Candidates for vice-president student life talk on pressing issues facing students
By Julieanne Acosta, March 4 2023—
The Students’ Union (SU) hosted the 2023 General Election forum for the contested vice-president student life position on March 2. Responsibilities include being in charge of events like Orientation Week, Frostbite and Bermuda Shorts Day, as well as mental health and overall student wellness initiatives and student clubs.
This year, students will have to choose between two candidates — Ermia Rezaei-Afsah and Rachel Cabalteja. Both candidates have previously served on the SU as Faculty of Arts representatives.
In response to what they believe the top three issues facing students are, Cabalteja responded that the top three problems are mental health, food insecruity and housing.
“Firstly, right now, in regards to mental health, our mental health services are at an all-time low. The number of walk-in appointments that we have are limited to one and takes a student over a month to receive these services,” said Cabalteja. “Secondly, we talk about food insecurity. It is really important to note that students are having to choose between paying for tuition or paying for basic staples of life. Third, housing is a huge crisis on campus. These are three separate problems that all fit under one major idea of equity, diversity and inclusion.”
Rezaei-Afsah echoes Cabalteja in talking about healthcare, food insecurity but also includes international students issues.
“The main issue on campus is not just mental health but healthcare altogether,” said Rezaei-Afsah. “In addition to that, food security. For the past year, I’ve been working with student organizations on food security. Thirdly and most importantly, international student issues are big because international students have no regulation on their tuition.”
With the current housing crisis, Rezaei-Afsah intends to fight for direct action and committee work. He plans on pressuring the university to include affordable housing for students in the University District and looks to establish an SU owned residence.
“We need to establish a Residence Students’ Association (RSA) but as an extension to the SU and not an independent organization,” said Rezaei-Afsah. “In addition to that, I will pressure the university to require any housing developments in the University District to include affordable housing. Furthermore, I will set up a working group — because this will take many years — to try and establish an SU owned residence building.”
On the other hand, Cabalteja wants to focus on the housing crisis by creating an independent Residence Students’ Association (RSA).
“With the vice-president student life role, we are rather internal,” said Cabalteja. “What students need to see aren’t many years of waiting for change to come, there is a need for students to get the support that they need now. When I talk about an independent RSA that does not mean that it is not supported by the SU. They need people that are willing to advocate for them and not all of their issues are gonna fit into what we can do as an SU. To make them independent gives them the autonomy to be able to do the things they need to do.”
To address food insecurity among students, Rezaei-Afsah will focus on food security by creating a cohesive website containing all the resources that students facing food insecurity would need and continuing the fight to end the stigma surrounding this issue.
“[Food insecurity] is the paramount thing that is facing student right now. Over two-thirds of students on this campus are food insecure and the best way to deal with that is not just through meal programs but also through making sure all our research is consolidated,” said Rezaei-Afsah. “I cannot find direct resources to outside organizations or clubs that work on food security. I believe the best way to deal with this is to actually consolidate everything on a website.
“I know people that will not use the food bank because they think food insecurity is when you’re starving and you’re broke — that is not what food insecurity is, it goes beyond that and it can be as simple as you not having the time to make a meal. I believe that starting a social media campaign to fight against stigma is a good way to approach it,” he continued. “There needs to be a better way of having [students] access [groceries] and that is why I want to establish a bus route.”
A different outlook from her opponent — Cabalteja hopes to continue the fight against food insecurity creatively through a cookbook to utilize food that students do have and help create healthy meals.
“One of the big projects that the vice president student life this year has been working on is the cookbook. It’s a great way not only to personally engage students but also to think of new creative ways in which we can promote addressing food insecurity,” said Cabalteja. “We need to find new and innovative ways to be able to talk to students about [food insecurity] without them feeling shame. I really want to utilize this cookbook as a way for us to be able to not only change the way food insecurity is addressed but also to figure out ways to put into action how students can utilize the food that they do have and make whole meaningful meals.”
In regards to international students’ issues, Rezaei-Afsah will establish an international student association to ensure that international students have a voice.
“First of all, I want to establish an international students association [ISA]. The ISS [International Students’ Services] does a decent job but not a good enough job for international students. Establishing an international students association will allow them to have their own voice from the bottom up,” said Rezaei-Afsah. “I believe that international students supports should be increased and not only through the ISA — that’s why I have housing, food security and meal plans on my platform.”
Cabalteja notes that her platform is not only for domestic students, but for international students as well. She states that all her points will be realized during her term and international students will be able to see that if she is elected.
“It is evident that the university has essentially left international students behind. My platform not only addresses the goals and needs of the student body but are also directly applicable to international students,” said Cabalteja. “My platform is tangible and realistic and there are things that international students can see during my term. My aim is how we can support them internally. My entire goal is not dependent on what our government can do,”
In their concluding statements, the two candidates give their final thoughts to students and talk more on why their platform stands out.
“I am the candidate for direct action, consultation and change,” said Rezaei-Afsah. “I think that the best way to approach this portfolio is to realize that students are struggling and that needs to be dealt with from the bottom up. [Students’] bare necessities are not being met and that needs to be dealt with. Supports need be built that deal with food insecurity, housing, tuition, international students and EDI.”
“My goal is different in that it’s realistic, tangible and all fit within what it means to be the vice president student life,” said Cabalteja. “I do not doubt that our students need support. We both agree that food insecurity is a priority. Mental health is a priority and campus diversity and community are absolutely significant. I directly address these issues and furthermore, there are things that I understand am confident in establishing.
All undergraduate students may vote for one of the two candidates for VP STUDENT LIFE or ABSTAIN from voting.