All three candidates in the race for president are pretty experienced in student governance, and that’s becoming more and more apparent in both good and bad ways.
The Campus Saint-Jean forum elicited many of the same responses that we’ve already heard throughout the race; “consultation” (Ushakov used the word even when specifically asked not to by a student asking a question), “affordability,” and “advocacy.” Candidates largely agreed on issues like bringing better services to CSJ, improving security, and reducing costs. It was great to see CSJ students so involved, but there was less focus on the presidential candidates here than other races.
During the forum hosted by the International Students’ Association (ISA) held later in the day, questions touched on everything from frats to international student tuition to voter turnout, and we got a chance to see what really sets the presidential candidates apart from one another.
Candidates were repeatedly questioned about what they are going to do to improve the lives of international students, both financially and in other ways. There is obvious frustration that student representatives have been limited in their ability to slow down tuition increases, and many students at this forum seemed eager to see more dramatic, large-scale advocacy.
All the presidential candidates said they would support other groups, such as the ISA, in any protests they would like to organize, but none would commit to instigating student mobilization. Scott suggested that the threat of a protest may be enough to sway members of government, but also seemed reluctant to go any farther than that.
I understand that moderate, thoughtful advocacy can be really effective, but this seems like a particularly pivotal time in the university’s history, when traditional advocacy methods aren’t doing enough, costs keep rising, and there are some major threats to students’ way of life. I’m disappointed that the SU continues to only support very establishment-level politics, when it may very well be the case that dramatic change is going to be necessary to protect student interests.
On smaller-scale issues however, I was happy to hear some interesting ideas come out from these candidates. Despite his generally underwhelming performance so far, I think Ushakov is right to propose including more content that explicitly addresses the needs of international students in the university’s strategic plan. Incorporating those priorities into official documents ensures that it doesn’t always have to be an uphill battle to see them realized, and since the usual advocacy methods seem to be falling on deaf ears, it’s worth trying to aim for a bigger-picture solution. Whether or not the university will be responsive to that proposal is the question.
I was also particularly impressed by Larsen in the ISA forum. We got to see a much more human side of him, and I was pretty moved when he talked about making this the last election where international students have to go hungry because of tuition increases. That’s an ambitious statement for him to make, and I think it’s incredibly risky to pin the success of his potential presidency on that, but I also think it’s admirable. I like this version of Larsen much more than the calculated version we are so often presented with, and I hope he continues to connect with students like he did at yesterday’s forum.
While nothing Scott talked about today particularly stood out to me — although his remark about dressing up as Mario and fixing all the deferred maintenance issues on campus was pretty funny — I am increasingly confident in his ability to bridge various groups of campus stakeholders and create a real community.
The winner of this race will really come down to students choosing what kind of SU they want to see next year, and I’m looking forward to seeing those results.