Nursing, feminism basis for Skagos’ TRUSU career

Devan C. Tasa, News Editor Ω

Olivia Skagos has contributed to TRUSU in more ways than one since being elected in 2011. – Photo by Devan C. Tasa

When Olivia Skagos got a job at the age of 16, her path forward was clear.

“I got a job at the hospital in Lillooet in housekeeping and food services when I was 16-years-old and I just really, really liked the environment,” she said. “I liked how fast-paced it was, so it was just kind of an easy decision to decide to go into nursing.”

Also weighing into her decision was the fact there’s a large demand for nurses and a lot that could be done with that degree.

Skagos decided to come to TRU after also applying to the University of B.C. and Vancouver Island University. She’s now in her fourth year at TRU.

It’s her nursing education that has also helped her be successful as a student politician elected to TRUSU, first as the women’s representative and now as the social work, nursing and trades representative.

“I think nursing has set me up to, first of all, find different ways to relate to people,” Skagos said, “because there’s a million different ways to relate to people and there’s a million different ways to approach them, so that’s been really helpful.”

Skagos first got involved in TRUSU when she joined the Women’s Collective, which is chaired by the women’s representative.

“Initially, in 2009, there was a really strong group of women who showed excellent leadership skills,” she said. “Being a feminist and having an outlet to express my political feelings, an outlet for my activism, [it] was really, really good.

“Then in 2010, the Women’s collective wasn’t really up and running and so I didn’t really like that,” she said. “There was no activity and there was nothing going on, so I wanted to take the initiative to get that back going again.”

Skagos decided to run for women’s representative in the 2011-12 TRUSU election – and won.

It was after being elected that work really started. After a year of being dormant, students had to be made aware the Women’s Collective existed and was active. The collective held consistent, monthly movie nights about gender politics, as well as organizing a women’s vigil on Dec. 6, 2011, in order to get its name out there.

It worked. By the end of the year, in March, the collective had a showing of Miss Representation in the 212-seat Alumni Theatre.

“We got close to 200 people in attendance, which was huge,” Skagos said. “It was the biggest Women’s Collective event that had ever been put on by the student union in the last four years that I’ve been here. It made me feel good; it was really successful.”

One of the challenges Skagos had during her time as Women’s Representative is that many people have the wrong idea about what feminism is about.

“A lot of people, I think, have the idea that feminism is burning your bras and hating men and being radical,” she said. “It’s not.

“For me, feminism is having all the equal opportunities of anybody else to empower myself as a person, because I don’t think feminism is just a women’s issue. I think that feminism is a [human] issue.”

Skagos said a lot of people still approach her and ask: “haven’t you already won the fight? Why are you still b*tching?” Her response is that while women can now vote and have careers, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“To me, you can’t have gender equality if gender violence is still a normal part of society,” she said. “Of course, it’s frowned upon, but it’s there all of the time. And it’s still happening, so I guess I keep b*tching.”

This year, Skagos made the shift from women’s representative to TRUSU director after finding her nursing studies required her shifts working at the students union needed to be more flexible. Working for the women’s collective tends to require energy be devoted to it at set times.

As a director, her goal for this year is to concentrate on the students union’s Vote Education campaign, where students are encouraged to register for May 14, 2013’s provincial election.

“I think that this is going to be a really crucial provincial election,” she said. “I really want people to go out and vote. Even if they’re voting for other reasons because they really care about health care or whatever, the fact that they’re going out and voting is the important part.”

Skagos also said she wants to continue to educate people about the student movement and the political process by having substantial, five- to 10-minute conversations with students around TRU, rather than simply asking them to sign petitions.

“That’s what I feel my biggest success is: to just educate people,” she said.