SU election supplement 2017: vice-president student life
[dropcap style=”inverse”]E[/dropcap]very year during reading week, the Gauntlet puts together our Students’ Union election supplement to inform students on who is running, what they plan to do if elected and who we think is best for the job.
We invite all candidates vying for executive positions to our office — after the one time every year that we actually clean it — for a five-minute platform pitch and a 10-minute question and answer session. A panel of Gauntlet staff picks apart the platforms and grills candidates on some of the key issues they would face if elected.
Last year, the MacHall ownership dispute between the SU and the University of Calgary demonstrated the need for strong student government. The dispute — and the ensuing lawsuit — was inherited by this year’s Students’ Legislative Council and will be passed on to whomever is elected this March. The failure of the injunction application this year and the resulting loss of control over roughly $1.9 million in MacHall-based revenue puts the incoming SLC in a difficult position. U of C students need competent student leaders now more than ever to address the MacHall ownership issue and work in the interest of students.
We know the election period can be annoying. Posters cover every possible inch of wall space and costumed candidates invade your classes to beg for votes. Student elections can seem juvenile and meaningless, but their outcomes are still significant. The SU’s decisions and policies affect the student body as a whole, whether it’s fighting for tuition fee regulation or keeping country music out of Bermuda Shorts Day. It is crucial we elect capable officials who have our best interests at heart.
Since you can’t properly judge a candidate on an outdated meme poster or a 90-second classroom pitch, the Gauntlet is here to inform you of the candidates’ qualifications and platforms. Once you’ve read our reviews, look for our panel’s endorsements on the last page. These are the candidates we feel would do the best job if elected based on their interview, platform and previous experience. But don’t just take our word for it. Every candidate’s platform is on the SU website, and most candidates make themselves available during the campaign period if you have any questions.
And of course, don’t forget to vote March 7-9. You can vote online through your student centre or in person via ballot boxes in MacHall.
The vice-president student life is in charge of student clubs, events like Orientation Week, Frostbite and Bermuda Shorts Day, as well as mental health and overall student wellness initiatives. Pick a candidate who understands all parts of the portfolio and is enthusiastic about campus life.
Matt Abalos is determined to get students aware and engaged. Alongside experience on Students’ Legislative Council this year, he demonstrates a fair understanding of what the position entails. However, many of his platform ideas are faulty.
Abalos wants to make students at the University of Calgary more aware of the services the Students’ Union provides. He proposes creating a “Trivia Day” where he and support staff from the SU would question students on campus about resources available to them — get the question right and you get food, get the question wrong and you learn what the resource is. But those who are willing to interact with the SU are likely already aware of the resources on campus. Those who are skillful at dodging hallway canvassers — earbuds in, eyes forward — would not be reached.
Abalos also wants to create an SU app, even though all previous app proposals have failed due to their infeasibility. His idea to make this proposal successful is giving honoraria to computer science students to develop the app. It’s a weak solution with little thought put behind it.
His proposal to clarify how clubs can apply for funding would make a positive impact on campus and is easily his strongest point. His previous experience on the SU Clubs Committee means he knows how to engage with clubs and how funding applications are judged and distributed. This would make it easier for clubs to successfully apply.
Abalos also wants to push for improvements to campus study spaces and classrooms. Working with administration, he hopes to improve some of the U of C’s spaces to leave a legacy. He demonstrated a good understanding of the university’s Classroom Alteration Request and Facility Alteration Request program. However, he only listed applying for Quality Money grants to fund these renovations. Quality Money shouldn’t be a catch-all method for SU executives to secure funding.
Abalos plans on tackling mental wellness on campus through the creation of “Paint Night.” He said the event could be in collaboration with the Art House Union club on campus, which already provides workshops for students in visual arts on campus. When pointed out that paint nights can be quite expensive to host — paint, canvasses and session instructors cost a lot of money — Abalos said he hopes to work with local businesses and use Michael’s coupons to cut back costs on the initiative. His other point in his mental health strategy is to increase awareness of resources, through events like his Trivia Day.
Abalos has the best of intentions. It’s admirable to want to leave the university better than how he found it. However, his plans on how to do so need work.
• RSA student representative for two years
• SU Faculty of Arts representative 2016–17
Hilary Jahelka’s reasonable platform and past experience in activism make her a strong candidate for vice-president student life. As an executive of the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education club and member of the Implementation Committee for the University of Calgary’s draft Sexual Violence Policy, Jahelka has already contributed to the work of the portfolio. Though a bit unoriginal, Jahelka’s platform is thorough and achievable, especially for someone with her connections.
Jahelka wants to revamp the Junior Executive program implemented by former vice-president student life Kirsty McGowan in 2015. Jahelka’s years of experience with CASE make her well informed about club issues and she has already spoken to the SU clubs coordinator to confirm that leadership transition is one of the biggest problems that clubs face. Jahelka hopes to change the program by implementing proper guidelines for clubs to follow. The platform point may not be very unique, but it is practical and attainable.
Jahelka also wants to address abusive relationships on campus by implementing the “Stepping Up” program. She cited recent data from the 2016 National College Health Assessment survey to justify the program’s need. The U of C already offers peer mentoring and bystander intervention training, but what makes this program different is its three-tier model. Jahelka based the idea on the success of the same program at Mount Royal University and the University of Lethbridge. Most importantly, Jahelka has already spoken to the director of the Wellness Centre about this program and is on track to achieve this goal.
Mental health is an aspect of the portfolio where Jahelka does not offer anything particularly new. That said, she understands that the work the current vice-president student life has done on mental health would be transitioned over to her. She mainly aims to keep things as they are. But while she does hope to engage more students and reach out to a wider demographic, she did not present a concrete plan as to how she would do so.
Another intriguing point is Jahelka’s philosophy that the student life role is an “activist” position. It’s a unique idea that inspires hope that she’d be able to achieve certain platform points.
Jahelka’s platform is safe and thoughtful, albeit slightly unoriginal. A strength is her activism-centered approach, as well as her focus on initiatives that she has already worked on in the past. While her platform does not contain many new ideas, what it does contain is important and achievable. Jahelka is incredibly knowledgeable and experienced and she has already taken steps towards fulfilling most of her platform points.
• CASE vice-president external 2016–17
• Community advisor in U of C residence
Arshmin Kang is well-intentioned, but he is the most ill-prepared candidate for vice-president student life. He lacks a fundamental understanding of what the role entails and seems largely unaware of the existing services on campus that are tied to the student life portfolio.
Kang wants to address loneliness and mental health issues on campus by increasing the Fitness Centre’s operating hours. Citing research from his kinesiology degree, he said exercise can help with mental and emotional issues faced by students. The connection between exercise and mental health is an excellent observation that has the potential to make a great platform point, but Kang does not know how to tap into this potential. Plus, the gym is already open from 6:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. on most weekdays and 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. on weekends. Kang aims to convince Active Living that the extra staff and maintenance costs would be worth it in the long-run because it would decrease health care costs, but he provided no plan for how he would approach this.
Kang also wants to decrease parking fees on campus, even though parking fees do not fall within the Students’ Union’s jurisdiction — and especially not the vice-president student life’s. The University of Calgary bases its parking fees on what similar-sized institutions charge and has stated in the past that they would not decrease these rates. Kang acknowledged that the task would be difficult to achieve, but doesn’t seem to realize that it’s practically impossible. He did offer an alternative solution for when his parking plan inevitably fails — a list of places just off campus where students can park for free.
Kang also wants to bring Mucho Burrito to MacHall. He acknowledged that this platform point falls under the vice-president operations and finance’s portfolio, but Kang still included it in order to “get the ball rolling.” He said he decided on Mucho Burrito after asking some people what they would like to see in MacHall and because Mount Royal University has one.
He also wants to raise awareness of existing services on campus. However, his own awareness seems lacking — he continually referred to the Q Centre as the “Q Room.” He also lacks club experience, which is pivotal for the position.
Kang has the right intentions and will to improve the student experience, but he does not understand how to properly do so. He is unaware of what the portfolio entails and unprepared for the job. He also missed his first interview slot with us and had to reschedule. All in all, Kang is a weak candidate.
• Volunteer at Peter Lougheed Hospital
• Drug Awareness Foundation Calgary Volunteer
For more coverage of the 2017 Students’ Union election, click here. Our next election article, featuring profiles of the vice-president academic candidates, will go online at 12:00 p.m. on March 1. And come out to our Great Presidential Debate on Thursday March 2 at 3:00 p.m. in the Cassio Room to watch the presidential candidates literally fight each other. It’s gonna be great. More info here.