News  AUS Candidates Debate

Mental Health, Students’ Rights, and “Cleaning up SSMU”

On February 12, AUS Elections held a candidates’ debate for the upcoming academic year. Three out of the nine positions are contested: Arts Senator, Arts Representative, and VP Academic. The rest of the positions are uncontested: Stefan Suvajac for VP Finance, Maheen Akter for VP Internal, Darshan Daryanani for VP External, Kim Yang for VP Social, Yoana Pehlyova for VP Communications, and Jamal Tarrabain for President.

The debate began with an introductory statement from each candidate, then included questions from the incumbents, the audience, an online survey, as well as the live feed. Finally, each candidate closed with a personal statement.

ARTS SENATOR

The candidates for Arts Senator are Chloe Kemeni, Iyanu Soyege, Henrique Mecabô, Lauren Jelinek, and Chlöe Shahinian.

Chloe Kemeni is currently the AUS VP Academic, in which she has focused on equity and inclusive spaces. She has worked as the AUS Equity Commissioner, SSMU Anti Violence Coordinator, and as a Floor Fellow at New Residence Hall. Her platform focused on accessibility of services for marginalized and international students, and noted McGill’s missed deadline for its sexual violence policy. Kemeni stated that she hopes to sit on the Committee for Student Affairs and participate in related consultations, ensuring that there is a survivor centric approach in the policy’s language. Her platform takes note of the future challenges that McGill libraries will face, which she has already begun to address as chair of the Library-Partnership Committee this year.

Iyanu Soyege has worked as an executive for the African Studies Students’ Association (ASSA), and represented her constituents on Inter-Residence Council, as part of her mandate as VP External of a residence hall. Throughout her time with the ASSA, Soyege noticed the critical lack of courses in the department, as well as in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Indigenous Studies, and South Asian Studies. As an Arts Senator, she stated she would fight for these programs in Senate. Furthermore, she noted the value and importance of student volunteers for safety programs, such as Walksafe and Drivesafe. Soyege stated she would advocate in Senate for greater incentives for students to volunteer for these programs. She also hopes to sit on the Standing Committee on Student Services. The last part of her platform emphasized the importance of student engagement, which she hopes to increase through the use of Google forms disseminated to the student body, and through working with as many Senators as possible.

Henrique Mecabô’s platform focused solely on revising the current assessment policy, which is up for review next year in Senate. He noted that the current policy allows a final to consist of up to 70 per cent of a student’s grade, which he hopes to change in order to reduce students’ stress. When asked about his experience regarding equity on campus, Mecabô responded, “I don’t have […] specific work experience in student representation or government; [I have engaged] with cultural or ethnic organizations such as the Latin American Students’ Association, and the Brazilian Students’ Association, but I have done no work on the equity front specifically.” Lauren Jelinek is currently an Associate Senator. She proposed three main points in her platform: student inclusion in the tenure process, improving student health services, and making our campus more inclusive. With regards to the last initiative, she wants to improve representation among professors, particularly in region-specific studies. While she has experience in advocacy through volunteering at the Legal Information Clinic, there were legal concerns about her proposal for the tenure process. In response, Jelinek acknowledged the legal barriers and proposed “a public forum […] for students to voice their opinion [that the University takes into account].”

Chlöe Shahinian stated that the lack of awareness among the student body about their rights and how to access student services was what inspired her to run for Arts Senator. She noted that when equity violations happen in class, students often don’t know who to turn to. Her platform calls for an AUS-specific equity advisor. Although her platform brings up important provisions, such as equity outlines specific to certain courses, there were concerns that the addition of a new equity advisor might make the bureaucratic process more complicated, when a SSMU equity advisor already exists.

ARTS REPRESENTATIVE

The candidates for Arts Representative are Andrew Chase, Adin Chan, Ariana Kaye, Gabriel Ahmad, Ruofan Wang, and Shreya Dandamudi, who was not present, as she is currently on exchange.

Andrew Chase, current VP External of the Economics Students’ Association, centred his platform on accountability and his desire to “clean up SSMU for you.” An important part of his platform was his support for student clubs, which he noted as an essential way for students to get involved on campus. In response to a question about SSMU being unable to sustain clubs further, he stated that a solution could be the upcoming referendum on increasing SSMU’s base fee, which he would like to see partly put towards club funds. He also suggested reducing the staff needed to manage clubs. The base fee has not yet been presented to SSMU Legislative Council, or passed by the student body, and it is unclear what that fee increase would specifically go towards. It seems counter-intuitive for Chase to suggest simultaneously firing staff needed to manage clubs while also suggesting the number of clubs on campus be increased.

Adin Chan focused his platform on preparing Arts students for life after graduation, improving the Minerva system, and addressing the lack of bilingual accessibility on AUS’ website. When asked how to bring about an improvement of the Minerva system, Chan responded, “I would wager that half of the [Computer Science] students would do it for free.” There have been numerous student movements on campus against unpaid student labour, notably the Social Work Student Association strike last semester. To suggest that students would work for McGill for free is a devaluation of student labour and indicates a lack of understanding on Chan’s part regarding students’ labour rights.

Ariana Kaye served for one year as VP Internal of the Art History and Communications Studies Student Association (AHCSSA), and two years as its VP External, representing the department at AUS Legislative Council. Her platform focused on equitable representation and advocacy for marginalized students. She stated that she would like to start a committee between SSMU and Rez Life as Arts Representative, working to improve Rez Project for first year students at McGill. She plans to do this by incorporating intersectional elements of social justice into the program, and ensuring there are definitions for marginalized groups that are not currently included in the program. Her platform also included advocating for necessary improvements in mental health treatment and SSMU accountability.

Gabriel Ahmad focused his platform on “fresh new ideas.” Among these ideas were advocating for the opening of the Redpath Library doors. In response to cost concerns, he stated that he had looked up the annual salary of a security guard online and found it to be $30,000 to $40,000, which he believed to be contrary to what McGill had estimated: $200,000. This assertion does not consider the likelihood that more than one security guard would be assigned to the door, which could also be open for 24 hours. Ahmad also spoke to women’s involvement in politics. “I think we should market these [political] simulations to women so that they participate in them more, because I’ve seen women that are extremely capable and quite impressive, to be honest,” he said. When asked a follow up question about advocating for women running for political positions while being a man running for a political position, he responded, “I think that one of the most difficult problems for feminism in Canada right now […] is actually the stigma facing male feminists.”

Ruofan Wang, currently VP Communications for La Citadelle Hall Council, focused his platform on increasing accessibility for students. He stated he would advocate for better services within the Office for Students with Disabilities, such as note-taking, and exam deferral opportunities. Another key point of his platform was his desire to help first-year students and international students fully experience Montreal and feel included in the McGill community. Wang stated he would work with SSMU and First-Year Council (FYC) to develop more opportunities, and work to ensure that SSMU and AUS services are bilingual.

VP ACADEMIC

The last of the contested positions was VP Academic, with candidates Ananya Nair and Wing Wong.

Ananya Nair has worked for the Social Equity and Diversity Education office (SEDE) at McGill for the last two years and currently serves as Arts Community Engagement Commissioner at AUS. Her platform focused on making education more financially and physically accessible. One key point she made was that “there are a lot of AUS funds […] that go unused and I want to […] redistribute it to students in the form of student aid, bursaries, and scholarships.” She also noted the immense importance of initiatives such as the McGill Book Fair, which has provided up to $2 million in scholarships, and stated that she would provide more support for this program as VP Academic. Nair also mentioned in her platform the need to fight for student rights with regards to exam scheduling, such as the problem in having three exams within 28 hours. Further, she expressed her desire to work with the VP External to create a job and summer internship fair for Arts students, ensuring that students of every major have the opportunity to gain experience in their field.

Wing Wong has worked as Student Prime Minister of his high school and treasurer for the youth organization Interact. His platform focused a great deal on libraries, student course loads, and reviewing assessment policies to be fairer for students. While Wong’s idea to reserve floors for Arts students in McLennan during exam season is admirable, the incumbent VP Academic raised concerns about its feasibility. In response, Wong referred to the Faculty of Law’s policy, which designates areas for Law students only during finals. However, students of all faculties rely on McLennan for study space, and will especially start to rely on this library more as Schulich Library closes for renovations. Even if the library was closed to non-McGill students during finals as Wong suggested, the majority of people in the library are McGill students to begin with. In response to Senator Wilson’s question about the feasibility of reducing course loads, Wong did not seem to provide an clear response.