Bite the Ballot: VP (Student Life)

The discussion surrounding the Vice-President (Student Life) has finally shifted away from dodgeball to a different over-exposed topic.

Besides the responsibility to improve and promote campus life, the mandate of the VP(SL) to many students for a long time largely revolved around planning big dodgeball games and placing singers you barely care about on a SUBstage where you’re barely listening to them. Campus events were their most publicly visible and discussed responsibility to the average student, and VP(SL)s were the “fun” executive members because of it.

That perception has changed now, as seen by a race that has made little time for discussion of potential events to boost student life. Instead the part of the Student Life portfolio that’s highlighted this year is mental health. In fact, mental health concerns pop up in just about every candidate’s campaign this year, but it truly is the responsibility of the VP(SL) and that’s shown from how it’s utterly dominated the conversation between this year’s two candidates.

This is because the favourite to win, Vivian Kwan, has ran a campaign that highlights the issue of improving mental health much more prominently than any of her other platform points. And it’s also because her opponent, Parambir Singh, simply doesn’t add much to the conversation at all.

In reality, this is a race between Kwan and the None of the Above (NOTA) option. It’s commendable to see a student from outside the SU bubble like Singh commit to this campaign, but he’s clearly in way over his head. His posters offer no information, he doesn’t have a website, he’s barely cobbled together any semblance of a platform, and interviews and forums with Singh have displayed a lack of knowledge about the realities of the issues this executive position faces.

Singh shouldn’t and won’t win, that much is clear. If he truly has an interest in student politics and contributing positively to campus, he could make a solid representative on student council next year, but he’s far too unprepared for an executive position.

The question then comes down to whether Kwan has earned the student vote or not. Raising awareness of mental health services, and helping students and faculty better understand mental health problems to improve campus resilience are fine ideas, but running another awareness campaign like her Positive U proposal doesn’t inspire much confidence that very much is going to change. That being said, expanding the Unwind Your Mind initiative to other buildings on campus, and the project to profile international students to better inform campus about the challenges and stigmas that university students face could both make small yet significant strides to bettering campus life for all students.

As for her other platform points, looking into another Break the Record dodgeball game for her successor to attempt was likely bound to happen anyways after students complained when the game was dropped this year, making it a non-issue at the voting booth. If more inclusive, non-alcoholic events can be created next year, however, it’d be a nice change for the portion of students who are either too young or disinterested in the majority of campus events that serve liquor. But overall, the portion of her platform centered on “enriching student experience” is fairly uninspired.

The one other potential strong campaign point she has involves introducing student life working groups to engage students and keep Kwan informed as VP (SL) on how to tackle the biggest problems facing the U of A campus. If students can be engaged to join the groups and they meet with Kwan regularly to represent the concerns of individual groups across campus, it would only improve Kwan’s effectiveness in the position.

Still though, Kwan’s campaign is undeniably underwhelming for someone with her experience at the U of A. But even though her platform’s narrow focus on mental health may not resonate with a lot of students, after a number of tragedies on campus this year, maybe this is the best time for someone with a platform like Kwan’s to be elected. She’s clearly passionate about the work she could accomplish, and while students shouldn’t expect that much of an improvement in campus events, if Kwan commits to ensuring these points come to fruition, she’d do a fine job as VP (SL), making her campaign just strong enough to deserve your vote.

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