Following the resignation of Lola Baraldi as VP Internal of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), a by-election was called to fill the position for the rest of the year. Campaigning began on November 5, and will run until November 15, with the voting period occurring from November 11 to 15. The debate will take place at 6:30 p.m. on November 11. The McGill Daily interviewed the two candidates running for election, Céleste Pagniello and Alexei Simakov.
The McGill Daily (MD): Why are you running for VP Internal?
Céleste Pagniello (CP): After [former VP Internal] Lola [Baraldi] resigned, I was approached by a bunch of people asking if I would be interested. I [had] never thought of it before. […] After I was involved with Frosh this summer, I got to learn about how SSMU operates. I’ve been an executive on the Music Undergraduate Students’ Association [MUSA] for three years now, so I know my way around student politics a little bit. [While] SSMU is something that is fairly new to me, the VP Internal portfolio is not.
MD: What kind of experience are you bringing to the role?
CP: I was a Frosh coordinator for Science Frosh this past summer. I’m also a […] current executive on MUSA and I’ve been VP Communications for two years now, so that involves sending out listservs. I am bilingual, also, and I am a member of SSPN [Students’ Society Programming Network], which is the only committee under the VP Internal.
MD: What do you think is the most important part of the role of VP Internal?
“Even though I’m not from Quebec, I am still a francophone student and I do find that it’s unfortunate how English McGill is.”
CP: I think student engagement is incredibly important, especially because there’s a disconnect between SSMU and the students. Student engagement is in the VP Internal portfolio, but sort of has been lacking in the past few years. So SSMU has these events, but not everybody goes, as evidenced by 4Floors this year, which was not very well-attended, unfortunately. And that ties into communication with the students. The listserv is also incredibly important, and right now students are not interested in reading the listserv, so they’re missing out on tons of information that is super critical.
MD: When you say that people aren’t very interested in the listserv, what are you proposing to change that?
CP: I definitely want to explore new platforms for the listserv, so there’s MailChimp, things like that – just to make it more visually appealing, first of all, because it’s quite boring looking right now. Just make it a little more fun and less super formal – ‘here’s the information’ – so that it’s enjoyable to read. Maybe throw in some puns, things like that.
MD: How will you promote some of the bilingualism initiatives started by the previous VP Internal?
CP: As a bilingual student, French is my first language. Even though I’m not from Quebec, I am still a francophone student and I do find that it’s unfortunate how English McGill is. […] All of SSMU’s social media is done in English. [I’d like] to do that in both languages, first of all.
“SSMU is under a lot of financial problems right now, and I think the way a VP Internal could help toward that is by making a profit on events.”
MD: How will you help mitigate the problems SSMU is facing?
CP: SSMU is under a lot of financial problems right now, and I think the way a VP Internal could help toward that is by making a profit on events, first of all. Something that I want to do is expand Grad Frosh into normal Frosh. That might take a few years, but that’s something that’s definitely feasible.
I know that they’re planning on rearranging the SSMU structure, which was spoken about at SSMU Council [on November 5]. I think just participating in that conversation as someone who has been involved from the outside of SSMU […] gave me a perspective that is different than from candidates that usually run for this position.
MD: Do you see SSMU as a political actor, and how does that view impact your role?
CP: SSMU has definitely made a stance on political aspects before. Unfortunately the views of the SSMU executive and the Council don’t always reflect all of the students, because we do have a very broad student population. People [come] from all kinds of different backgrounds, so they have all kinds of different beliefs.
When SSMU takes one stance versus another, it sometimes excludes students who don’t stand the same way that SSMU does. Not to say that SSMU shouldn’t absolutely make a stance, but I think a greater conversation needs to happen with the student body before SSMU makes a stance. Unfortunately, the attendance at the general assemblies is not enough to get a good chunk of the students’ opinions.
MD: What sort of changes do you want to see in regard to SSMU’s relationship and engagement with its constituents?
“SSMU and its committees, groups, are a very exclusive group, I find. It’s hard to get involved, because the information is not always made accessible.”
CP: SSMU and its committees, groups, are a very exclusive group, I find. It’s hard to get involved, because the information is not always made accessible. Sometimes, applications for committees only go out to certain groups of people. I think everything needs to be sent out to all the students so that there’s a fair opportunity for everyone to apply and get involved.
I really think sending out polls and surveys and having people fill them out would take us one step closer to bridging the gap between SSMU and students.
The VP Internal position has notoriously been sort of inequitable and uninclusive, just because of the nature of the events that are planned. Faculty olympics, Frosh, things like that appeal to one crowd, and I definitely want to broaden that crowd, make everything as inclusive as possible, and make sure that everybody can enjoy themselves.
MD: What kind of culture would you like to see at Frosh, and what are the current problems with Frosh?
CP: Frosh right now is incredible, compared to what it has been in the past, but it can still be a bit better in terms of people not feeling pressured to drink or party too hard. I think another step that needs to continuously be taken […] is the leaders’ and O-Staff’s [Orientation Staff] training. […] Although we train them very well […] every year there are leader bracelets [and] O-Staff bracelets that get cut because people aren’t following the rules.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more information about Céleste Pagniello’s platform, visit her Facebook event page.