On March 7, the Lister Hall Students’ Association (LHSA) hosted the sixth, and final, University of Alberta’s Students’ Union (UASU) 2023 elections forum.
The forum began with an opening statement from each candidate, followed by questions from the audience. Candidates were given the opportunity to ask each other questions as well.
Here is the TL;DR version of this forum:
- President: mental health supports, improving residence, role of the Students’ Union
- Vice-president (operations and finance): period equity and potential businesses
- Vice-president (external): creating a comfortable environment for Indigenous students
- Vice-president (academic): accessibility in residence
- Vice-president (student life): supports for student leaders in residence
- Board of Governors Representative: mobilization of students
- Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG): undergraduate student projects, free services, and a decreased fee
- HUB Community Association (HCA): events and advocacy
Presidential candidates discuss mental health supports, improving residence, and the role of the Students’ Union
Christian Fotang, presidential candidate and current vice-president (external), talked about cost of living in residence, and food and pest issues in Lister.
“It’s important that you’re getting the worth of your money in this campus, and that’s what I hope to work to do,” Fotang said.
Haruun Ali, presidential candidate and former arts councillor, spoke about his personal experiences from living in Lister and being a residence assistant (RA). He said that although there is a great community, “bathrooms aren’t cleaned regularly, common spaces aren’t kept clean. There’s cockroaches running around on our food tables,” which are issues he intends to work on.
A member of the audience asked Ali and Fotang about supports for mental health on campus, and how they plan to make mental health resources accessible.
Ali replied that wait times for accessing mental health supports are too long, and that possible solutions include extending the Peer Support Centre hours, and advocating for mental health funding.
“As an RA, I agree with you. I’ve seen the benefits — I have access to counselling support and the Peer Support Centre. I agree with you, the wait time is too long.”
Fotang said that because of data collected from the UASU advocacy office, $1.6 million in funding was secured from the U of A and provincial government for mental health funding. He also talked about the importance of mental health supports on campus.
“If you can’t function mentally, everything else just means nothing after that,” he said. Fotang added that the UASU needs to be “working from that momentum,” of receiving this funding, to try and further increase mental health supports.
Fotang asked Ali how he plans to generate revenue for the Students’ Union, and keep his campaign promise of making the Students’ Union a union, not a business.
“I’m not saying that we’re going to de-corporatize the Students’ Union,” Ali responded. “My goal is to enshrine my vision of we’re a union not a business, into the strategic plan.”
He elaborated that the Students’ Union’s role is to do effective advocacy, and that the Students’ Union has “lost the plot.”
“We’ve lost our advocacy standards. Our advocacy efforts are no longer what they used to be, and we don’t have direct-mobilization. I would love to chase Bill Flanagan across campus … I think having direct-action is a really great way to get students engaged,” Ali said.
Fotang responded to Ali, saying that “there’s just a lot of inconsistency and no answers there.”
Fotang added that there’s room for the Students’ Union to improve in its advocacy efforts, but that UASU businesses held fund advocacy.
“We can be both a strong union, and a strong business. We can improve on how we can engage with students and mobilize students. We can also use the businesses we have to further invest in our services, and to further invest in our advocacy. That’s what we’ve been doing,” Fotang said.
VPA candidates discuss accessibility in residence
Rowan Morris, vice-president (academic) candidate said in his opening statement that he “found home here in Lister” when he lived in residence as an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion interning resident. He then spoke about how student leaders can extend their advocacy to providing academic support.
“We should be helping these people who are student leaders on this campus to be able to help their students with academics as well, which is why I propose that we allow these students the opportunity to learn about how to be leaders academically,” Morris said.
“It’s time that we start to cater the conversation of academics to equity, and that starts here where you live your academic life.”
Pedro Almeida, vice-president (academic) candidate, said in his opening statement that his goal has been practicality, and his goals include setting up a OneCard access system, and better accommodation for scheduling adaptations throughout the year.
“I think it’s easy to over-promise the world,” he said. He added that many of his goals are applicable to students who live in residence as well.
Candidates were then given the opportunity to ask each other questions. Almeida asked Morris how students can trust Morris as a representative, when solutions have come up during his campaign, but haven’t been included in his platform.
“It’s not that I didn’t care enough to put it in my platform. It’s that I cared so much that I wanted to make sure that it was fully refined before I wrote it down and shared it,” Morris responded. “We have all brought up things that aren’t in our platform.”
Almeida replied that a few issues not included in a platform isn’t a problem, rather, there is an issue when “candidates provide new ideas that go beyond their portfolio, and go beyond what they will be able to achieve.”
Milan Regmi, vice-president (academic) candidate, arrived late to the forum due to a misunderstanding of scheduling. In his opening statement, he said that the issues students in residence are facing will be changed under his leadership.
“I plan to ensure that residents get the services they deserve,” Regmi said. He added that he plans call for an inquiry about the effects academic restructuring and deferred maintenance have had on residence.
Regmi asked Morris to clarify his “plan for people with disabilities who are living in residence.”
Morris replied that he wants to finish auditing accessibility and equity resources for residence, which is something he was tasked with when working in residence.
“I’m no longer working in residence anymore, so I don’t know where that project ended up,” Morris said. “We need to finish that audit as to how many locations are wheelchair accessible or disability accessible in each residence.”
Morris added that the conversation can be brought to the General Faculties Council (GFC), and student consultation must be done as well.
VP Ops Fi candidates discuss period equity and business potential
In his opening statement, vice-president (operations and finance) candidate Levi Flaman, spoke about the operational status of business spaces in Lister.
“In the last year of my economics degree, I’ve been doing some courses towards innovation and entrepreneurship and I have a greater appreciation now for student-run businesses, and can detect opportunities a little bit better than I used to in my early years.”
Fateh Aslan, vice-president (operations and finance) candidate, spoke about his years living in Lister. “I definitely understand the community that you want to build here.”
Chris Beasley, the vice-president (external) candidate, asked Flaman and Arslan what their plans are for continuing period poverty initiatives created by current vice-president (operations and finance), Julia Villoso.
“I talked to Julia, and Julia said that was a top priority that we have to do. We have to talk about and continue the period equity projects, and this is 100 per cent on my radar,” said Arslan.
Flaman said “if that’s something that’s currently already on the books, it would be my obligation to continue that program.”
VPX candidate discusses creating a comfortable environment for Indigenous students
Vice-president (external) candidate, Chris Beasley, discussed creating a comfortable environment for Indigenous students at the U of A.
In his opening remarks, Beasley covered the importance of building Indigenous engagement centres on U of A campuses. “It’s important to make Indigenous students feel at home, and give them access to good services.”
Beasley said he would also like to discuss his plans regarding sexual and gender-based violence prevention, particularly involving expanding on research capacity.
Beasley added that the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) should “redo the policy paper that they did a while back on sexual violence policy” in order to use that research to push priorities onto the government.
Beasley described the final forum as a “laundry list,” stating he wanted to use it to answer any lingering questions the public may have. Beasley said that he hopes to use this forum to open a new dialogue.
“I’m happy to talk now or throughout the next couple of weeks, hopefully throughout my term as well.”
Currently residence is “operated like a business,” says VPSL candidate
The only candidate in the vice-president (student life) race, Michael Griffiths, opened the forum by speaking personally about his experience as the president of the Lister Hall Students’ Association (LHSA).
“As someone who works as the president of the LHSA, I really have a good grasp on what the vice-president (student life) portfolio entails, particularly the residence aspect.”
He stated that he wants to use his experience as an executive member in residence to improve residence communities, including those at Campus Saint-Jean and Augustana.
A volunteer from The Gateway asked Griffiths to clarify his plan to increase compensation for student leaders in residence.
In response, he stated that this was a “long term goal,” and that it will take time to see the wage of student leaders in residence increase.
In addition, Griffiths touched on the fact that the cost of residence has increased, making it “more and more challenging for residence services or residence associations to attract the necessary student leaders to make residence a vibrant community.”
Griffiths stated that communicating the value of residence student leaders to people in higher-up positions will aid in potentially securing higher compensation for students in these positions.
A volunteer from The Gateway asked Griffiths about the reach of increasing the wage of student leaders in residence, given that these leaders only impact those who live on campus.
He explained that, currently, residence is “operated like a business.”
“It’s frankly wrong that this system operates [independently], because it forces residence to be a self-sustaining community, rather than being able to rely on some of the funding that comes from the provincial government,” he said.
Griffiths clarified that increasing the wage of student leaders in residence would only take funding from residence itself, such as that from vendors and students’ residence fees.
“Properly using the fees that I paid to live in residence, to make residence a better place to live, is an utmost priority for me.”
BoG Representative candidate discusses strategies for mobilizing students
Stephen Raitz, the only Board of Governors (BoG) representative candidate, presented his ideas of mobilizing students in order to enact change.
In his opening statement, Raitz mentioned his “unique vantage point” as an online creator on campus, and how he can distribute messages to students broadly using his online platforms.
Raitz then said he will work with the Students’ Union to understand what residents’ needs are and to start a working relationship prior to final decision-making about resident fees and rates.
Haruun Ali, a candidate for the presidential race, asked Raitz how he plans to mobilize students to advocate to the BoG.
“I think it’s all about timing. You can mobilize folks to show up for something and then if nothing is actually occurring before your decision, it doesn’t end up mattering, and people end up being kind of let down by the process,” Raitz replied.
Raitz said that the right time will probably be “sometime in February or March next year when we’re making those decisions for the following year.”
He added that he plans to communicate with students by using communication resources, or by spreading the word in person.
“We want more distractions from our studies. Making it fun and compelling is a way to produce more involvement.”
APIRG’s fee provides grants for “incredible student projects,” says representative
The Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG) talked to students about the referendum being held during this year’s election. Students will vote on APIRG’s optional fee, which funds the student-run, non-profit organization, said APIRG’s Outreach Coordinator Sarah Alemu.
APIRG funds undergraduate students’ projects as well as provides services out of their office in HUB mall. APIRG’s office offers free printing, an alternative resource library, and training and development for student groups, said Alemu.
“We also provide over $50,000 a year in direct grants for incredible student projects,” Alemu said.
She added that the fee for APIRG’s support has been decreased by 10 per cent and remains optional.
Representative says HCA maintains community space
Kelvin Au, the vice-president (operations and finance) from the HUB Community Association (HCA), discussed the upcoming referendum for the continuation of their fee. The HCA referendum will ask students who live in HUB mall if they support renewing the $45 per year fee for HUB residents.
Au added that the HCA has also been an advocate for students, in cases such as increased safety around LRT station. Additionally, Au said that the HCA hosts events for HUB residents, like self care nights.
“[The HCA] helps to not just host events,” said Au. ”But also to maintain The Vault which is our community space.”
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