Arisha Khan, VP Finance of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), resigned from her position on November 16. Shortly after this, she sat down with The Daily to discuss her experience at SSMU and explain the circumstances surrounding her resignation.
McGill Daily (MD): “So why did you decide to step down from the VP Finance position?”
Arisha Khan (AK): “Primarily for my mental and physical health, but also I felt like the current conditions at SSMU weren’t conducive to productivity and completing the projects that I wanted to do. […] SSMU at the moment is very polarized and volatile – it’s not exactly a healthy work environment, and in terms of achieving things for students, I feel like we’ve been very stagnant in that recently. I would also like the opportunity to continue doing the other work that I do in relation to child welfare, which has been put on hold while I was in SSMU, and so [I’ll still be] contributing to campus life and improving things for students, just not in my capacity as VP Finance.”
MD: “You mentioned polarization and volatility within SSMU. What did that look like, in your experience?”
AK: “I feel like there was this pattern of certain people being targeted, especially when they’re not willing to utilize their time to launch attacks against others, or fight back in a malicious way. I felt that if I were to continue in my position at SSMU it would have been an uphill battle, and it would have compromised my own ethics, and I honestly feel that I can utilize my time in other places on campus and use it to help people.”
MD: “Was there a specific incident that made you decide to resign?”
AK: “I just felt like […] some of our governance structures had been eschewing democracy and evading the rights of students to participate in certain decisions. […] And it just seemed like no matter what other executives tried, the current climate at SSMU just hasn’t allowed for any positive changes. And while I am hopeful that maybe things will be able to take a turn for the better, I just felt like for me at this point in time I could better utilize my time in another way.”
“I just felt like […] some of our governance structures had been eschewing democracy and evading the rights of students to participate in certain decisions.”
MD: “How do you think these problems can be fixed?”
AK: “After seeing some of the events of this year, particularly with the Board of Directors and what I feel are abuses of power, I think it would be a good idea to do a complete governance review, hopefully through an external party. I think it would be a good idea to be in line with other student associations, to see what’s working within our structure and what’s not, and what we can do to be more accountable and productive for students.”
MD: “You mentioned that the VP Finance job had been taking a toll on your health. Would it be accurate to say that you were doing work beyond your portfolio?”
AK: “Yeah, I have a really hard time saying no, and […] I often felt that maintaining certain administrative responsibilities, even when they weren’t mine, was important to my role to keep things functioning. Unfortunately I started to extend myself way too much when others weren’t doing their jobs.”
MD: “So now that you’ve resigned, who will take on all this work?”
AK: “I’ve spent quite a bit of time transitioning my staff and the other executives in order to have them working autonomously, and also to hold them over. I know that they are running a by-election and I have offered to train whoever my successor would be when the time comes.”
“I’ve spent quite a bit of time transitioning my staff and the other executives in order to have them working autonomously, and also to hold them over.”
MD: “Can you elaborate on the work you do beyond SSMU?”
AK: “I do quite a bit of work in relation to child welfare and foster care on this campus. I helped to institute a bursary for former foster youth coming to McGill, and this is a population – and I come from this background – that usually only graduates at a 2 per cent rate from post-secondary [education]. […] So for me, increasing access to institutions – whether it be McGill or SSMU – for populations that normally aren’t there is very important.”
MD: “Tell me more about accessibility – or the lack thereof – within SSMU.”
AK: “I’m not the typical SSMU candidate, and that largely has to do with my background as well. In order to qualify for government aid still, because I’m a student, I had to take more courses than most executives. I feel that accessibility to student politics and to executive positions is something that we don’t often talk about, but obviously inherently when there are these financial barriers in place, a certain type of person will be able to continuously be represented in positions of leadership. And so I think in order to change that, we need to have a serious discussion about what our student leaders represent and how we can make spaces more accessible because I feel like currently they aren’t.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.