By Danise Simpelo, March 2 2021—
On Feb. 26, a combined forum for candidates running in this up-coming Students’ Union election took place online via Zoom. This event was organized by the Students in Communications (SIC) club and was moderated by Shaziah Jinnah, who is the vice-president student affairs with SIC.
The two candidates for president, Rayane Issa and Nicole Schmidt, took part in the forum, each advocating for the return of in-person attendance of classes. They both agreed that student consultation will be necessary in order to ensure the process is student-centered but noted that it would depend on the timing and safety that was best for students returning. Talks of tuition increases in response to the Alberta Provincial Budget had Schmidt and Issa present two different approaches about how they would tackle fighting tuition increases.
Issa brought up her experience with fighting tuition that began two years ago. She believes that integrating the use of faculty clubs is a must when protesting tuition hikes as she recalls from her experience that fighting alongside others is much more proactive than fighting alone.
“We have seen in the past year that the university has been reactive rather than proactive for the pandemic and if I am elected, I will be proactive in the way that I am approaching student safety and the way they are returning to campus, “ said Issa.
For Schmidt, her approach is advocating directly against tuition cuts for the university and advocating for lobbying the provincial government for what students need such as increasing student financial aid support. She strongly believes that frequent, informal and direct student consultation is the way to go when it comes to any economic or tuition concerns.
“You know this is something I said before, but students are tired of the bullshit. They want to be represented on campus and someone advocating for them whether that’s economic, health factors, economic factors, academic factors. This is something we need to address,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt and Issa had responded to questions about their plans for mental health and anti-racism. Issa introduced her idea of creating policy to ensure that the university would be held responsible for the things they promise students, proactivity when it came to addressing EDI responsibility, increasing diversity of counselors at the SU Wellness Center and increased financial assistance. Schmidt presented her ideas of compassionate grading for students, extending the appeal times for mental health-related grievances, streamlining the appeal process and knocking down the economic barriers that create racial prejudice and hatred by developing bursaries, scholarships and employment opportunities for marginalized students.
When asked by an audience member if either candidate would promise to decline a reference letter from the administration if elected for the SU president position, both candidates responded with a yes.
Faculty of Arts representative candidates Justin Gotta, Matthew Herring, Chaise Combs, Rody Visotski and Kanchan Dhanoa took part in the forum as well as Mateusz Salmassi, who attended as a representative for Sofia Huarte Aguilar who was not present due to a work conflict. Candidate Fayo Abdi was also not in attendance.
During this period, the Faculty of Arts representative candidates all had a chance to express their plans and goals if elected to the position. Herring spoke about the Faculty of Arts Students’ Association (FASA) and his plans to have it reutilized to create more hands-on learning experiences, moving FASA into a position to be an advocate for students outside of just being a club and having FASA re-evaluate where funding should be distributed.
Herring also touched on advocating for increased employment opportunities for students.
“What I think is very important is getting in touch with all departments in all faculties to better increase the communication about what jobs are available,” said Herring.
Gotta aims to create more hands-on learning experiences with the creation of more group projects and class discussions. He believes that this would get students more engaged with one another in this online format of learning. Gotta hopes to open the conversation in regards to vaccination for School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) students.
“Even if we’re on for another semester online — is really get more student engagement with one another,” Gotta said.
Combs indicated his plans to support food cooperatives by creating an establishment of a student-run food cooperative that would provide more affordable and nutritious food options but also be democratic. He emphasized the need not only to rely on organizations such as FASA or the Engineering Students’ Society (ESS) to create change, but the importance of students showing up to be involved in the process.
“They are sources of power for students — they are sources of power but only work if we work with them,“ said Combs.
Huarte Aguilar’s representative Salmassi laid out her plans of utilizing facility organization with FASA connections, utilizing the SU organizing committee and FASA having the same access to student emails as the Students’ Legislative Council (SLC) to create information campaigns such as social media posts, class talks and volunteer pools.
“She stresses what she calls delegation — using the authority on FASA council as well as on the SLC council — coming up with actual organizing plans step-by-step,” Aguilar’s representative said.
Visotski spoke about the promotion of having mental health resources as soon as candidates are elected as he indicated if he were chosen, that he would work to create one unified message of promoting mental health. Visotski emphasized the move towards an online platform for students resulted in a larger demand for resources. One issue he addressed concerned international and provincial restrictions that place a limit on the resources available to students if they were not from nor resided in Alberta. One example is the counseling services at the University of Calgary where psychologists and staff with formal education are not licensed in different provinces or countries.
“We need to let people know that mental health not only matters right now, mental health is going to continue to matter after we go back to in-person classes. Mental health is going to continue to matter for every student cohort coming in — this is something of utmost vitality,” Vitoski said.
Dhanoa addressed the underlying mental health concerns of working online, and the issue of accessing mental health resources. She aims to resolve this by speaking to professors and utilizing resources that are helpful to students. Dhanoa acknowledged Visotski’s point about the limit of mental health resources by bringing up the Women’s Resource Centre as a location that deals with aspects of mental health.
“We have the wellness check that’s online but that doesn’t seem to be something that actually helps students, it kind of addresses that there is a problem — it doesn’t give students the opportunity to act on and fix those issues affecting them deeply, “ said Dhanoa.
As for the acclaimed positions, Renzo Pereya, Mickail Hendi, Frank Finley and Shagufta Farheen were present and took the opportunity to speak about their platforms. Those acclaimed but not present were Marley Gillies and Assad Ali Bik.
The newly acclaimed vice-president academic Pererya discussed the four pillars of his platform, student integration, improving accessibility, enhancing communication and advancing research. He hopes to improve student-professor relations despite an asynchronous class delivery by way of advocating for professors to have clear-cut office hours to give students the interactions they lack from remote learning.
“A lot of professors don’t have clear-cut office hours so I think that’s one crucial opportunity that students can have those one-on-one interactions and that’s one thing as VPA at least, I’d like to advocate,” Pereyra said.
Bringing a little laughter to the forum from the newly acclaimed vice-president operations and finance, Hendi joked about his late arrival due to miscommunication. He briefly went over his platform of re-examining governance structures within the SU and strengthening the sense of campus community.
“Re-examining with the goal of having students feeling like they have more of a say and how they are run — the result of that will be the entire campus community feels like the SU is behind it and students feel like they belong,” said Hendi.
Former SU president and now newly acclaimed Board of Governors student-at-large, Finley spoke on the role of the board of governors handling the financial and material needs of the institution, specifically the restructuring development happening on campus. He wants to encourage students to use their voices, especially during this time when work is being done with a significantly reduced number of students on campus.
“Right now we have a provincial government that is intent on gutting what we have in our province, what is so great in our post-secondary realm and I won’t stand for it,” Finley said.
Newly acclaimed to the senate, Shagufta Farheen shared how the senate is part of a committee or body of the university that connects external communities with campus communities. One of Farheen’s goals is educating students on the role of the senate representative.
“This would mean I am advocating for student concerns and interests on this committee and addressing whatever topics being addressed at the time,” said Farheen.
This combined forum gave the opportunity for the presidential candidates and the Faculty of Arts candidates a chance to address concerns from voters and also allowed for a wide range of topics to be discussed. More details about the candidates and their platforms can be found here.
Online voting takes place March 2-4 through your myUofC Student Centre.