CampusElections 2020Opinion

International Students’ Association Forum Live Blog 2020

Follow along for our opinion takes and commentary from the International Students’ Association forum, happening at 12 p.m. in the CAB Atrium, and featuring all races.

Joel Agarwal’s opening statement talks about international students and their needs very briefly, but then moves on to repeat his main platform points. He spoke about how he met with the International Students’ Association (referred to as the ISA from now on) to hear their needs. He says that, as president, he will work with the ISA, and will include international students in more events on campus. This was a decent response, but felt a little canned.

Yiming Chen, the only international student candidate, speaks about international student relations, and how international students sometimes don’t feel welcome or safe to say their opinions. Chen talks about how international students often aren’t familiar with local passions, including cannabis, LGBTQ+ issues, protests, and more. She talks about discomfort as an international student. She wants to help students feel safe and able to express their opinions. This was a strong response emotionally, but she didn’t have time to put a lot of her goals in her speech.

Luke Statt speaks about his extensive student loans, the ability to get a job after graduation, and how the government has been making more and more cuts. He says that the UASU should be a “key partner in front-end services.” He says that increasing revenue is necessary for all parts of campus. He says he will advocate for work opportunities and and expansion in grants for students. He says that international students will soon make up 15% of the student population, and that he wants to work to represent them, but what does that look like? Finally, he brings up sexual assault survivors. This was his usual speech, and it felt like he just tossed international students in at the last minute.

– Payton

David Draper’s opening statement begins with an encouragement to students to run for General Faculty Council, explaining how the GFC is an important decision making body that lacks student engagement in status quo.  Draper then discusses his background and experience in the Student Union, saying that he is well equipped to be in the role he is running for, such as the fact that he is chair of Bylaw Committee. He addresses the difficulty of particular assessments being especially hard for students, such as presentations to the entire class, that can disadvantage students who have English as a second language. He suggests that it is crucial that these assessment outlines should be more accessible to students even before they choose to take the class, and that it is he has a plan to make this happen. Draper then addresses open educational resources as an important goal for accessibility for academics.

Eric Einarson’s opening statement starts with him promising he is “running to make a difference”. Einarson recalls that one of the biggest mentors in his life is a previous VP external of ISA. He discusses how tuition is being raised  and prices of academic materials are going up, pushing people out of the ability to participate in education broadly. Einarson also emphasizes the importance of OERs in classrooms, he suggests it is important to advocate to professors directly to organically use these resources and not getting administration to force them to use them.
He says that there should be a prevalence of support services in syllabi. Einarson then posits he wants to focus on work integrated learning opportunities, such as a career fair. Finally, he expresses wants to work closely with SRAs, such as the ISA, citing that these SRAs know what students associated with them need best.

– Pia

Robert Bilak talks about how he thinks it’s time for the SU to create a strategic mental health plan. He believes in this plan, they must include international and Indigenous students on campus. He also speaks about international student employment and co-op programs, proposing international student receive their study permits and work permits at the same time, and co-op programs are free for all students on campus. He moves on to speak about how he plans to advocate for international student tuition. This was a very strong statement for Bilak.

Rowan Ley says that he fought this year to mitigate tuition rises for international students this year as BoG representative, and talks a little bit about just how hard it is hitting some international students. Ley says that it is fundamentally unfair that international student tuition is making up for the gap between domestic tuition and the budget. He says that the government views international students as “faceless cash cows.” He says closed-door meetings aren’t enough any more, and we need to create an outreach program, alongside a grassroots movement, and fundraising to support international students. He also advocates for an automatic work permit. This was an equally strong statement.

– Payton

Alana Krahn begins her opening statement by discussing her time studying aboard in Germany for a semester, highlighting the difficulty she faced around during this period, including homesickness, culture shock, and linguistic challenges. She states that her brief experience doesn’t compare to the long-term experience fo international students. From this, she promises to assist international students on campus by providing them better mental health resources on campus, focusing on her policy idea to expand the SU health and dental care plan to better encompass mental health. She additionally promises that international students will have more of a voice by making it so that at least one international student must have a seat on the Business Advocacy Committee. This is a great idea, one Krahn hasn’t mentioned before and one that would ensure international students have their voice heard in business decisions.

Samantha Tse opens by discussing the importance that international students bring to the UAlberta community. Specifically, she wants to focus on how to make life more affordable for international students by centralizing funding and increasing awareness around services such as Rentspace and mental health resources. Will additionally bring a dollar section to SUBmart to ensure that many essential necessities are affordable for students on campus. Overall, this statement feels like a proper VP Ops Fi opening statement, although it doesn’t touch on any new ideas in Tse’s platform.

– Mitchell

Talia Dixon’s opening statement focuses on uniting UAlberta students together through addressing the issues that press on all of them. Dixon specifically focuses on the uncertainty that international students face on campus and states that she considers it her job to address this uncertainty. To address loneyness, she will ensure that the Peer Support Centre will be available on residency, not just in SUB. Additionally, she mentions how she would ensure sexual assault is better responded to and how her idea for a sustainable food coalition would allow for better and ethically sourced meals that would help campus feel more like home than it currently does. All together, this was a strong opening statement that continues to highlight the main parts of Dixon’s platform and specifically connects it to the experiences of international students.

Katie Kidd begins by discussing her experience in student government to date, focusing on her positions on a variety of council committees. Her goal is to ensure that the needs of all students are addressed in her platform, stating she was not a single issue candidate and wanted to go beyond the current requirements of the VPSL. Kidd then discusses how, when living in residency, she ran into students who experienced loneliness on campus and, as such, she wants to expand mental health resources on campus to combat this. Finally, she wants to ensure she makes life more affordable for international students through a variety of promises meant to combat student poverty. Kidd’s statement’s properly addresses the issues facing international students, although it feels average overall.

– Mitchell

During this period, candidates are invited to ask one another questions, and through a live poll system, attendees are able to rate the responses. This system most definitely gives a leg up to candidates with friends in attendance.

– Payton

Albert Hu’s opening statement begins as all of his other forum openings have, with an explanation of a bit of his resume. Hu speaks again of how the University of Alberta ought to open up the endowment fund and stop many of the community supports that aren’t specific to academics, empowering academic flexibility, and improving  a comprehensive review process to prevent student abuse.
Notably, Hu then speaks about his own experience as an international student. He claims that student visas do not permit full time jobs, and this means that currently international students experience “taxation without representation”.
In a very interesting turn of events, Hu suggests that all of these positions should be voluntary or part time. Hu says that we have the biggest student union in Canada, we might have the biggest SU in the continent, and we ought to have these positions be voluntary because we have the capacity.

Dave Konrad’s opening statement begins with a rebuttal to the suggestion that executive portfolio should be voluntary – he says, it is not justified for executives do 60 hours of work and a class a week for free. Konrad then speaks about his struggle with anxiety, and outlines statistics that outline the anxiety that students-at-large feel.
Konrad says that 87% of students feel overwhelmed by university, and some 3000 students consider suicide. He cites his experience living in Austria and BC as relevant to his ability to be able to relate to International Students.
Konrad  commits to advocate to the Student Learning and Research Committee, to fight for more student resources in regards to mental health. He would posit it as important for the University-at-large.
He suggests that faculty ought to be educated on these issues.

It is unclear that the candidates are speaking specifically to things that are actually achievable by the BoG representative.

– Pia

David Draper asks Eric Einarson how he plans to be accountable, when he noticed that Einarson went to the Students Not Silent protest and left very early. Einarson says that he had a midterm next day, and says he did not share that he attended the event on social media because he recognized that he ought not to advertise that he went given he had to leave, save for a picture he took of a sign at the protest that he found interesting.

Eric Einarson asks David Draper how he plans to connect with students at CSJ and at Augustana.
Draper suggests that there ought to be bylaw changes to add more representative associations with students from these campuses. Draper says that it would then be crucial to be communicative with these RAs.

Finally, something spicy during the debates. Gunshots. Bam bam. The greatest and most impressive part of this incredibly well planned forum is the polling that is happening live. The vast majority of people, according to polling, felt that Einarson’s answer to Draper’s question needed clarification.

– Pia

Krahn begins the question and answer section by asking Tse what qualifies her for the position of VP Ops Fi. Tse responds by staying she has served on the Student council and has been involved on campus in variety of volunteer roles.

Tse then follows up by asking Krahn how she plans to expand the SU health and dental care plan without increasing costs on students. Krahn gives a weak response about how expanding coverage would cut the costs of mental health that would otherwise be expensive.

– Mitchell

Dixon asks Kidd how intersections between Indigenous knowledge and the interests of international students intersect in her platform. Kidd responds by highlighting her idea to diversify supports at the Peer Support Centre, fostering both traditional Indigenous knowledge within the Centre, while additionally expanding the accessibility of the Centre to international students.

Kidd asks Dixon what she will do to address the needs of students on work term experiences in regards to sexual misconduct. Dixon responds by saying that, stating that she will not merely gather data that it happens but  address the misconduct itself. Additionally, the hiring of a sexual assault prevention and response coordinator would assist in addressing this issue.

– Mitchell

Prior to speaking for the Sustainability Capital Fund, UASU President Akanksha Bhatnagar says that she finds it is incredibly important to correct disinformation as it happens. She fact-checks Albert Hu’s claim that International Students are unable to run for executive positions – Bhatnagar says that this is untrue. According to Bhatnagar, if for example Yiming is elected, she will be given status that allows her to work full time.

Lots of fact checking to do.

– Pia

As Albert Hu begins his question to David Konrad, he firstly takes the time to try to fact-check UASU president Akanksha Bhatnagar back. He says that student visas only allow for international students to work for 20 hours a week, and it isn’t so simple.

Fact checking to come post-forum.

– Pia

Question: The VP externals said that they would work towards work permits for international students, how would you go about achieving that?

Rowan Ley: CASA advocacy week, and sometimes governments are sympathetic but it just takes continuous work. We know the government is interested in attracting successful international students to live and work in Alberta, and we can use this to our advantage. This was a strong response.

Robert Bilak: The ISA needs to be transformed into a student representative association so they have more power, and the the SU can work closely with the ISA while they advocate for what they want the way they want.

– Payton

Question: What do you (VP externals) have planned for making the protest against the tuition increase more effective?

Robert Bilak: We need to coordinate our internal efforts, revamp the Council of Alberta University Students, and fix our relationship with the schools across Alberta. A lot was said, but he said nothing of how he would approach each of these steps.

Rowan Ley: Protests need to be preventative rather than reactive, so that we can apply more pressure before changes are actually made. We also need to repair our relationship with ASEC. This was a little stronger, still mediocre.

– Payton

In a non-traditional question, UASU President Akanksha Bhatnagar was asked to describe how international students are able to run for executive position. Bhatnagar says that, in a recent change, international students will be able to enter a class that allows for them to have full-time student status.

Fact checking to follow post-forum.

– Pia

Questions for all candidates: What’s one challenge you face with international students, and how will you solve it?

Joel Agarwal: Mental health among international students, he will solve this by involving international students directly with the ISA. We need to be tapping international students on the shoulder

Yiming Chen: A major challenge is isolation and loneliness, we can help this with the Peer Support Centre, but Chen wants to build a culture which is more inclusive and open, and build an international student committee. This committee could help international students communicate with the SU. She also mentions a cultural awareness conference.

Luke Statt: Cost of living and community. In regards to tuition, the president must be in every room fighting on behalf of the ISA. In terms of community, the ISA and residence associations need to be represented and supported by the SU.

Statt gave the strongest response to this question, and mentioned direct ways he will work for international students as president.

– Payton

Question: What is the biggest issue affecting international students, and how will you support them?

Robert Bilak: International student voices not being heard. He would expand the Students Not Silent movement, and empower the ISA in their own advocacy. In the first 90 days, Bilak will seek our the chair of CAUS, and make sure the rest of Alberta is aware of the student movement on campus.

Rowan Ley: Mental health needs among international students. Advocate for the renewal of the post-secondary mental health grant, and advocate for more funding per student, especially on satellite campuses. In the first 90 days meet with every member of CAUS, commit to hiring the organizing coordinator, and meet with Minister Nicolaides to try to discuss the issues he thinks are important.

– Payton

Responses by the VP Academic candidates in regards to the ISA questions:
1. What is one question that you think international students currently face, and how do you plan to solve this?
2. What would you do in your first 90 days, if elected?

David Draper says he is going to “double whammy.” He says, firstly, that the University uses international students as a cash cow. Draper says that he would focus on advocating for and implementing needs-based scholarships, and pushing OERs and affordable textbooks. Secondly, Draper identifies lack of information as a problem. He wants to push towards clearer information about specific class syllabi and expecations.
In the first 90 days, Draper says he would be starting on Friday rather than May 1st. He would push for an advocacy boot camp, and work towards filling GFC.

Eric Einarson says that the biggest challenge for international students is meaningful engagement. He cites that he knows a student who lost funding during their education that meant losing $20,000. Einarson says that it should not a gamble whether or not international students can stay and study here if they lose their funding.
In his first 90 days, Einarson commits once more to implementing a goal tracker for the SU Executive.

Draper’s response is strong, but the second part is dense if you aren’t completely aware of all of the complexity and structure in decision making at the University. Einarson seems well intentioned, but he doesn’t hit the nail on the head as directly as Draper for these particular questions.

– Pia

An aside, but this forum is very well organized – it feels more well attended and planned than previous. Shoutout to the ISA, thank you!

– Pia

We’re ending the forum with two questions posed by the ISA to all students:

  1. What is the main challenge facing international students and what would you do to solve it?
  2. What are your goals for the first 90 days in your position?

Dixon responds that the biggest issue facing international students is loneliness, as they often feel disconnected from both their own culture and Canadian culture. As such, she promises to help connect international students to more cultural events, both for cultures specific to international students, as well as to Canadian cultures through initiatives like Aboriginal Awareness week. In the first 90 days, she will be working towards the completion of ARRC recommendations because of how important this is in moving towards a decolonized campus, saying that it is important to have this in your platform.

Kidd responds that one of the biggest factors facing International students is racism. To address this, she promises to work with the ISA to make sure international students have a stronger voice to share their experiences with racism. For the first 90 days, Kidd promises to go beyond merely implementing the ARRC recommendations, as this is already required of the VPSL. Specially, Kidd promises to address mental health on campus, although this is vague. Other than this, Kidd wants to focus on sexual assault on campus, slightly altering her earlier promise to start a letter-writing campaign by having students focus on how the dean of students have failed them, rather than sharing their own experiences with sexual assault. She additionally mentions that, since calling out the Dean of students, he has taken more direct action on the issue.

– Mitchell

Payton Ferguson

Payton Ferguson is a English major by day, 2019-20 Opinion Editor for The Gateway by night (and also day). She enjoys long walks to the fridge, writing until her wrists ache, and bombarding social media with pictures of her chihuahuas.

Mitchell Pawluk

Mitchell was the 2021-2022 Editor-in-Chief, and served as the 2020-2021 Opinion Editor at The Gateway. He’s a fifth-year student majoring in political science and minoring in philosophy. When not writing, he enjoys reading political theory, obsessing over pop culture, and trying something new!

Pia Co

Pia Co is the acting 2020-21 Editor-in-Chief and the 2019-20 Director of Marketing and Outreach of The Gateway. They're in their final year as a Sociology and Political Science student. When they aren't clicking away at a keyboard and copy editing, they can be found playing slap funk bass, or making a shockingly elaborate four course meal. 

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