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What has SSMU been up to?

A look on SSMU executives for the upcoming semester, and an update on the VP Finance election

You might be wondering what SSMU executives have been doing, and how they have adjusted after the resignation of the VP Finance last November. The Daily sat down with SSMU executives to find out what they’re planning for this year, and to reflect on the previous semester.

Connor Spencer – VP External

The VP External is responsible for representing McGill students’ interests at the municipal, provincial, and federal level and lobbies on the behalf of SSMU. She’s responsible for SSMU’s political campaigns and maintains active communication between student associations, civil groups and campus labor unions. As of yet, SSMU is not a member of any active student federation, but holds observer status with the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). As such, the VP External attends AVEQ meetings.

During the Fall semester, Spencer oversaw the hiring of the Sexual Violence Policy Coordinator, a full-time contract position within SSMU dedicated to sexual violence prevention work on campus. Spencer also works with the Community Affairs Commissioner who is currently working on establishing student co-ops to provide alternative housing to Milton-Parc, which can be financially straining for students. Spencer also mentioned that student inhabitants may contribute to gentrification and noise pollution in the area, which has been a recurring issue for the past few years.

This winter semester, Spencer hopes to focus on Indigenous Affairs. “There is an event series we created […] to get Indigenous Affairs off the ground,” said Spencer, referring to the Indigeneity and Solidarity events, which will feature film screenings, workshops and conferences. There will also be a guide released for settler students articulating “how to navigate Indigenous affairs on campus in a way that doesn’t overburden Indigenous groups on campus.” The event is scheduled for next Monday, on January 15.

In terms of community affairs, Spencer is overseeing the launch of the McGreen Project. The project will provide a service to collect old furniture from students on move out day, furniture which will then be refurbished and sold to international students in September at an affordable rate. In conjunction with the McGreen Project, Spencer is launching a waste management campaign for Milton Parc residents and students. “Over the last couple of years, there has been some […] confusion on where residents should go if there are noise complaints.” Spencer is working toward a plan in conjunction with the Community Affairs Commissioner, the Dean of Students Chris Buddle, and the former Deputy Provost & Student Life and Learning Ollivier Dyens to consolidate a plan.

Spencer will be launching a campaign informing students of the Quebec student movement, the importance of provincial representation, and why McGill students are part of provincial associations. SSMU is currently not affiliated with a provincial student association. However, an affiliation referendum will be held this semester to determine whether SSMU will be associating with Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), or L’Union Étudiante du Québec (UÉQ). “It seems to me that before we can make a decision between which student association we want to associate ourselves with, we first have to have a campaign informing students why they should care, […] and why it’s important that we join a provincial student association,” said Spencer.

Isabelle Oke – VP University Affairs

The SSMU VP University Affairs (UA) serves as the primary liaison between the McGill administration and the undergraduate student body, advocating on the latter’s behalf at monthly Senate meetings and maintaining open lines of communication between on-campus student group and SSMU representatives. The VP UA’s portfolio also includes heading the library improvement fund, the SSMU Equity Committee, the academic roundtable, and the SSMU research and advocacy committee.

One of the office’s main projects this semester is the “Know Your Rights” campaign. This campaign will focus on unpaid internships by “getting people thinking about how internship policies are strangely set up against students” as Oke puts it. The campaign will additionally begin to bring attention to open educational resources, which include “anything you can use in classroom for educational purposes that has an open license.” Free material is available online, but textbooks are still mandatory for many classes, and often expensive. The University Affairs office will present the “Textbook Broke” social media campaign in different faculties, which will encourage students to take pictures of their textbook receipts and post them online.

Over the course of the semester, Oke hopes to lay a solid foundation for the establishment of a sanctuary campus program at McGill. This program, already in place in some American universities, hopes to provide a safe space for students and people lacking legal documentation. For the past semester Aishwarya Singh, the SSMU Policy and Advocacy Research Commissioner, has been doing research regarding the documentation requirements for students. “Right now, if a student’s visa expires, he or she is immediately de-registered from the university,” explained Oke. “In this case, the idea would be to implement a system where students in the process of renewing their visa would be able to still submit assignments.”

Oke also hopes to mobilize students around what the ideal library would look like. In the future, McGill will demolish the McLennan library to build a new, more modern one. Oke wishes to gather as many student opinions regarding what the new library should look like, in order to recognize their visions.

Maya Koparker – VP Internal

The VP Internal is in charge of the official SSMU listserv and primarily oversees communication between SSMU and its members. Furthermore, Koparkar works with the First Year Council (FYC) to help first-year students plan campus events. Last semester, Koparkar oversaw the joint Downtown-MacDonald campus Halloween event in collaboration with other student organizations. Event planners underwent training on being active bystanders, resolving conflict, and planning accessible and inclusive events on campus. The Fall semester also saw the launch of the new and improved SSMU website, which was redesigned to streamline the user experience.

This Winter semester, Koparkar is working on new, practical guides to better assist student organizations and SSMU. “I’m planning to create a how-to guide for social media and communications at SSMU,” said Koparkar. The guide would provide incoming students with information about different media sources for various types of services, as well as strategies for running campaigns. On a larger scale, Koparkar is hoping to create an event-planning guide outlining resources, best practices, and sustainability. The event planning guide is to be available as a checklist for all McGill students. “This would be something that anyone can use. […] it’s good for executives to come to one another if they have questions, but having it codified and providing some documentation that people can refer to […] easily would be a good thing to do.”
With the mid-semester Faculty Olympics on the horizon, the VP Internal hopes to ensure that the event is financially feasible, as the incipient closure of the SSMU building means SSMU will be operating outside the building, and will thus incur larger unforeseen financial costs, unlike previous years. Koparkar hopes to see the continuation of inclusive events on campus, which were a large part of her election platform last year. “We have our signature events, but there is also room to improve,” said Koparkar.

Looking ahead towards transition, Koparkar mentioned that SSMU may have more involvement with Frosh 2018 than in previous years and is in conversation with Campus Life and Engagement (CLE). Koparkar is also currently liaising with the office of the Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning to allow for better relations between administrative services and the student body.

Jemark Earle – VP Student Life

The VP Student Life position is relatively new, created in 2016 when several executive portfolios were restructured. It deals with clubs and services, mental health initiatives, and independent student groups. One of Earle’s major responsibilities is to organize Activities Night, which has been highly successful so far: Fall Activities Night broke attendance records, featuring over 300 groups and clubs.

Winter Activities Night this semester will take on January 16-17. Earle is optimistic about the event, although it will feature slightly fewer clubs and groups than the Fall version and will run for only two days. This time around, Earle is working on a partnership with the newly-launched SSMU Eats app to provide hot drinks for students waiting in line outside.

Activities Night will coincide with another key event for the Student Life portfolio, Mental Health Awareness Week. Earle will be partnering with different groups and services such as Students In Mind, who will be taking the lead on the closing days of the event series. “On the Advocacy and Outreach Committee, we have various members who are part of their departmental health committees,” said Earle, “so we’ve gotten fresh ideas, and we’re collaborating with different departments on some of the events.” In contrast to previous years, he and his organizing team have tried to vary the types of events held during Mental Health Week to attract more students, and to make them more accessible by, for example, scheduling more events in the evening rather than during class time.

A major challenge facing Earle is the SSMU building closure. Last semester, he and his team initially did a poor job of communicating relevant information to building tenants and students at large, sparking confusion and anger. Now, however, it seems that things are going more smoothly – according to Earle, locations have been found for most SSMU services.

“We’re working on getting space for everyone who is a tenant of the building,” he told The Daily. “There are a few outliers that require specific needs, such as Midnight Kitchen, the Players’ Theatre, the Musicians’ Collective, […] so we’re still working on those because they […] can’t just go into any building. […] We’ve spoken to the groups, and […] if worse comes to worse, they would change their programming for that period of time. […] Hopefully, by the time September rolls around, we’ll have at least the first few floors back.”

Muna Tojiboeva – President

The president coordinates the activities of SSMU and determines the long-term vision of the society. Over the fall semester, Tojiboeva has worked on increasing SSMU’s representation at the University level on various committees.

This winter semester, Tojiboeva will be conducting consultations with stakeholders on campus to strengthen the role of the Francophone Affairs committee. The Francophone Affairs Committee, created in the fall, and having met several times throughout the semester, are currently discussing what resources are available or needed for Francophone students at McGill. By the end of the semester, Tojiboeva hopes to come up with recommendations to “ensure the long-term stability and continuation of this project in years to come.”

One of Tojiboeva’s main projects is to increase student representation at the Board of Governors (BoG) level by increasing collaboration among elected members of the Board. The BoG, a body which has final authority over academic matters at the university, is comprised of representatives from various campus groups. Undergraduate students are represented by the SSMU president, who is one of the 25 voting members. One of Tojiboeva’s initiatives, the Pre-Board meeting, will allow students to discuss important agenda items in advance to the BoG meeting. “I am focusing on the implementation of pre-Board of Governors meetings so that students are able to contribute and have a say about what goes on at the highest decision-making body at McGill,” said Tojiboeva.

The SSMU president will also be updating the internal regulations of the Judicial Board, “these [internal regulations] have not been updated since 2012 and still refer to governing documents that no-longer exist,” told Tojiboeva.

Lastly, Tojiboeva will be continuing her work with Spinyt to develop the SSMU Eats App. The SSMU Eats app will allow students to save up to 70 per cent on restaurant meals, and allow restaurants to liquidate food at the end of the day to reduce food waste.

Esteban Herpin – VP Finance Candidate

The VP Finance is responsible for the overall financial stability of SSMU and more specifically administers the Society’s investment funding group. The position has been vacant for two months, since the resignation of Arisha Khan on November 16, 2017. Following Sarah Abdelshamy’s withdrawal from the VP Finance by-election this term, Esteban Herpin, a third-year Finance student and a former member of the Management Undergraduate Society’s (MUS) Corporate Relations team, remains the only candidate for the position.

On January 12, a public candidate Q&A was held, during which Herpin answered questions from SSMU executives and students. When asked by VP External Connor Spencer, “What type of relationship do you feel the SSMU executive should have with the administration?” Herpin mentionned that SSMU should work with the administration wherever possible.

Herpin was particularly concerned with mental health on campus, saying, “I think that [mental health issues on the McGill campus are] very intense from what I compare with other people in [different] parts of the world and Canada, there’s the issue of stress.” If elected, Herpin hopes to improve upon mental health by asking the McGill administration to have “more data and more surveys on how students feel throughout the semester, and [to use them] more effectively.”

Herpin’s election platform additionally emphasizes more support for students struggling with mental health: he mentioned the inadequate resources dedicated to mental health, which, according to Herpin, amount to $0.40 per semester per student. However, regarding student fees overall, Herpin claimed that he “would like to cut down costs, just in general.”

Part of Herpin’s platform comprises increased funding for clubs, emphasizing operational changes aimed to provide a net benefit for students. In the Fall semester, the only funding towards Culture Shock, a weeklong event series that address issues of race, colonialism, white supremacy, and xenophobia for students of colour, was cancelled. Herpin was not aware that the funding for Culture Shock and its parent organization Quebec Public Interest Group-McGill (QPIRG) had been removed. However, he responded that he would like to “take meetings with those students” following a question on accessibility for racialized students during the Q&A.

Other aspects of Herpin’s platform include financial transparency and investment. The election results will be announced on January 18 after a three-day polling period.