ISA forum shows necessary improvements for VPOF candidates

However, these improvements might have come too late for one candidate.

The 2024 International Students’ Association (ISA) forum brought a much-needed change of pace for vice-president (operations and finance) (VPOF) candidate Levi Flaman. Flaman finally recognized more specific student needs, but only at the third forum. With only two left, it might be too little, too late for Flaman, as Bony’s campaign only gets stronger. On the other hand, VPOF candidate Joachim Bony stayed consistent with his priorities. This forum, however, Bony came prepared with clearer plans, but the execution still remains unclear.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to see Flaman’s points more grounded in student needs, rather than aimless ideas. Flaman’s opening statement was clearly focused on international students. But, I’m now concerned that he is focusing on more niche issues. Flaman has shown improvement from the last two forums, but this isn’t good enough. He’s centering students in his campaign, but he’s still not in touch with what their main concerns are.

Flaman touched on the differences between the amenities international students are used to, especially in washrooms. He also mentioned introducing more Halal, Kosher, vegetarian, and gluten free food options to SU businesses, addressing the dietary needs of international students. These are both important issues, but the forum made it clear that international students have bigger concerns than having bidets. The questions asked by the ISA’s incoming presidents had a different focus. Namely, the rising cost of living, education, and accessible services, not bathrooms. While the VPOF can’t directly address the concerns mentioned, they are responsible for the supports and services international students turn to.

Meanwhile, Bony stuck with his idea for permanent liaisons and demonstrated how this would address the issues international students face. It’s clear that these liaisons will be vital to Bony’s plans to improve accessibility, efficiency, transparency, and impact. It would allow different demographics of students — not just different campuses —to directly communicate their needs. The execution still remains unknown, which weakens the consistency and strength in leadership he is showing. 

Now, I think there is a huge value to creating direct communication between the VPOF and different student groups. But, Bony needs to explain how this will happen. He hasn’t specified who will serve as the main liaison, or which student groups and demographics it will extend to. Will it only be for Campus Saint-Jean, Augustana, and international students, or will it include more? I’m concerned that this might become a way for Bony or future VPOF’s to push the responsibility of engagement onto students. Additionally, this will be a big endeavor, which causes doubts for me without clarity on how he would make this happen within a single year. Without clarity on how he would execute this, Bony leaves room for more concerns. 

However, of the two candidates, Bony is still demonstrating the stronger connection to students’ needs. He pointed to his former work with international students, which makes me more confident that he can focus on the students he’s serving, not his own interests. I’m glad to see his strength in student engagement extends beyond his home campus. His spin on student engagement is also extremely refreshing, since VPOF is such an internal role. Such a strong relationship with students would help with the transparency concerns often raised.

For Flaman, the connection to international students focused less on their experiences and more on his own. He cited being an international business studies student, and that he has “attempted to immerse [himself] in many international opportunities.” I don’t doubt that there’s value in these things, but the focus should have been on international students, not him. At the end of the day, Flaman isn’t an international student, which I wish he would’ve acknowledged more, beyond relating students’ experience to his field of study. 

Although Flaman focused on student needs more, there’s still a disconnect, which is disappointing. If this doesn’t significantly change in the next forums, Bony is going to leave him in the dust. That being said, Bony could still benefit from more concrete and comprehensive plans. This is also still lacking for Flaman’s campaign — he has a lot of ideas but not a lot of direction. Flaman could still prove himself in the next two forums, but it’s going to take some real work and a significantly stronger connection to students to get there.

Leah Hennig

Leah is the 2024-25 Opinion Editor! She is in her first year studying English and media studies. In her spare time, she can be found reading, painting, and missing her dog while drinking too much coffee.

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