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SU presidential candidates tackle difficult questions at forum

By Danise Simpelo, March 4 2021—

The presidential candidate forum was held on March 1, moderated online by UCalgary alumni Colson Buchanan.

Rayane Issa and Nicole Schmidt responded to questions from both Buchanan and the audience that covered topics like the weaknesses of the Students’ Union, the role the SU plays with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and the harsh harassment that both candidates have received during this election term.

After delivering their platforms, Buchanan asked each candidate what they thought the current weakness of the SU is. Both candidates talked about Black Lives Matter and Black History Month and how it could have been dealt with differently by the university. 

“When it comes to advocacy one person can’t do everything. When it comes to advocacy it is a ground-up movement and is something we should all be collaborating on,” Issa said.

Issa said the SU’s reaction to the injustices on campus was reactive, not proactive. She outlines her plans of how to tackle this issue in collaboration alongside other SU executives by proactively engaging students, ensuring that they are socially aware of things going on in the world and making a solid, proactive standpoint.

Schmidt gave constructive criticism at the slow response of the university to Black Lives Matter and Black History Month. Her plans involve EDI and mentions that this is an important initiative to pursue within both the university and the SU. Adding on, Schmidt talks about working to create scholarships and bursaries for marginalized students to eliminate those economic barriers. 

“I feel very strongly that racism, prejudice and hatred manifests itself as economic factors and I feel very strongly that these economic factors directly impact UCalgary students — that’s not something that I want to stand for,” said Schmidt.

Buchanan asked Issa and Schmidt to talk about the role the SU plays in EDI in the community and how they plan to represent marginalized groups at the University of Calgary.

Issa brought up EDI initiatives like anti-racism training to SU club executives that she looks forward to implementing in hopes of dealing with racism and equality.  She wants to ensure that the EDI task force becomes a committee to ensure students are learning about racism, inequality and EDI.

Schmidt responded with EDI initiatives as her plan of action, however, spoke more on this when an audience member asked her what she had done with her privilege as a white person to help advocate for EDI on campus . She gave examples of multiple student consultations she has been a part of and how they have improved the experiences of people of color at the university. She plans to build upon the vice-president student lifes’ EDI task force findings, implementing them and advocating for EDI training to the university administration.

“I recognize the privilege that I have in this lifetime because of my skin color — that students might look at me and think, ‘This is the white girl in this campaign, what is she going to do for EDI?’ I obviously don’t have the lived experience of being discriminated against — I’ve seen first-hand how the SU has the ability to positively impact students’ lives and students have higher expectations this year for what they want with their SU,” Schmidt said.

The format of the forum began to shift when a question asked by an audience member changed the tone of the conversation. The question asked was ‘Do you have any partisan history with either current or opposition party and do you think it will impact your ability to represent students?’ This question aimed at Issa was from her past of volunteering for Leela Aheer during her campaign with the United Conservative Party.  

Issa did not deny her volunteer work with Aheer and stated that she was vocal about the promises that elected officials failed to accomplish or work on. She stated that she has publicly denounced Aheers’ stance on post-secondary education and her vote against the LGBTQ+ proposal. Issa admits that she had made a mistake and has no problem holding Aheer accountable.

“I really don’t think the guilt of association should carry forward mainly when it comes to this election. I think it’s important that we focus on the policy and the work that I have done on campus,” said Issa.

Schmidt took this opportunity to comment on the harassment that Issa was facing on Reddit. 

“They’re not nice, they’re not constructive and they’re wrong. I think that they need to stop. No one wants to see another political candidate criticized for past actions to the extent that Rayane has experienced. I feel very strongly that this needs to stop,” Schmidt said.

Issa expressed appreciation towards Schmidt before calling Schmidt accountable for her actions on Reddit. She brought up Schmidts’ actions of commenting a two-eyes emoji in response to a comment Issa had received. 

“I think in order for this to be a fair fight is to ensure that we are not fueling any of this conversation and although I do appreciate this statement— I do want to say this statement should be echoed in how [we] are performing our online campaign and interaction with students. As much as I do appreciate it, I do hope it is genuine,”  said Issa.

Schmidt responded by inviting Issa to check her personal account on Reddit, noting that she had said nothing that went against Issa personally. She said that she responded to that comment as she thought it was insightful.

 “People should be attacking us based on our platform not based on us personally,” Schmidt responded to the hate she received online during this election. 

“I‘ve been called a lot of things in the past 24-hours and a lot of terms that don’t accurately represent who I am or the values that I stand for as a person but also as a  political candidate — I’ve been called racist, a white savior, a whole bunch of other terms that I don’t appreciate or associate with myself,” Schmidt said. 

As Buchanan opened the floor for the candidates to present their closing remarks, Issa received a sanction via email. She ended off by stating that she would be going off of Reddit as it has affected her both mentally and physically but encouraged students to reach out to her. 

“I thank you for calling me out on my BS — we should not be targeting different students on our campus simply because they accepted work opportunities mainly when it comes to this economy,” said Issa. 

For more information about the presidential candidates, along with other platforms, visit the SU website.

Voting takes place online March 2-4 through your myUofC Student Centre.

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