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SU Elections Q&A: President

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The president is main spokesperson for the Students’ Union. They oversee the vice-presidents and the SU’s strategy, operations, and employees. As president, they have a seat on the Board of Governors and General Faculties Council, and will advocate for students with the university administration and all levels of government. 

The following interviews have been condensed and simplified for clarity. Full recordings can be heard here:

Why are you running?

Reed Larsen: I’ve been involved for some time, for about three years now. The first time I ran, I ran because I was annoyed at a few things and wanted to make some differences. The second time around, I had a team, I felt confident in myself. This time around I’m running because I think I’ve grown a lot in these years I’ve really shown my leadership and I think that I’m ready to be the UASU president. I think that I have a drive, a passion. I really love the Students’ Union. I love its mission, I love its core values, and I think that I can really add to the experience here for students.

Shane Scott: I’ve decided to run for Students’ Union president after serving as a vice-president for the last year. I really saw the reach that the Students’ Union does have, and a lot of areas of improvement that we could have in reaching other students on campus, especially many marginalized students and building those relationships and community building. So, based off of my experience, both in governance but following along with external advocacy as well as the operations of the Student’s Union, I really do believe that I am a perfect fit for the president’s role. I think we can collaboratively make the Students’ Union a lot stronger.

Ilya Ushakov: I had a great experience this year as vice-president student life and frankly, I’m not done. There are going to be a lot of conversations about provincial elections going on in 2019 and meetings with those stakeholders to make sure they’re aware of student issues. The university is going through budget cuts and it’s essential that students have a voice to make sure programs and resource stay intact. With the Student Events Initiative, there’s so much growth and potential for the Students’ Union. Student life is going to be uplifted and I’m beyond excited for that. Something I worked on this year is developing a Students’ Union mental health strategy. I’ve been pushing for it since May and I want to continue advocating that. Also, working on striking our brand. Our flame used to be everywhere and now it’s diminished. I want to strengthen our flame’s presence in the university.

Can you briefly explain your platform?

Larsen: I’m running on three major themes. Students’ rights are talking about the charter of student rights, so finishing work that has happened this year and ensuring that the charter actually gets written.

For accessible post-secondary education, we’re talking about things like upfront grants. Right now, the Government of Alberta spends about $200.6 million on tax credits. That money can be shifted into upfront grants targeted at low to middle-income students on a sliding scale, as well as some targeted population such Indigenous students.

The final point is engaging the campus community. This is specifically around engaging people in policy decisions, or in long-term SU strategies. Right now, cannabis is being talked about by just about everybody. The problem is that students have not been consulted on the process. It’s going to have major effects on how campus culture basically exists, and I think that students should be included in those conversations.

2019 is going to be a wild year. It’s going to be an election year. It’s going to be the largest renovation project we’ve ever done. And there’s going to be plenty of major policy decisions that happen and I think that this platform serves as a solid base to move forward on.

Scott: My first point is realizing student priorities, which is about ensuring what we’re doing as a Students’ Union reflects what students really want. This includes advocating to create a campus innovation fund, which would allow students to put proposals towards capital projects on campus, as well as collecting feedback on our SU operations, and ensuring that the advocacy we’re presenting centres around the needs of our students.

My second point is supporting student culture. This means ensuring that we have the capacity to manage student groups in an effective way, and also that we can promote other events and groups. It also means overseeing implementing the Student Events Initiative whether or not the referendum passes.

The last thing is building an inclusive campus. This involves continuing the work on student rights in creating not just a charter but a broader strategy around student rights, as well as looking at things like equity in governance and in our operations. And doing a reconciliation gathering on campus to bring together Indigenous peoples to share their experience with racism and colonialism.

Ushakov: One of the bigger pieces is devising a mental health strategy and focusing on student health and wellness. What I’ve done this year is started working on an SU mental health strategy and hopefully with that experience we can sit down with the university and get one done. Within the health and wellness realm is coordinating a lot of resources, I want to consolidate resources and assess them.

The next part I call igniting the flame — really strengthening our brand. In the next year or two, I want to redesign our website. I want to make sure students have greater access to our resources, services, businesses and a deeper understanding of what the Students’ Union does. I also want to create a president’s’ advisory council which is a bi-weekly meeting for students to talk about issues on campus and bring new ideas.

The last point is the strategic plan. Within it, there are a lot of important goals, recommendations, and process that guide our efforts, but we never took a step back. I would love to provide an overall assessment of how far we’ve come in the strategic plan and also get in the habit of annually reporting our progress of our goals

The current Students’ Union president is working on a student charter of rights that will take multiple years to complete. What is your opinion on the charter, and would you continue it?

Larsen: I think it’s a great idea. I think it is ultimately a project that will take some time. As far as what I would be accomplishing in my year, it is the drafting of the document itself and getting it into the governance stream. If we push really hard, hopefully we can have it done for 2019, but it might creep in a little bit past. But I would be the person responsible for writing that document and I’m really excited to do so.

Scott: It’s something that I do really want to continue. I think we need to look at a bit broader strategy. I think the work that’s being done is great in terms of understanding and taking an inventory of what student rights we have as people at the University of Alberta. But we also need to look at how students know or if they do know how to use those rights and what supports are there to help them through the process. Looking at the resource like the Student Ombuds Office, or ensuring that the resources that we’re creating, whether it’s an online repertoire right now versus an actual charter of student rights, is that it encompasses human rights and safe disclosure, and that it’s accessible for international students.

Ushakov: Absolutely. I think one of the most important things for Students’ Union is continuing the work of others. A lot of the time, getting into these executive positions we have unfinished work from years before. The Student Charter of Rights is essential for our campus. It’s something that has been proven to be quite beneficial it’s something I do want to continue working on, especially with a lot of our student group policies and procedures changing in the next couple years. Right now, Marina is finishing up the research component of it but I’m really excited to get the working group together and continue working on this.

How do you see the relationship between Indigenous students and the Students’ Union, and what would you do for that relationship if you were elected?

Larsen: I think it’s strained. The Students’ Union has had some errors in judgement in how they’ve worked with Indigenous students on campus, especially representative Indigenous organizations. We expect people to be engaged, and when they show up and they haven’t been listened to, I find that to be very strange.

They’re showing up to our chambers, they’re showing up to our spaces, they’re coming to our meetings. Not enough has been done to go to their spaces, go to their meetings, and really engage with them. I think we can do a lot better on that. I think that the Students’ Union president should be doing that.

Scott: We’re well-aware of the rocky past between Indigenous students and Indigenous student groups on campus and the Students’ Union, and I think we started making really good steps in the right direction this year. But we came to a lot of, in my opinion, unnecessary roadblocks. I think we really wronged some students in what transpired throughout the year.

In my role as president, it’s important to not only speak about relationship-building, but to actually do it, to reach out to those groups, see what supports we can provide them, and ensure that we’re not doing it in a way that continually centres the Students’ Union. I think in the context of Aboriginal students on campus and in Canada, there’s a need for self-governance and when we continually just recentre the current power structure, we do a disservice to that. We need to be able to make space for Aboriginal students, listen when they are speaking, and try and understand what we can do differently.

Ushakov: I think one of the most important things for the Students’ Union is to work with students to ensure they are heard by the university and government. This year, we started the Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Ad-Hoc Committee, which I sit on. We’ve done a lot of work and still have more to do but I think it’s essential to begin to properly advocate for Indigenous students on campus. Something I want to do as well is create more opportunities for advocacy.

Overall, I’m not well-versed in Indigenous issues and it’s important that I have students coming and ensuring that I understand the topics so I can properly advocate for them because realistically I’m not going to know 100 per cent of everything. It’s important that we have those avenues for students to communicate what’s important to them.

All three candidates for president this year are current Students’ Union vice-presidents. What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

Larsen: This year I was also the chair for the Council of Alberta University Students. I was the leader of a group of 10 student leaders, presidents and vice-presidents (external) from across the province, and I represented 100,000 students to the Government of Alberta.

Things to remember is that 2019 is going to be an election year and you want somebody who has that leadership experience to represent students. You want somebody who knows how to navigate that well, and that’s where I really stand out compared to the other two vice-presidents.

Asides from that, I’ve been here the longest. I was a student councillor. I hope to continue to bring that dedication, that passion, and that leadership to the Students’ Union and I think that’s what really sets me apart.

Scott: I pride myself on being empathetic and understanding, being kind. It seems so simple, but I think when you’re working with so many different stakeholders, be it government, student groups on campus, individual students, the university administration, it’s so important that you’re able to successfully build a relationship and then leverage that, and my values of empathy and understanding allow me to do that. I think that’s really something that differentiates me as a candidate.

Ushakov: I said this before but, I’m not done yet. I think there is so much to be done in this role and I think I have so much more to offer students. Coming to this position, I’ve seen how much impact student voice has. I’ve gone to meetings as the only student and I was able to advocate for students and change policies and procedures that were talked about. I think it’s quite essential that we continue to have student representation and with my expertise with being really close to students and understanding the student life aspect, I want to continue to grow my relationship with students to ensure their voices are heard through me, because at the end of the day that is the most important thing.

What’s the most original office prank you could pull off as president?

Larsen: I’ve always wanted to do this but I haven’t had the opportunity. I want to drywall in somebody’s door while they’re in their office, so that when they open the door, it would just be drywall and a frame, and I’d think that’d be amazing. I think as president I could get away with doing it to somebody’s office and nobody could really question it. And I don’t think it’s been done, I’m pretty sure it’s never been done. And like paint the wall and everything so their office literally disappears. That’d be great.

Scott: I think the most creative one, and I don’t know if one of the current executives might think about this, but one that I’ve always wanted to do but I just cannot convince myself to get on board, is we really want to drywall over the president office’s door.

Ushakov: It would be really funny to get a piece of plywood, paint over it, and put over someone’s door. It makes it look like someone doesn’t have a door to their office and they would come in and it’s just a wall. I just think it’s hilarious and if someone was to pull it off I would be quite impressed. That’s the first one that came to mind because I want to try it. Watch out, Marina.

Andrew McWhinney

Andrew McWhinney is a fourth-year English and political science honors student, as well as The Gateway's 2018/19 Opinion Editor. An aspiring journalist with too many opinions, he's a big fan of political theory, hip-hop, and being alive.

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