever held a position like that. From there, I just fell in love with the idea of being able to have a positive impact on my community.”

As Director of Social Affairs the following year, Gallant planned and sought sponsors for Orientation Week and a variety of other creative events. One example? Setting up a projector and ordering snacks, so students could drop in on an impromptu basis to watch a Leafs playoff game. In third year, he took on the position of Vice President, Internal, in which — among other things — he managed personnel and learned about effective communication and conflict resolution.

With all his experience, it was natural for Gallant to set his sights on the presidency in his final year at Woodsworth. It was early 2020, and he looked forward to the campaign’s hugely social nature: postering, public speaking, and meeting with as many students as he could.

And then the pandemic hit.

“It was a very turbulent time to be running a campaign, and we were also working to transition the association to functioning online,” he recalls. “I ended up winning the election but from there we had to hit the ground running.”

The logistical challenge of running a student association completely online was daunting. That’s why Gallant felt that above all, he needed to convey both to his governing team and to the students that they would be supported as long as the pandemic lasted, no matter what.

“At my first meeting as president, I said: ‘we’re all going to struggle this year, but the students are going to struggle more.’ I tried to emphasize that we weren’t just individuals working autonomously; we were a team.”

During this unusual year, Gallant was ever mindful that certain students would have greater barriers to overcome than others. He successfully negotiated better pay and working conditions for student association staff and secured residence spots for students in need. Most significantly, he and his team worked to establish the Woodsworth Community Engagement Award.

Last summer, during the anti-racist protests that followed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Gallant and others at Woodsworth became increasingly aware of the challenges faced by BIPOC students. They wondered what they could do to help. After a series of consultations with cultural diversity and anti-racism groups on campus, they devised the idea of a scholarship fund.

The Community Engagement Award was financed partly by student fees that were reallocated since they could not be spent normally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and partly by the college’s Annual Fund. The endowment fund now stands at $80,000 and recognizes excellence in student leadership. It is intended primarily for students in their second and third years of undergraduate study and is open both to BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ students. 

Gallant initially chose Woodsworth because it was home to criminology, one of his majors; he also studied political science and sociology. This fall, he will continue exploring his passion for the subjects of police reform, constitutional rights and the court system at Osgoode Hall Law School. However, the memories he’ll take from Woodsworth extend far beyond his studies.

“Woodsworth is rooted in its support of alternative students,” he says. “Mature students, working students — a whole gallery of people with different life experiences. The college is really centred around providing individuals with a community, regardless of where they’ve come from. No matter who you are, there’s a place for you. Again, it goes back to that slogan: You Belong Here. That’s the crux of why I think it’s a special place.”

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