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Nicole Schmidt talks goals for upcoming year at SU presidential forum

By Enobong Ukpong, March 9 2022—

The 2022 Students’ Union (SU) Presidential forum was held online on March 7, moderated by the current Vice-President Academic Renzo Pererya. 

Nicole Schmidt, the current SU president, answered questions from both Pererya and the audience that covered a variety of topics. 

Schmidt first had the opportunity to speak on her platform, which she divided into three key points — fighting against tuition increases and post-secondary cuts, reevaluating mental health services for students and increasing student engagement and transparency.

Pererya asked what Schmidt was most proud of during her presidency and one thing she would change. Schmidt stated that she was most proud of her work with the SU advocacy team and Vice-President Gillies to delay the exceptional tuition increases that the University of Calgary submitted to the Government of Alberta. 

“This was a really massive win in a lot of ways, because students have never, at least in recent memory, had that type of leverage before,” said Schmidt. She hopes that advocacy can continue into the next year.

Schmidt states that because every Student Legislative Council (SLC) meeting was online, SLC felt less cohesive this year. 

“We didn’t have those opportunities to interact with one another in-person in the council chambers. And I think that was definitely a challenge for everyone. I know I felt it.” 

She states that if she were to do something different, it would be looking for opportunities to engage SLC more consistently and more collectively on a regular basis.

Pererya asked what Schmidt believed would be the biggest issue that students would face next year. Schmidt stated that it was tuition increases and post-secondary cuts that have affected students over the past three years, saying that the Government of Alberta has cut $600 million from their post-secondary education budget over the past three years, unprecedented by any government in Canadian history, causing a correlative increase in tuition prices. Schmidt believes these increases are unsustainable and unfair to students.

“I think going in next year, it’s really important to have not only a president but an executive that really prioritizes student advocacy and student supports,” said Schmidt.

Pererya asked if the SU should remain a nonpartisan organization in light of the UCP’s cuts to post-secondary education. Schmidt stated that because the SU works with so many different groups, organizations and elected officials, it needed to remain nonpartisan.

“I think it’s really important that we continue to advocate for students in whatever means we need to and whatever means is best. But I think in doing that we need to make sure that we are not burning any bridges with elected officials,” said Schmidt. 

She said that the SU needs those relationships with administrations because otherwise, it makes it hard to advocate on behalf of students.

Pererya asked Schmidt how she plans on working with the incoming vice-president academic to ensure that students are still receiving a quality education in spite of budget cuts. Schmidt says she wants to continue with the work being done to provide students with open educational resources, which would provide students with materials such as textbooks for no additional cost.

Pererya then asked Schmidt what she felt needed to change in the way the SU currently operates. While Schmidt said she believed the SU at the University of Calgary was one of the best student unions in Canada, she stated that representative accountability is a concern that has come up frequently. 

“I know there were issues regarding reps not showing up to meetings, reps not submitting reports on time, reps being absent from SLC,” she said.  

Schmidt stated that it was a challenge to try to adapt to another year entirely on Zoom, and that the SU is compassionate of the fact that students and elected officials alike have been having a hard time with mental health this year.

Pererya asked how social media has changed the way the SU interacts with students, and if she thought social media would still be a useful tool or if the SU would go back to in-person advocacy to mobilize students.

Schmidt said that she believes social media will be a key aspect of transparency and engagement moving forward, but she doesn’t see it replacing in-person interactions. 

“I think that it is important to have those events and those opportunities for elected officials to interact with students.”

The forum opened the floor for the audience to ask questions. Schmidt was asked how she would go about representing all students, especially those who may have diverse opinions. 

Schmidt stated that she plans on doing this through consultations with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and equity experts a at the University of Calgary. 

“I think that it’s important that students with different viewpoints, but also different lived experiences, have the opportunities to share them and have the opportunities to be represented through their elected officials and through their Students’ Union,” said Schmidt. 

She said that while things are moving in a good direction, there is still a long way to go, and she looks forward to working on this with the incoming vice-president student life.

Schmidt was asked what she would do to ensure that the university doesn’t make up for cuts by increasing fees like the Student Services fees. She stated that as SU President, she has a seat on the financing properties committee, which is a subcommittee of the Board of Governors. She said that since the SU was able to delay the exceptional tuition increases, this year will be an opportunity to have a more targeted approach to preventing tuition increases.

Schmidt was asked how the SU plans on advocating for students to politicians given that the SU is no longer a part of CAUS (Council of Alberta University Students). Schmidt stated that the SU left CAUS because the SU was paying $52,000 a year while the students of the University of Calgary weren’t deriving any benefit from it. 

“None of our advocacy asks were being advocated for to the provincial government through CAUS, which is essentially their job,” said Schmidt. Schmidt said that she’s elevated having opportunities to engage with the government, but also with the media, as speaking out publicly puts pressure on the government to address these issues.

“Being an elected official in and of itself is not a merit,” she said. “Students want someone who’s going to advocate for them. Students want someone who’s going to voice their concerns not only to the administration but also to the government. Students want someone who has a vision and who has a plan moving forward.” 

Schmidt said that she strongly believes that through the work she has done this past year, she has proven that she is willing to step up and advocate for students.

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

Voting takes place online from March 8–10 through your myUofC Student Centre.

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