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SU Elections 2024 Q&A: Vice-President (Student Life)

The 2024 Students’ Union elections has two candidates for vice-president (student life) — Renson Alva and Adrian Lam.

The Students’ Union (SU) vice-president (student life) is responsible for advocacy regarding non-academic issues that impact students. This includes mental health and well-being supports, as well as living in residence.

There are two candidates in the vice-president (student life) race:

  • Renson Alva, a fourth-year biological sciences student.
  • Adrian Lam, a fourth-year biology student and current Students’ Council Augustana councillor.

Why have you decided to run for vice-president (student life)? 

Renson Alva: What inspired me to run is the conversations I’ve had with folks. Everybody from my fellow students, my roommates who are all part of student groups, and I’ve consulted with so many student groups and student leaders. I’ve lived in residence and I’ve worked there. And there’s been so many issues that have come up on campus, like mental health services that the university and the SU have offered.

[There are] other issues at Augustana, which are tangible and can be achieved. And there’s ways to make them better for students. I’m in the science and arts faculties, so I’ve seen the differences in how some faculties are treated differently. Not all students at all faculties are treated the same. The experiences were varying. So, with all these experiences in residence, volunteering with the International Students Association, Week of Welcome, Sustain SU, and Days of Action, as well as volunteering with First People’s House and Round Dance — I want to use those long-term skills to raise-up student works. 

Adrian Lam: I wanted to run because these past couple years, being involved in student advocacy and student governance, I’ve seen a lot of the issues that students face. Especially in my home campus Augustana, but also on North Campus from the friends I’ve made, and the people I’ve talked to since becoming a councillor and going up there more often. I also wanted to run because I wanted to give back to the community that has given me so much with my time here at the University of Alberta. And this was the way I found to most resonate with me on a personal level. As well, the portfolio includes things that I’m the most passionate about in my own life. 

What are the three big takeaways from your platform? 

Alva: Transparency, advocacy, and community outreach. As well as not leaving out Augustana and Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) residents and accessibility needs. So takeaways include things like letting international students in Augustana know that, when you’re at the airport you don’t have to make your own way. And that’s the case right now. There’s ways to get them transportation from the airport to Augustana because otherwise you’re just stuck there. And then transparency. I feel like there needs to be more of an ear to the ground. Like monthly office hours, like for the executives, [or] at least for me. It’s important that for student life, I can go to CSJ, I can go to Augustana, sit outside Monica’s Cafe and public spaces just to hear from students, be familiar with them.

Lam: I think the first one is student supports. This can look like many things, especially financial support with the cost-of-living crisis that a lot of students are facing now. Mental, sexual, and physical health supports, because we have a lot of our students also experiencing issues and problems with that right now. So that’s my first big platform point. My second one would be around community. Coming from Augustana, we have a very tight-knit community. Not just within the university itself, but also with the community. I want to see that for the entire university as well. Not just internally on each individual campus, but also between all the campuses, as well as the community around us. My last point would be advocacy for people who don’t feel represented, and this could be of all different groups. 

Following the suspension of the majority of the U of A Sexual Assault Centre’s services, students expressed concerns that these services were no longer available for students to access and that there was no clear timeline to when they’d return. Now that these services are starting to return, how will you work to ensure sexual assault survivors on campus have appropriate accesses to resources and supports? 

Alva: From the transparency side, we need to ask the university to provide us a report or some sort of communication on what exactly happened and how we can prevent what happened right now in the future. We need to basically restore the faith of survivors into the Sexual Assault Centre. Make sure that it’s still accessible, goes back to its normal hours. Continuing Michael’s work basically, continuing the advocacy that’s needed, just holding them accountable, because they have to ensure this basic service. It’s a really basic service. And at this time, I think that we deserve it. Students deserve that much of support from the university and just holding them accountable is the main goal here.

Lam: The first thing I want to do is definitely work with the students and figure out what’s lacking because after basically a complete shutdown of the centre, I think it’s also a great time to re-evaluate what the students want the centre to provide to them. So I want to hear from those students who are most directly impacted by this to figure out what they need. And after that, I would like to work with university administration to get those changes that we need. I think a really big part of this is making sure students, no matter where they are, have access to these services. I want to make these services accessible to students, not only on North Campus and CSJ, but also Augustana. And I want to make these services available both in-person and virtually as students might have concerns with accessibility issues. 

What mental health initiatives do you plan on pursuing or supporting? 

Alva: The main thing that I can think of is the mandatory move-in modules in residence. Sometimes we have a mandatory move-in module on eClass that addresses resources on consent, mental health, and Indigenous history. I’d like to possibly look into scaling that up on eClass, making it available to a wider group of people. Maybe even all students hopefully at Augustana, CSJ. And obviously UASU Cares exists but it’s pretty much unknown. How about if we use the UASU Perks app to expand that, [and] add links over there to the UASU Cares website. Put stuff up on UASU TV, continuing Mental Health Week, working with the Dean of Students on programming and outreach across campus, working with the Augustana Students’ Association (ASA) and the Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (AUFSJ). So that’s my main goals in terms of mental health.

Lam: For mental health, my biggest point is I want to look at mental health in a non-traditional lens. So not in a cis-gender, white heteronormative context. That may be the majority of our students, but that is not all our students. I think we really need to have mental health supports that can recognize that difference in our community. Coming from myself, as I am not white and I’m not heteronormative, my mental health issues are different. And the way that I approach them is also different than the majority of the population. So that’s something I really want to advocate for, as well as, again, accessibility of our services. Making them more available to our students, no matter where they are — again, whether they’re on North Campus, CSJ, or Augustana.

Last year, no women ran for any positions in the 2023 UASU elections, bringing up concerns that issues primarily affecting women and gender-diverse students wouldn’t be a priority, including period equity, sexual and gender-based violence, and gender-neutral bathrooms. How will you address these issues and concerns? 

Alva: The work that we can continue on is scaling up the menstrual products side of things where we can expand them into more buildings, have a group of volunteers that restock them because they run out pretty fast, ensuring that they are well-stocked. And as for other gender-minority groups, being part of the LGBTQIA2S+ myself, I would like to see more involvement at CSJ specifically. Committee Francoqueer does a great job, but maybe we could expand The Landing over there and talk with them and see the feasibility of that. Just starting with Discord even would work. Definitely a priority as far as gender-neutral washrooms are concerned, we need to expand them a bit more. Usually they’re in the corners and are not the most accessible. We need to work with the university on that for sure.

Lam: I think once again, it goes back to that consultation piece. I want to reach out and talk to those students who feel like they’re not being represented. Who feel like their issues aren’t being taken seriously. Because I think especially within the student life portfolio, it’s the portfolio where you have to be able to connect with everyone. Because you are dealing with such a diverse group of people and you have to be able to meet all their needs to an extent. So consultation is a big piece and again, I want to see what students are being affected by. I’m willing to change my priority list to better fit their priority list so that they feel represented.

-With files from Declan Carpenter-Hall and Dylana Twittey.

Peris Jones

Peris Jones is the 2023-24 Deputy News Editor at The Gateway. She is in her third year, studying Media Studies and English. In her free time, she loves going to the gym, shopping, and watching movies with her friends.

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