The VP University Affairs plays a pivotal role in student advocacy, sitting on Senate and representing SSMU and its constituents to the McGill administration. This coming year will see some responsibilities removed from the University Affairs portfolio, such as mental health and student services, leaving the VP University Affairs to oversee the SSMU Library Improvement Fund, work with student senators on advocacy projects, oversee student research initiatives, and implement equity initiatives.
Alexander Dow is currently an engineering senator on SSMU Council. Before that he served as the Budget Director for the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS), Blues Pub Manager, Student Space Fund Commissioner, VP Public Relations for EUS Junior Council, and VP Comms and Sports for MORE housing. He told The Daily that in his time at McGill he has been consistently “working with students or working with admin.” He has “seen a lot of students hurt” and “screwed over” by admin. He says his main goal is to help students deal with the bureaucracy of the university. He values teamwork and expresses a commitment to helping students on an individual basis. He has the trust and support of the EUS and hopes to bring some of their concerns to the SSMU Council.
He stressed that if elected he is not committed to introducing any new policy. Instead he wants to “cement what already exists” and lift up side projects that have fallen by the wayside. In particular, he supports the movement to create an Indigenous studies major, as well as institute a fall reading week. He is currently working to sway the opinion of the Engineering faculty on this issue. He has limited experience with equity and mental health and would take a back seat on issues of that nature if elected, emphasizing that he would use his privilege to advance the agendas of marginalized communities on campus.
Dow likes the apolitical nature of EUS, however, he understands the need for SSMU to be more vocal on political issues. He “draws the line in taking political stances when [SSMU] starts excluding other student groups.” Dow says that while he “grieves for Palestine […] you can’t just openly target an entire community on campus, namely the Jewish and Israeli communities.” However, Dow says that he is good at working with others despite political differences. With regard to David Aird, Dow found out about his resignation five days beforehand. He thinks that the same is true for the other SSMU Execs and does not condone the negative feedback they have received in the past couple of weeks. He aims to work with campus groups such as SACOMSS to create and adopt a sexual assault policy within SSMU, but was unclear on what the specifics of this policy would be.
Oke has held multiple roles in the Black Students’ Network (BSN) over the years, serving not only as the President of the Network, but also as an External and Political Coordinator. Working as part of the Network displays a commitment to organizing and advocacy that VP UAs should have, she says.
Currently, Oke works as VP Floor Fellows of the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE). She was part of the AMUSE bargaining team which negotiated with the administration to give Floor Fellows salaries, and cites the experience as an example of her adamantly advocating for student’s rights when dealing with the administration.
Additionally, as part of the proposed MUNACA-AMUSE merger, Oke was involved in writing new bylaws for the proposal, demonstrating experience in policy development, and cites her training as a Floor Fellow as being conducive to working in University Affairs, having received more than seventy hours of training as a result, learning active listening, equitable community building, and first response to crises.
Her overall platform prioritizes accountability and campus outreach, especially in a time where SSMU feels incredibly disjointed from the student body. Oke wants to create specific student positions to perform outreach initiatives to campus groups that are not formally part of the Society, saying that “in her experience, active in-person outreach is an effective way of keeping in touch with realities on campus.”
In regards to the Library Improvement Fund, Oke wants to foster healthier spaces in McGill’s libraries, adding visual and nonvisual guides in the libraries to remind students that while studying is important, “there are small actions students can take to mitigate the negative effects of many studying practices.” Oke also wants to install “happy lights” to combat Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD) during midterms and finals.
Oke plans to build on the current VP UA’s “Know your Rights” campaign, which she feels doesn’t give students the option to ask for more “tailored or relevant information.” Oke also feels that SSMU should be doing more to make student services more accessible, and intends to meet demands to improve said services by working with first years’ like in a focus group, letting them discover McGill services and subsequently SSMU officers learning about their experiences and how they can be improved upon.
Endorsement: ISABELLE OKE
Oke’s work with AMUSE, as well as her experience as a Floor Fellow and as part of the BSN make her a prime candidate for this position. The VP University Affairs portfolio requires direct relations with the administration, which Oke also has experience in bargaining on behalf of AMUSE at the level of the administration. Her initiative to reach out to more student groups in a more organized fashion would be a welcome adjustment considering many student groups feel currently alienated from the SSMU.
While Dow has a background in student politics with his work in EUS, his limited experience with equity would be a considerable disadvantage in a position which requires heavy knowledge and experience of both these issues. His stance on political issues is also disheartening, given that the VP University Affairs is the only executive other than the President who would advocate for students regarding political issues at the University level.