StFX "The U" Students' Union
Sandy MacIntosh grew up in beautiful St. Andrews, Antigonish Co., a short drive from St. Francis Xavier University. So when he graduated from high school, the road led straight to St. FX, one of the top small universities in the country.
“It was a natural progression for me to come to St. FX, just like the next grade in school,” says the affable MacIntosh.
Since finishing his degree in Human Kinetics last year, MacIntosh has taken on the demanding role as president of the St. FX Student Union, fondly called the ‘U’.
In addition to his 35-hour a week responsibility as student union president, MacIntosh carries a full class load, taking four courses in the Education program. Still, he never misses a chance to trumpet the benefits of life at his university.
“We have a great student body that loves to get engaged in campus life,” says MacIntosh.
Every September, the population of Antigonish virtually doubles with the return of more than 4,200 students, registered in arts, science, business, information systems and various applied programs. From the first day on campus, the students embrace the renowned Xaverian spirit of engagement with all that St. FX has to offer.
That spirit is rooted in the communal atmosphere on campus. That should come as no surprise — more than half of all St. FX students live in residence, one of the highest rates of students living on-campus in North America.
“That makes for a crowded meal hall,” says MacIntosh with a laugh. “But there’s always something to do, someone new to meet and many things to get involved with.” That closeness fosters a sense of belonging to something special, and the campus spirit starts the first day that students arrive.
Maybe the setting of St. FX, with its red-brick buildings nestled into the friendly town of Antigonish, has a lot to do with the energy and involvement of student in campus life. For more than 150 years, the university has been an integral part of the fabric of Antigonish County.
The university has a very strong alumni recruitment draw — it’s not uncommon for students to be a third- or even fourth-generation Xaverian. MacIntosh comes from a long line of Xaverians, including his grandmother who attended the university.
With its distinctive orange U symbol prominent all over campus, the student council is a catalyst for focusing that famous school spirit, whether by boosting varsity sports teams, organizing cultural and social events, funding the many societies at the university or dealing with weightier issues of student politics.
MacIntosh says the student union works all summer to ensure the students get involved in university life from first day back, whether it’s writing for the Xaverian Weekly newspaper, working with campus radio, volunteering with the tutor program or joining one of the more than 90 student-led societies.
In the fall of 2009, the student union organized a massive on-campus “rain party” with world-class DJs from Los Angeles flying in for the event. With thousands of students dancing under a giant outdoor tent, volunteers drenched the happy throng with a giant water hoses and handed out squirt bottles of paint.
“Everyone left with a tie-dye shirt,” chuckles MacIntosh.
Last year MacIntosh served as frosh orientation co-ordinator, and when the annual Shinerama event topped his fundraising target, he delivered on his promise to recognize the effort with something unique. So he rode his unicycle 60 kilometres from New Glasgow to Antigonish.
St. FX has a proud tradition of social responsibility and community involvement, and so the student union promotes both the exuberance of campus life and the ingrained call of giving back to the community.
Some of the council-supported societies on campus embody that global outlook. Extending Hope is a society that raises funds and awareness of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The Coady International Institute, a world leader in community outreach education, fosters a youth-in-partnership program, sending interns to African countries to help with development projects.
The student union also keeps an eye on relations closer to home. Though St. FX is one of the country’s most residential universities, there are still 2,000 students living off-campus.
So last year, the ‘U’ created the position of Off-Campus Community Relations and Activities Representative to work on community outreach, helping the campus get more involved in community events.
The council offers several support services to students, including a free tutoring service that matches volunteer tutors with students seeking extra academic help. It also provides an equity advocacy service, a student food bank, an environmental office and a drive service to get students safely home after a night of enjoying the social life.
A unique “conversation partner” program helps bridge any global cultural gaps by matching international students from the Coady institute with the wider St. FX community.
“Some people say they want to get out of Antigonish, to experience different things,” says MacIntosh. “But I feel a lot of the world has come to me here and I have gained from them sharing their experience of the world.”