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SU Elections Q&A: Vice-President (Student Life)

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The vice-president (student life) isn’t just the vice-president of fun around campus. While they are responsible for planning events, they also advocate for campus residents and student groups. More recently, on-campus mental health resources and programming have also fallen under this portfolio.

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

Why are you running?

Andre Bourgeois: I’m running because I think that a lot of people on campus have this general feeling of monotony and have the same routine every single day on campus that really focuses on academics. Since becoming more involved and spending some time working with the Students’ Union, I’ve become a lot more familiar with the ways the Students’ Union can help students, and I’ve learned about how to improve student’s access to services. I want to make sure that students get the most out of their university, and I think that is something that my platform really focuses on.

Michelle Kim: I’m running to be the next VPSL because I strongly believe that I am the most qualified candidate with experience in advocacy, events, and previous student’s union involvement. I’m also running because I truly believe that students need a strong voice who can advocate on their behalf to make sure the barriers that are limiting students from being engaged is reduced.

Stephen Raitz: I’ve had an array of experiences on campus being a leader and being led, and so that really contributed to my decision to run. I feel really passionate about the university, about the campus, and so that pushed me to formulate ideas that I think I can bring to the table to really support, and better, student life on campus.

Can you briefly explain your platform?

Bourgeois: My platform is generally focused around increasing the awareness of the Students’ Union resources and services, as well as taking into consideration the student voice. I want to include students in bringing new events and initiatives to campus while strengthening the ones that already exist. I think that we can make it easier for students and their groups to have control over the things they do on campus, while streamlining the access to financial and technical support like events and meeting spaces, as well as funding and equipment.

I also want to advocate for more specialized supports for campus, such as the sexual health education services, a sexual assault response and prevention coordinator, as well as childcare facilities and addictions counselling and drug awareness programs.

Lastly, I think it’s really important we as a Students’ Union listen to the voices of students, and ensure that the university hears those voices when we represent them, and that’s particularly important for students living in residence, Indigenous students, and students attending our other campuses like Campus Saint-Jean and Augustana.

Kim: I have several platform points that I’m prioritizing. The first one is designing a more inclusive health and wellness network; making sure that students know where to go when they are looking for support when dealing with mental health, physical health, sexual assault, or violence. My second point is promoting accessibility and equity; making sure that there are gender-neutral washrooms and change rooms in different buildings and making sure that there is a policy to make that mandatory for new buildings. My third point is making sure that different aspects limiting students from being engaged on campus are overcome.

Raitz: My platform is broken down into five points. The first point is related to planning for student-oriented spaces on campus. As an urban planner, I kind of have an interest in making sure that student’s experience on campus is both accessible and functional. Secondly, I am really passionate about engagement. I really want to provide opportunities for students to get engaged on important issues and have that feedback given from students be integrated in how campus is shaped. Thirdly, I want to strengthen student group vitality, so that’s looking at the support the Students’ Union gives and continuing to improve it, as well as advocating for student group autonomy.

I also have a keen interest in residence. I lived in a residence for three years and now I’m out, but have a lot of experience there. I’d be interested in bettering the transition process for residence association to make sure that they’re sustainable and can provide the advocacy and programing that they’re meant to for their communities. My final point is on the mental health supports provided by the Students’ Union… making sure that our efforts are coordinated and that they’re effective on the ground.

Residence issues are a large part of the vice-president (student life)’s portfolio. Why can residents trust you to advocate on their behalf?

Bourgeois: A this point we have an unprecedented amount of data and information about the needs and wants of students living in residence. However, moving forward, it’s important that we keep those lines of communication and dialogue open, and that’s something I intend to do as vice-president (student life).

I think that it’s also very important that we focus on how each residence has unique needs. For example, Lister students need to have a flexible meal plan. Students living in HUB residence need to make sure that their safety and security concerns are being heard. And then in the development of new residences such as Lister 5, and the new residence coming to East Campus Village, we need to make sure that those residences are affordable and have predictable rent prices for the students living in them.

Kim: I think residents can really trust in my work. I have been heavily involved in residence previously. I have been the president of the HUB community association for the last two years. I am very familiar with different issues residents are experiencing including the Lister meal plan and issues at East Campus — which sometimes students feel aren’t being acknowledged. I have shown through my dedicated hard work in my previous roles that I can create change in my community, and I would like to further that progress in a Students’ Union role.

Raitz: I have a lot of experience in residence. I was a student advocate in my first year working for the Lister Hall Students’ Association for half a semester, so I have a very glancing sort of experience with that. And my following two years I worked in residence for Residence Services and was very involved in Lister. And in my third year, I was a senior resident assistant so I got to see both sides of campus and gain an understanding of what happens in East Campus. With that sort of long history in residence, understanding the issues and being connected to the people who are still there, I’d really be able to be a strong point person to go to and a strong consolidator of the student’s voice within residence because I have the experience there.

This year, the current vice-president (student life) made UASU Cares to consolidate mental health and other resources. What do you think of UASU Cares and what would you do to tangibly improve students’ mental health?

Bourgeois: I think that UASU Cares is a huge step forward in providing a more holistic view of the service providers available to students on campus. That being said, I think it’s important we continue to advocate for more specialized support providers as previously mentioned. And I think that UASU Cares needs to be stepped up with a bigger marketing and outreach strategies. And the bugs on the website really need to be ironed out to make sure that while using UASU Cares, it’s as streamlined a service as possible.

Kim: When you think about mental health, it’s on a spectrum whersometimesme students can feel stressed, all the way to sometimes when students might need more professional help. The issue here, after my consultation, is that students are not aware of where to go. I think UASU Cares is a great starting point for students to become aware of the different services available to them, however, more work still needs to be done. I think it’s a great online platform, I would launch a campaign to improve the knowledge over time and encourage students to use the website.

In my platform, I also added potentially adding more physical places for students to visit when seeking support. I thought about different methods I could do it, maybe adding an office or something, but I came down to using Info Linkers, who are already staff members of the Students’ Union. It will be a matter of informing them, educating and training the Info Link staff member, working with the UASU Cares website, and also having more tangible handouts or bills, something students can be able to look at.

Raitz: I think the UASU cares website is a really great resource, and since this is the first year it’s been rolled out, there’s room for improvement but we really have to acknowledge that foundationally it’s a great place to grow from. As I laid out in my platform, I’m really interested in trying to evaluate this tool and ensure that the many separate community-oriented and preventative mental health supports are coordinated. That may look like better categorization or looking at highlighting the spectrum of mental health resources a little bit more heavily within the UASU cares website, which it already does in some facets, but looking at how we can better that spectrum and orient it to student’s needs more.

The East Campus Students’ Association was derecognized this year by the Students’ Union due to a lack of activity. How would you strengthen student associations so this doesn’t happen again?

Bourgeois: I think that in strengthening residence associations and ensuring that the problem with East Campus Village doesn’t happen again, we need to make sure that we’re really paying attention to the people that are representing those people living in residence and making sure that we listen to their concerns and voices. Having never lived in residence myself really, as vice-president (student life) I’m going to need to take an active role in listening to and interpreting the voices of people living in residence.

Kim: I would want to strengthen residence associations through having more transition points. Right now, if you look at residence associations, they don’t receive specific training like faculty associations or department associations. Residence associations receive training which is provided by the university and that is a problem because residence associations are there to advocate for the students and sometimes you have to work against what Residence Services might believe. I want to create a transitioning program that is organized by the Students’ Union. Making sure that there is a seamless transition will help students know what sort of goals their predecessor was working on and be able to build on that to improve advocacy.

Raitz: Losing that residence association in East Campus is very detrimental to the community because they no longer have the body to advocate for them, or the body to provide programming for them. I would be really interested in looking back at what happened to the East Campus Students’ Association and seeing how some of its powers were eroded. I’d be interested in continuing to evaluate and better the transitionary documents that are being formulated.

JOKE: Week of Welcome is a cult and you are its cult leader. How would you build your cult’s membership?

Bourgeois: This is really funny because I’ve actually been a part of Week of Welcome now for five years. In order to secure more members into Week of Welcome, I think we really need to dial in on the way we are doing our promotions and marketing strategies. That was actually my role for the last two years with Week of Welcome and something that I found works really good in getting people to be engaged and involved and active on campus means reaching out to them one on one and making sure that they really know what we’re about, and we come across as a little less intimidating than we might have led people to believe.

Kim: I think I would work to diversify the cult. Instead of tailoring it to fit one population, the student population who is very engaged in events and everything, through working through advocacy and using their population to enlarge the voice, bring out important things that I believe in my campaign platform to be diversified.

Raitz: I think it’s so important to get people who are hyper-dedicated because if you have a cult, the only way a cult sustains itself is really really active membership, so just find people who would be crazy dedicated to the cult and yeah, I think you’re pretty much set. So just, finding those high energy, really dedicated people to help reinforce the strength of your cult. I’ll add that I lived in Lister and Lister can be perceived as a cult and so I have some cult background.

Nathan Fung

Nathan Fung is a sixth-year political science student and The Gateway's news editor for the 2018-19 year. He can usually be found in the Gateway office, turning coffee into copy.

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