At the Myer Horowitz forum on March 4, the two presidential candidates discussed their views on the lack of diversity in the Students’ Union, and how they’ll address these concerns if elected.
Candidate Akanksha Bhatnagar, a fourth-year political science and sociology student and current vice-president (academic), asked all the other candidates on the stage if they had women involved in their campaigns, to which almost all candidates put their hands up. She said the problem is not that there aren’t enough women involved in campus governance, but that women are not the face of campaigns.
She added that STRIDE, a campaign school that encourages underrepresented communities to participate in student governance, needs better funding so it can continue to provide its services.
“Quite obviously, women are involved in governance,” Bhatnagar said. “[STRIDE] does not have a sustainable funding model to be successful.”
Candidate Andre Bourgeois, a sixth-year sociology student and current vice-president (student life), said he recognizes he is not the “arbiter” or “image” of diversity as a “cisgender white male.” He said the Students’ Union needs STRIDE to address concerns around representation, but added that the SU should address how students in faculties like nursing, law, or engineering do not run for executive positions.
“Of course we need STRIDE, and to encourage women and non-binary students to get involved,” he said. “The problem of student governance extends well beyond the confines of gender, and into the system of the university.”
Further, Bourgeois said he wants to advocate the provincial government and the Board of Governors to create an additional student representative seat for an Indigenous student. This way, Indigenous students could bring their concerns directly to the board level and have a seat where decisions are made.
“When we talk about reconciliation, equity, and diversity, what it really boils down to is giving power to the people whose voices are silenced,” Bourgeois said. “I shouldn’t be going out and advocating for Indigenous students. We should be creating them a seat at the table.”
Bhatnagar, a fourth-year sociology and political science student, said the barriers underrepresented students face when running for a Students’ Union executive position are the same ones they face if they wish to run for any other student governance position.
“I think there are barriers we don’t talk about,” Bhatnagar said. “When we talk about [these issues] we need the [whole] system to reflect students interests.”
Another question directed to the two candidates asked about the lack of international students running for Students’ Union executive positions.
Bhatnagar said international students face the added barrier of maintaining a full course load to maintain their student visas. She said throughout this year, she worked with the U of A’s Office of the Registrar and provost to see if it is possible to have Students’ Union executives receive special courses to waive their part-time status once they’re elected, so that international students can run for positions and maintain their academic requirements.
Bhatnagar said this would mirror programs at Mount Royal University or the University of Calgary.
“This way… elections are more inclusive,” she said. “Going forward I hope I can complete this file this year [as vice-president (academic)].”
Bourgeois said he would work with the vice-president (external) to make sure advocacy to the federal government was conducted to reduce the time it takes for international students to receive their work visas.
“There are a few levels to this [problem],” she said. “One of them… is getting your work permit. If you cannot get your work permit before you decide to run, then that barrier needs to be eliminated.”