We don’t know what we have until we lose it.

In Chile during the 1970s, political prisoners were kidnapped, tortured, and assassinated by the secret police. The bloody Pinochet regime was a machine that tore apart the lives of its captives. Many of these prisoners were university students that became known as los desaparecidos—the disappeared.

Forty-six years later, the disappeared still appear in our headlines. A violation of human rights from the hands of another delusional dictator, this time in Venezuela, has university students running from their lecture halls to protest. These students, with their determination, passionate voice, and perhaps a sense of desperation, were the first to respond to the call for action. They were the first ones to join the front lines. And, as you might expect, they were the first ones to disappear.

Maybe Chile’s human rights abuses ended in 1990, and Venezuela is just another case of autocratic leadership gone awry. Yet still, I can’t help but think from the comfort of the developed world: what if it were to happen to us? I mean, how silly of me to think that. This is Canada! Nothing like that could ever happen here.

But, what if?

Thousands of miles away from the streets of Caracas, sitting in the MN building, I entertain the thought of UTM students facing a similar situation. A tyrannical regime that, much like Pinochet’s, expels students and faculty with opposing views from the university, cuts back on “anti-government” social studies, and sends the army to Queen’s Park rallies to “maintain the peace.” What would we do?

Unlike our midterm exams, there can be multiple correct answers to this question. But there’s only one wrong answer: to do nothing.

“Nothing” is what gets us annihilated. “Nothing” is apathy, and apathy is our greatest enemy. Apathy enables the creation of that tyrannical regime. It shows not ignorance, but foolishness on our part: we saw it happen and yet did nothing about it.

In this way it’s up to us, the students, to take responsibility for our education.

My proposition to you is simple. Let’s not take our education for granted, and let’s start treating it like something we’re responsible for.

Accessible post-secondary education should not equal passiveness. Embracing an active role that keeps us critical and participatory in campus affairs is the only thing that will bring about desired change. Let the spirit of the disappeared, who fought for what we have, inspire us to create a better campus for all the students that come after us.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but action speaks even louder. This is why I invite all students to challenge the “no community in a commuter campus” stereotype that UTM seems to be known for. I invite you to consider that this mindset might be a product of our constant complaints and lack of action. Invite those you know to a UTM Town Hall meeting, or a Campus Council meeting (they are open to the public!) and bring up your concerns to the university administration. Share your thoughts and potential solutions about food on campus in The Medium. Encourage someone to run for the UTMSU executive team next year, start a club, or challenge the campus status quo by voting in student elections. You have a voice, and now is your chance to use it.

Alma mater is an allegorical phrase referring to the university that one attended, and it means “nourishing mother” in Latin. Perhaps in the future, as fellow alumni, we can rejoice at the sight of our nourishing mother: the University of Toronto Mississauga. Let us proudly remember, as children that were once hers, that we safeguarded her, celebrated her, and did not let her fall.

We don’t know what we have until we lose it, but we don’t know what we’ve been missing until it arrives. Let’s take responsibility.

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