Preparedness goes a long way for VPSL candidates at ISA forum

Alva showed more initiative for coming up with solutions at the ISA forum, whereas Lam still needs to step-up his game.

The importance of upholding the celebration of international student life and expansion of mental health supports were prominent concerns at the 2024 International Students Association (ISA) forum. Vice-president (student life) (VPSL) candidates, Renson Alva and Adrian Lam, shared some specifics in their plans to address these concerns. Yet, one candidate had more definitive solutions than the other. 

In the last two forums, Augustana and Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ), neither candidate gave substantial solutions to the addressed concerns. However, at the ISA forum, Alva stepped-up his game and presented more realistic solutions.

Lam, on the other hand, is still resorting to vague statements that he references as the pillars of his platform. A platform that is a single-spaced paragraph on a PDF document. This hardly compares to Alva’s platform, which is 15 pages long, and is available in both English and French. In order to step-up to Alva’s level, Lam will have to show he knows more than just flashy terms. Saying things such as “diversifying mental health supports,” and “providing opportunities” sounds like it came out of a textbook. There needs to be a more specific plan to action regarding these concepts.

Alva had a lot to cover in his opening statements — and he did not disappoint. He plans to work with the vice president (academic) (VPA) to make pre-recorded, online lectures available, like during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this is a solid suggestion, this seems like it would fall under the role of VPA, rather than VPSL. Getting to hear more concrete ideas from Alva after the last two forums was refreshing. 

While Lam’s opening statements did improve slightly from the past two forums, I still left wanting more. One of the main points he brought up was the Campus Food Bank (CFB) and the fact that 70.3 per cent of users are international students. Lam expressed his ambition in ensuring the university and SU provides opportunities for international students. I agree with this statement and I think it’s important that Lam addressed it. However, as seen previously, there was no specific mention as to how he plans to achieve that. As a VPSL candidate, he must directly address something as crucial as CFB access for international students, not just mention it. 

Each candidate was asked about what they would do to support the ISA in ensuring access to secure spaces to host International Students’ Day (I-Day). Both Alva and Lam suggested various SU Building (SUB) locations, such as the SUB atrium, stairs, basement, and stage. However, both candidates made comments and suggestions in regards to this that just didn’t sit right with me.

At the ISA forum, Alva seemed to imagine himself in a “big brother” role. While he might mean well, this phrase seemed distasteful. As mentioned by candidates in the presidential and vice president (external) (VPX) races, candidates should aim to work alongside and on-behalf of students, rather than speaking for them. While Alva did say he wants the ISA to take the lead on most things, the phrase came off as an infantilizing cliche. 

While my only critique for Alva here is his slightly unsavoury comment, my main concern is with Lam. He proposed turning I-Day into a week-long celebration that he named I-Week. His reasoning stems from the fact that Indigenous students have an Indigenous Celebration Week (ICW).

“We have ICW where we celebrate Indigenous students and their community here. So why not do the same with international students who are just as diverse and unique as the Indigenous student community,” Lam said.

While his intentions were likely not intended to take away from the Indigenous community, this was unfortunately the perception that was created. Regardless, it did rub me the wrong way. 

Lastly, the candidates were asked how they would improve mental health supports for international students. The topic of mental health has been a defining feature of the VPSL platforms and discussions at the other forums. As previously seen, the VPSL candidates’ potential solutions surrounding this topic have been subpar at best. 

However, this time around Alva showcased his preparation, and provided a more tangible solution. He proposed working with counselling services to ensure a diverse and culturally competent staff that are not just “tokenizing international students.” He also mentioned wanting to work on destigmatizing mental health access through work with Active Minds. These ideas appear more substantial than anything brought up previously, which was pleasant to hear. Alva also brought up more than once that he wanted to create some sort of mentorship program — where experienced international students pair up with incoming students to help them navigate resources. I am interested in potentially hearing more about this proposition in future forums. 

Unfortunately, Lam shared the same general statements about mental health as per the previous forums. He mainly touched on the importance of diversifying mental health supports. Yet once again, any example of what this would look like was nowhere to be found. 

Overall, both candidates recognized the issues raised at the ISA forum regarding celebration of international student life and access to mental health resources. However, Alva’s suggestions proved more realistic and plentiful than Lam’s, with Alva showing significant improvement from the last two forums. 

While Alva may have had a leg up in this forum, the race is not over yet. Both VPSL candidates still have to show they have well-thought out ideas that resonate with all students at all campuses. After all, they will be the ones representing students. 

CORRECTION: At 8:09 p.m. on March 1, this article was updated to include that Renson Alva used the term “big brother” at the ISA forum, not the CSJ forum. A previous version of this article read that Alva said it at the CSJ and ISA forum. The Gateway regrets this error.

Brooklyn Hollinger

Brooklyn is the 2023-24 Deputy Opinion Editor. She is a Classics major and Creative Writing Minor. She is a lover of fantasy books, peach iced tea, and can usually be found obsessing over pictures of her dog Zoey.

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