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SU Elections 2022: International Students’ Association Forum Recap

The sixth and final forum of the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union 2022 elections was the International Students' Association (ISA) forum.

The sixth and final forum of the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union 2022 elections was the International Students’ Association (ISA) forum.

This forum, conducted on March 8, was held in-person at the Telus International Centre for candidates, ISA executives, and reporters from The Gateway. The forum was accessible to the public via Zoom, and live streamed on the ISA’s Instagram and Facebook.

The first part of the forum consisted of Students’ Union candidates giving opening speeches. This was followed by questions from the audience, and questions designed from a focus group. The ISA’s created focus group, composed of board members, councillors, and international students, was provided with candidate platforms prior to the forum, and questions were designed based on platforms.

Here is the TL;DR version of this forum:

  • President: specific actions to empower international students
  • Vice-president (operations and finance): creating a on-campus office space for the ISA
  • Vice-president (external): advocacy to provincial and federal government
  • Vice-president (academic): international student representation and work-integrated learning
  • Vice-president (student life): intersectionality within international students
  • Board of Governors Representative: effective communication with ISA
  • All candidates: ensuring promises are met
  • Referendums and plebiscites: What they offer to international students

Presidential candidates detail specific plans to help empower international students

The first question addressed to presidential candidates — a focus group question — had candidates delve into specific accomplishments they would work towards if elected.

“Mention one thing you will accomplish in your term that would empower international students,” the question said.

Haruun Ali, presidential candidate, described plans to secure an on-campus space for the ISA.

“The first thing I would do as president is allocate the room in the basement of Students’ Union Building (SUB) to the ISA,” Ali said. “I think giving the ISA space to actually have a permanent home, where international students can go to them for help, makes sense. I don’t understand why it has taken two years for someone to get something done — in my first week of [being] president, I’ll get something done.”

He also described plans to mend the “broken relationship” between the Students’ Union and the ISA.

“I will make sure to work with the ISA president to make sure we’re doing advocacy too, and make sure we actually have a connection there, and repair the broken relationship, that has been broken by the current Students’ Union executive team.”

Emily Kimani, presidential candidate, responded with ambitions to break down cultural barriers when it comes to mental health.

“One thing I plan to do for international students’ is break down the barriers that currently exist when it comes to accessing mental health supports, specifically working with [Students’] Council and clinical services,” Kimani said. “I know from my own cultural background [that] mental health is a taboo, to be very blunt.”

“Especially with the past two years of online classes and education being extremely difficult, we need to make sure all students are supported.”

Monteiro, similar to Ali, spoke to the importance of having an on-campus space specifically for the ISA.

“When I was president of the Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation Student Society (KSRSS), one of the biggest ways we created community on campus is creating a space where students in our faculty can come in, and sit down and have conversations and formal meetings, to understand what we do and how we support them… right now the ISA doesn’t have that,” Monteiro said.

“I want to make sure they have a space before international students come back in fall of 2022 so you can experience what campus life is like, and create a community for yourselves before you start the semester.”

-Areeha Mahal

VP Ops Fi promises an on-campus space for international students, doesn’t set out timeline

Julia Villoso, the only candidate in the vice-president (operations and finance) (VP Ops Fi) race, promised to create a space on campus dedicated to the ISA — but, when questioned, did not commit to a timeline for the project. 

The creation of an ISA office space, where international students and their elected officials could meet on campus, was a promise made in last year’s VPSL race. Villoso, who unsuccessfully ran for the VPSL position and lost last year, pledged to create the space but was unsure if SUB was the best option because it lacked “permanence” in comparison to other areas.

Emily Kimani, the eventual winner and now a presidential candidate, also pledged to create the space. However, almost a year later, the ISA still has no office space.

In her opening statement, Villoso immediately declared her commitment to creating office space for the ISA, emphasizing the importance the organization has had in shaping the experience of international students on campus.

“The ISA has uplifted, encouraged, and amplified international students in advocacy, empowering you to speak up for yourselves on issues that pertain to you and your experiences,” Villoso said. “This is why it is crucial to provide international students with office space.”

“International students need to be able to easily access their biggest representative body on campus. You have been promised a space for two years now, to no avail. I want to make sure this promise is accomplished next year.”

While this promise went unfulfilled last year, Villoso pledged to ensure the space was created but did not commit to a timeline.

“I feel it’s unrealistic to give myself a timeline that’s very short, and stick to that timeline,” Villoso said. “You have already been disappointed in the past two years [regarding] this office. I want to make sure if I’m making a promise, I’m going to keep it.”

“I have sent an email to the ISA with the timelines I presume, but I think having really short timelines and not sticking to them will be a bigger disappointment than not having a timeline in the first place.”

-Mitchell Pawluk, Areeha Mahal

VPX candidates focus on intentions to advocate to provincial and federal government.

At the ISA forum, VPX candidates spoke about representing the interests of international students to government bodies.

Chris Beasley spoke first at the forum for the vice-president (external) (VPX) position. Beasley focused on “the interests of the province and the federal government as they relate to international students.” 

He repeated his remark from the Myer Horowitz forum that “international students are the future.”

“Considering challenges the university may face attracting international students,” he said, “I’m willing to bet that a number of students did not come to the U of A because of stories they’ve heard about the tuition, that was too high to be worth it.” 

He added that the issue of safety on transit, challenges getting work permits, and budget cuts are all hurting the university’s reputation. Beasley voiced feeling these issues need to be addressed the attract international students.

Incumbent Christian Fotang took a more personal note during his opening statement. 

“Five years ago, my mother got accepted into a master’s program in social work at Washington University,” he said. “That’s where I got exposure to what life being an international student can be like.” 

He described his mother as feeling “distanced and alone.” He recognized that “I know most everyone in this room knows all too well the feeling I just described.”

Fotang said that as VPX, he has pushed for international students’ issues “at all levels of government,” including the federal government, to fight against the need for a separate permit for co-op programs.

In Alberta, he has pushed for a new permanent residency pathway and pushed for the municipal government to make international students permanently eligible for the Ride Transit Program.

“I know I can continue this work to get the results you need,” Fotang concluded.

Both candidates were asked to “mention one thing that you will accomplish in your term that will empower international students.”

Fotang’s priority was “creating a partnership between the United International Students Union of Canada (UISUC) and The Canadian Alliance of Students Associations (CASA)” because he believes UISC would benefit from federal connections.

He also sees international student issues as an area of potential collaboration with the provincial government given international targets in their 2030 plan.

Beasley drew attention to increasing safety within transit.

“What I promise by the of the term is better transit safety,” said Beasley. He specified that there is a need to focus on the university transit centre and LRT stations. 

Beasley said fixes include cell service in the stations and first aid kits. He added that “we need sustainable solutions” for the vulnerable people coming from downtown to seek shelter in transit stations.

-Kevin Theriault

VPA candidates diverge on plans to empower international students

When responding to one thing they plan to accomplish in their terms to empower international students, vice-president (academic) (VPA) candidates diverged on priorities.

Milan Regmi, VPA candidate, prioritized increasing international student representation at multiple associations and councils.

“If elected VPA the first thing I would do, in the first week as VPA, is immediately file a motion and try to get it passed through to council, to immediately give the ISA a seat in the Council of Faculty Associations (COFA),” Regmi said.

“I think the underrepresentation in has gone on for too long in the ISA, and it is time international students have a voice… We need to make sure they are represented in all facets of our university, also including the General Faculties Council (GFC) and the Senate.”

Gurleen Kaur, VPA candidate, focused on work-integrated learning.

“For international students, my main focus will be work-integrated learning,” Kaur said. “So [for] programs that don’t offer co-ops, I will make sure it is easy to get work experience in those programs as well to make sure international students who invest a lot of money in their degree don’t feel empty-handed once done.”

“Whether they want to stay in Canada or go back to their home countries, [international students] should be equipped to secure a good future and follow their dreams.”

-Areeha Mahal

VPSL candidate seeks to recognize intersectionality in international students and to ‘elevate international student successes

Rowan Morris, current Students’ Union education councillor, was the only vice-president (student life) candidate in attendance at the ISA forum; Joannie Fogue, a third year political science student and current Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (AUFSJ) president, was unable to attend due to illness.

In their opening, Morris emphasized the importance of international students to U of A’s campus.

“The contributions [international students] bring to our community and economy should not be followed by deportation when [they] graduate,” Morris said. “International students need to be respected and appreciated for the significant benefits [they] bring to the university and to the province.”

A question to all candidates asked them to “mention one thing that [they] will accomplish in [their] term that will empower international students.”

Morris emphasized the importance of seeing “international students are not just international students” and the prevalence of intersectionality.

“We need to make sure that we recognize that intersectional identities do have an impact on our students and ensuring that our professors are adequately able to handle that without bringing xenophobia into the classroom on top of other biases,” Morris said.

Earlier in the election, Morris noted being unable to consult with the ISA before their campaign. They were questioned whether they consulted with any international students before their campaign, and if anything came out of any such consultations.

Morris stated that they spoke to many international students prior to the forum, and noted the communication gap between themself and the ISA was not intentional, but due to technical issues with email.

“I have been experiencing a lot of technical issues since changing my name in Bear Tracks and I recognize how that appears to international students,” they said. “I do promise that I am committed to ensuring I am able to advocate for you and listen to you and I have done that through the personal relationships I have built.”

Remi Hou

BoG representative focuses on effective communication

Effective communication and tuition were the main focuses for the Board of Governors (BoG) representative during the ISA forum.

Alex Dorschied, a third-year bachelors of commerce student, opened with his platform and felt it was unacceptable that international students are being “priced out of an education” since “the university won’t be able to meet their international enrolment targets.” Dorshied advocated for hybrid learning to help deal with this issue.

A question was posed to all of the candidates about empowering international students.

“Mention one thing that you will accomplish in your term that will empower international students,” the question asked.

Dorschied mentioned his plan to communicate with students through a permanent BoG Instagram and Facebook account and also invite international students to speak “when there are issues directly relating to international students so that BoG … will know exactly what [the issue is] and how it’s going to impact international students.”

Another question asked Dorschied about his consultation plans.

“Can you explain your consultation plan during your term as the BoG representative to ensure how your advocacy will include international students?” the question asked. The question, which came from the ISA’s focus group, specially stated that the former BoG representative requested a seat on the ISA’s committee on international student affairs to consult with international students.

Dorschied said that if what the former BoG representative did was working, he is willing to continue with it.

“I’m really open to any solutions that will make the ISA happy and make them feel like their voices are being heard on the Board.”

-Remi Hou

All candidates questioned on plans to stay accountable to international students throughout the term

During the forum, all candidates were prompted by a question from the live stream asking how they would ensure they are accountable to their promises.

“Year after the year, it seems the Students’ Union cares about international students only during elections,” the question stated. “How will you stay accountable to your promises?”

In response, Monteiro prioritized regular meetings with the ISA, including a meeting before the term starts to create an outline of advocacy for the year.

“I think the most important thing is meeting regularly with the ISA — not just me but the whole executive team — to make sure we have an understanding of what we are going to do going forward,” he said. “One of the things I want to do is sit down with the ISA before our term starts to make sure we’re outlining exactly what our plans are for the year.”

“[That way] the Students’ Union knows what we’re advocating for, and the ISA also knows what we’re advocating for, so we can work together to further the interests of international students.”

In response to the same question, Kimani said spoke to her experience as VP Ops Fi meeting regularly with ISA executives.

“To stay accountable you need to establish a strong, firm relationship, and good communication,” she said. “This year I met monthly with your outgoing vice-president (finance) and vice-president (internals), and we formed a really good relationship where we talked about the issues international students are facing.”

“As your president I plan to continue that same relationship, ensuring all executives are meeting with their respective counterparts.”

Ali criticized the current executive team — describing them as “the same people that broke the system.”

“The reality is, asking the same people that broke the system to fix the system is ridiculous,” he said. “The reality is, they had the opportunity to fix the system and this has been one of the worst years for the Students’ Union and ISA relationship.”

“The Students’ Union has historically not listened to international student concerns, and as president I’m going to change that. We’re going to make sure we listen to them, and that they have a voice… one of the best ways we can do this is giving them the [temporary] space in SUB.”

VP Ops Fi candidate Villoso described wanting to have a strong relationship with Student Representative Associations (SRAs) and meeting on a monthly basis. She also mentioned her current Instagram account, which provides followers with updates on her work as an arts councillor.

“I have given updates all year on my platform, what I’ve been doing as an arts councillor, and all the promises that have been made,” she said. “I want to make myself accessible and continue this work next year with students through social media and office hours.”

When VPX candidates were prompted with the question, Fotang said accountability will come from “meeting with our counterparts and having sustained communications.”

He highlighted his consultation with the ISA in preparation for a presentation to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. 

Beasley argued that his background proves that he will be accountable. Over the last two years he worked in “tons of meetings with the ISA” as an arts councillor and as the president of OASIS.

When VPA candidates were prompted to answer, Regmi reinstated increasing international student representation in multiple areas at the university.

“In my first week in office, I will immediately file a motion to give the ISA a seat in [GFC] and [COFA]… which will increase accountability. I will make sure I am consistent with consultation as well.”

Kaur noted being an international student herself has equipped her to advocate for international students while remaining accountable.

“We have never had an international student as a [Students’ Union] executive,” Kaur said. “Although I can advocate for Indigenous students and Black people, the true problems I can specify are for international students, as I am an international student myself.

VPSL candidate Morris empathized with how the ISA and international students felt.

“As a queer person, I often feel the same,” they said. “Reading a lot of platforms that talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion, they often seem like tautologies three months into a term.” 

“I know how it feels to be promised something and for it not to happen, which is why I am committed to meeting with the ISA regularly.”

They also mentioned their plan to elevate international student successes and mention international student accomplishments in their social media posts.

“I believe that recognizing successes is another way we can improve relationships to work together, but also to make sure we are incorporating celebration into recognition and accountability.”

BoG representative candidate Dorschied said his plan was to share updates on the new BoG Instagram and Facebook accounts he wants to create and also have regular meetings with the ISA.

-Areeha Mahal, Kevin Theriault, Remi Hou

APIRG, WUSC, SLS and ISA brief audience on services specifically for international students

All referendums present at the forum were given 30 seconds to describe what their fee would provide for international students specifically, and why international students should vote yes.

Sarah Alemu, the representative of Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG) fee, was first to tackle the question, noting the funding opportunities APIRG has available for international students.

“What APIRG has to offer international students, and students more broadly, is funding to fund your projects and student groups,” Alemu said. “Every semester, students can apply for up to $2,000 in funding to support your project, as well as having access to resources to support your applications for our grants and any other grants you are applying for.”

Urbah Syed, the representative of the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) fee, highlighted events and programs focused on celebrating culture.

“Voting for [WUSC’s] Student Refugee Fund frees up a lot of capital for one of our closest partners, which is U of A International,” Syed said.

“They host really cool programs for the international community, such as intercultural communications training… and a lot of cultural celebration fairs and events that educate the community on the diaspora we have present on campus.”

Jeremy Hoefsloot, the representative of the Student Legal Services’s fee at the forum, gave a quick rundown of multiple services offered by the group.

“We provide a lot so I’m just going to run down the list,” Hoefsloot said. “We provide guaranteed criminal and civil defence including family matters, assistance with residency, representation at the Human Right Tribunal, assistance with the Societies Act to prevent student group executives from facing liability, and on-demand information on legal topics pertinent to you, including immigration and issues surrounding [immigration], from law students and guided by lawyers in Edmonton.”

The representative of the International Students’ Association Fee (ISAF) was Dhir Bid, the president-elect of the association. He highlighted three main benefits international students would receive from this fee.

“The ISAF provides a lot of benefits for international students, one being the I-Card, two being awards for international students, and three [being] year-round events such as International Day [and] regional group funding to provide mental health and professional development workshops.”

-Areeha Mahal

Areeha Mahal

Areeha Mahal was the 2021-22 News Editor and previously served as a Deputy Arts & Culture Editor and Deputy News Editor. Additionally, she is a second-year Biology and English student. When she’s not learning the Krebs cycle for the millionth time, Areeha enjoys stargazing, baking pies, and listening to Bob Dylan.

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!

Kevin Theriault

Kevin Theriault is an Urban Planning student and senior volunteer for The Gateway. He is enthusiastic about coffee, board games, and geography.

Remi Hou

Remi is the 2021-22 Deputy News Editor at the Gateway and has been volunteering with the Gateway since August of 2020. He is in his third year pursuing a degree in pharmacology. While he loves learning about acetaminophen, beta-blockers and human anatomy, you can also find him reading a book, playing piano and volunteering as a youth sponsor at his church.

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