Events planning, student wellness, and representing students living in residence falls onto the vice-president (student life). While some of it is fun and games, the vice-president (student life) also works closely with Residence Services, and is responsible for organizing internal mental health initiatives.
This year, two candidates are vying for the vice-president (student life) position: Talia Dixon, third-year student double majoring in women’s and gender studies and political science and arts councillor for Students’ Council, and Katie Kidd, fourth-year student in secondary education and education councillor for Students’ Council.
The following interviews have been condensed and simplified for clarity.
In one minute, can you tell us why you are running for Students’ Union vice-president (Student Life)?
Talia Dixon: I’m running for vice-president (student life) because I believe the Students’ Union needs to do a better job when it comes to fighting for students and needs to take bolder stances that are actually going to push for real change. Part of that is recognizing that vice-president’s need to have platforms that are actually ambitious and working towards true change, driving something at the Students’ Union. So that’s why as vice-president (student life) I’m not only committing towards working on issues such as mental health and sexual violence prevention with new and exciting ideas, but I’m also working towards setting my own vision for student life. To do this I will work together against the mandatory meal plan, championing for free transit, and working to create more spaces and programming for students who parent.
Katie Kidd: I am running for the position because sometimes the Students’ Union seems inaccessible to students who aren’t heavily involved in political science. As an education student, I know the issues that affect everyday students and I think that it’s important that we have a new voice bringing those forward.
The real reason I actually decided to run is because of student poverty. I feel that the Students’ Union isn’t doing enough to combat student poverty. I wrote the policy for it since we didn’t have one before. Another thing that is important to me as well is making sure that sexual violence and the university are held accountable for their lack of hiring for the sexual violence prevention coordinator.
Can you concisely explain your platform?
Dixon: My platform is centred around student justice and the way that I think about that is fighting for what students need, what they deserve, and advocating for our rights to be protected. I’m passionate about tackling climate justice at the same time and I think the reason why I have kind of structured my platform in this way is student justice is day-to-day things that affect us. Climate justice has become a guiding principle for my platform. I think that’s the biggest issue we’re dealing with as a society and so my platform is kind of interwoven, all of it’s interwoven with climate justice. My platform actually has five main points.
The first one is fighting for a sustainable future together. Essentially, the aim of this is to make sure students are able to live sustainably and that the Students’ Union is setting new standards for sustainability within our province.
The second point is fighting for Indigenous students on campus and implementing the Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Committee (ARRC) recommendations. Implementing all the ARRC recommendations is super important to me but I picked out three main ones I really want to tackle.
My third platform point is fighting for students who parent. Often time students are forced to pick between being a parent and being a student, and by providing more services and programming we can actually work so that they don’t have to make choice anymore which would be a really positive thing.
My fourth point centers on improving student wellness. Here is where I speak largely on how we’d like to improve mental health on campus by talking about counselling and clinical services, improving the Peer Support Centre so that it can go into residency and all those good things. We will also talk about providing free IUD’s on campus and the hiring of a sexual assault coordinator, and specifically how I’m going to get that done in my term.
My fifth and final point is centered around student’s in residency and fighting for them. This is usually the same kind of thing happens a lot of the time, fighting to lower costs in residency, working towards sexual assault prevention in residency and ensuring RezFest 2020 happens.
Kidd: I have a large platform because I think there are lots of issues that are important to students, and I want to make sure that I have every student represented in my platform. My three biggest issues are, firstly, hiring the sexual violence prevention coordinator. This has been asked for years at the university and the Dean of students has failed to hire them or create the position. So I am willing to turn to student action to ensure that this gets done.
The second thing is diversifying the Students’ Union mental health supports. For example, the Peer Support Centre doesn’t have anyone who speaks Mandarin or Cantonese which, with our high population of international students, is extremely important. As well as working to create an Indigenous program in the Peer Support Centre.
Finally, I want to create a way for students in residence to submit complaints about the meal plan online. It’ll be constantly available so that throughout the year students know exactly where to put photos of food that maybe has a hair in it, or if they got ham in an omelette that was supposed to be vegetarian. Things like that, so we can take that data to residence services.
Residence issues are a large part of the VP student life portfolio. What are some of the biggest challenges facing students in residence, and how would you address them?
Dixon: Residence rates are going up, like they do year-after-year. My plan for this is changing the way that we do advocacy, to be more radical and focused on doing both internal and external advocacy to put pressure on the university to change the way they function. I also want to help strengthen residency associations to rally and mobilize their student’s to work against these increases. I think another key part is working with the university to reevaluate the tactics that they are using to recognize the best way they can fill the beds in residency is to actually provide high quality services and high quality living spaces so that these individuals actually want to live there.
Secondly, is food in residence. When I lived in residency I didn’t love the food. I actually moved out because I didn’t like the mandatory meal plan. We have to speak about how we can revolutionize food here on this campus; kind of based off what Concordia University did with their sustainable food coalition. I want to make sure food is affordable, sustainable, and also high quality and actually nutritious. The second part of this plan is to actually start working against the mandatory meal plan because I don’t think you should be forced to pay for a super expensive meal plan.
Thirdly, is sexual assault. There is ongoing work into this but I think we can strengthen it. Obviously, it’s difficult to prevent sexual assault without the hiring of a sexual assault coordinator. But then a huge part of my platform focuses on how can we do prevention, response, and then community building through restorative processes within residence following a sexual assault taking place.
Kidd: I think there are two major issues affecting residents. One would be mental health and the other is the meal plan. As I said, I want to create a way for us to constantly gather all the available data about dissatisfaction with the meal plan — real evidence about it that we can bring to residence services so it’s more tangible. As far as mental health, I want to create two different mental health campaigns in residence. One to help with loneliness and homesickness which we know that first-year and other students feel, as well as a second campaign that will help students know symptoms of mental health issues that would need further help and where to go to get that help. I would do this by offering the Peer Support Centre’s third-party training to the leaders in residence as well as to all residents throughout the entire year.
This year there have been lots of cases that have highlighted mental health issues that some students face in university. Do you think the current mental health resources available on campus are enough?
Dixon: Plain and simple, no I don’t. I think that we have some really key problems when it comes to mental health. I think this is something that as vice-president (student life) it’s kind of the bare minimum of your role. I think we have a new challenge presenting itself with the provincial government. So when I’m approaching this issue, my first concern is protecting what we already have because I don’t think that they’re enough, but they’re better than nothing. So we really need to focus on that. From there what I think we need to do is as usual work to improve counselling and clinical services to work around how we actually expand on accessibility.
Kidd: I think no, they are not enough. We know this. Students are turned away from counselling and clinical services all the time because their case is not severe enough. Or the counselling and clinical services are just not able to handle their case for whatever reason. I think there’s two different ways we can combat this. One, I want to create a mental health strategic plan that will not only help guide Students’ Union services like the Peer Support Centre, as well as guide how we’re asking for more money from the university, the provincial, federal, and even the municipal government. As for the Peer Support Centre, I think it’s a good resource. I think students maybe don’t know about it fully or, for example, international students may not be comfortable going. So I want to work to create a partnership between the International Student’s Association and the Peer Support Centre to ensure more students are able to access that.
Student safety on campus continues to be a major issue after security concerns in HUB and FAB. HUB is now locked in the evening. How will you ensure student voices are heard on this issue?
Dixon: I think that we’re taking great steps towards improving on campus security. I definitely think though that it’s always going to be a concern. For people at Campus Saint Jean, one of their biggest concerns is they have issues with people sleeping on their campus who are not supposed to be there. Part of my platform is kind of focusing in on the places which we haven’t already talked to.
Kidd I think we have to say first, Jared Larsen did an excellent job in getting HUB locked in the evenings, and full props to him. I fully plan to continue this work. I think working with University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) to make sure that the roles around security are very clear such as bringing something considered to be a fake weapon. But also making sure students are comfortable and know the ways to report crime. Sometimes going to UAPS for whatever reason isn’t something a student feels comfortable doing because they are viewed as the police. So making sure they have a way to report crime beyond that.
JOKE: Fuck, Marry, Kill – Guba, Patches, Ruthorford statue
Dixon: Kill, the Rutherford Statue absolutely. Marry Patches and fuck Guba.
Kidd: Mascots scare me, so can I kill both of them? Yeah, I’ll marry the statue. Mascots scare me too much.