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Arts Undergraduate Society holds electoral debates

Presidential candidates emphasize mental health initiatives

The Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) held electoral debates on February 17, where candidates running for the seven executive positions and the three Arts Representative to Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) positions presented their platforms and answered questions from the audience.

Presidential debate

Current VP External Becky Goldberg and Arts Representative to SSMU Adam Templer are competing for the position of president.

In her platform, Goldberg highlights student engagement, mental health, and AUS collaboration with campus groups and departmental assocuations. To that end, Goldberg said at the debate that she wants to enhance student autonomy on campus, hold an Arts activities night to showcase AUS services and groups, liaise with mental health providers on campus, and decrease “redundant events.”

In his platform, Templer says that he wants to improve student life by improving course syllabus accessibility, expanding the Frosh Bursary program, and empowering the AUS Equity Committee. As well, Templer says in his website that he is a qualified advocate of student interests, and promises, among other things, to improve relations with the University to keep selling sandwiches at the SNAX counter in the Leacock building.

“Although SSMU really is hooking things up to promote mental health on campus, it’s never enough.”

One student from the audience asked to hear more about the candidates’ mental health platforms.

Goldberg mentioned that she is advocating for the creation of a mental health coordinator at AUS. Recognizing that SSMU already has an extensive mental health committee, Goldberg said, “Although SSMU really is hooking things up to promote mental health on campus, it’s never enough.”

In his response, Templer said, “This year, I’ve tried to take initiative in SSMU in terms of mental health – [proposing] adding mental health coverage to insurance. […] AUS struggles with budget and resources to offer professional counselling services, professional direction, professional guidance.” To compensate, Templer suggested that SSMU could be of help, as it already has more resources to tackle this, despite the fact that the University should be providing such resources in the first place.

VP Internal

Department of English Students’ Association (DESA) VP External Kira Smith and last year’s AUS Internal Administrator Patricia Neijens are competing for the VP Internal position.

Current VP Internal Maria Vedeshkina asked the candidates how they were planning to encourage greater collaboration between the many departments of AUS.

Neijens wants to “encourage more combined events,” such as the one organized by the Political Science Students’ Association (PSSA), International Development Studies Students’ Association (IDSSA), and Economics Students’ Association (ESA) on February 18.

Smith emphasized the fact that she wants collaborative events off campus as well as on campus. Further, Smith believes that communication between departments needs to be streamlined.

VP Communications

Second-year student Chanèle Couture De-Graft and third-year student Kieran Cousins are running for the VP Communications position.

Current VP Communications Elaine Patterson asked the candidates, given their lack of experience either as student volunteers or as committee members under the VP Communications portfolio this year, how they would “ensure the preservation of institutional memory.”

In her response, Couture De-Graft said she would work on promoting committees. “For example, look at the Fine Arts Council Facebook page, we only have 500 likes. In a faculty with the most students, we could really build on that, make that reach so much bigger,” she said.

Cousins responded that he had met with Patterson, “because I wanted to make sure that I was fully capable of tackling all the situations that would come about [with] the committees.”

“A lot of people have this false image that VP Communications only runs the social media accounts. But the truth is they chair a lot of committees,” he added.

VP External

U1 Political Science and Economics student Kia Kouyoumjian and First Year Council President Patrick O’Donnell are competing for the VP External position.

Goldberg asked the candidates if they had any plans for advocating for financially accessible internships for students, given that many students cannot afford to do unpaid internships.

In her response, Kouyoumjian highlighted the fact that most students don’t even expect anything more than unpaid internships, saying that she would start with initiatives to empower students. Recognizing provincial budget cuts that have affected the Arts Internship Office, Kouyoumjian suggested that AUS could work with local companies that might be more willing to assist local students.

O’Donnell suggested pooling resources with other groups, rather than simply relying on funding. He suggested that AUS could tap into some of the SSMU Equity Fund as well as find jobs for students within AUS.

VP Academic, VP Finance, and VP Social

For each of the remaining executive positions – VP Academic, VP Finance, and VP Social – there is only one candidate in the running.

For the VP Academic position, Erik Partridge, VP External of the First-Year Arts Council (FEARC), is the sole candidate remaining after Nicholas D’Ascanio withdrew from the race before the debate took place.

At the debates, Partridge indicated that he intends “to make study space a priority on campus” and make advising simpler. In addition, Partridge expressed a desire to “work with professors to create a conducive environment for mental health.”

One student asked Partridge how he intends to work with professors on the matter of mental health, given that many professors do not want to shoulder that burdeh. In response, Partridge said that his platform would not necessarily extend professors’ workloads and that, in the long run, they would also benefit. He also suggested including Teaching Assistants (TAs) in the effort.

“I think that the biggest challenges will be to not fall back into the past habits. […] It’s really tempting to blow all of your budget on one huge rager, and not really think about things like inclusivity or running a diverse event portfolio.”

The sole VP Social candidate is Kat Svikhnushin, the current VP External of the Religious Studies Undergraduate Society. In her platform, Svikhnushin says that she aims “to continue strong financial management of [the VP Social] portfolio, working extensively with the future VP Finance.”

Current VP Social Christine Koppenaal asked, “It’s not a secret that this position over the years has seen a lot of chaos. Now that things are a little more stable, I am just curious what you think some of the challenges would be for you?”

In response, Svikhnushin said, “I think that the biggest challenges will be to not fall back into the past habits. […] It’s really tempting to blow all of your budget on one huge rager, and not really think about things like inclusivity or running a diverse event portfolio. […] You’re running events, and you’re trying to bring the community together over events and having fun, but [finances] have to come first.”

VP Finance candidate Deepak Punjabi is a current member of the Financial Management Committee (FMC) of AUS and has experience working on the financial audits of DESA and PSSA. In addition, Punjabi has also passed the screening process, as required by the newly implemented regulations on the AUS Electoral Bylaws.

Current VP Finance Mirza Ali Shakir asked Punjabi several factual questions about the AUS budget, most of which Punjabi was able to answer.

—With files from Marina Cupido

As Commentary editor Igor Sadikov is running for an Arts Representative to SSMU position, The Daily has decided not to cover the Arts Representative debates.