News  SSMU Executives Talk Upcoming Year

Here’s What They Have to Say

This fall, we reached out to the SSMU executives to learn about their goals for the year, what challenges they’re expecting, the effect of the last semester’s base fee increase on their portfolio, and to hear about their specific roles. Here’s what they had to say.

President – Bryan Buraga

Priorities: “My role is to support the other SSMU executives in their work and ensure that things run smoothly behind the scenes […] Among other things, my priorities include getting a Fall Reading Break at McGill, getting McGill to divest from fossil fuels, and revising the SSMU’s governing documents and structure.”

Anticipated difficulties: “The University Centre will be closed for another semester. Beside the financial strain that will impose on the SSMU, ensuring that we will still be able to provide space for student groups will continue to be a challenge. Convincing McGill’s Board of Governors to divest its endowment from fossil fuels will also be another challenge, [and] being able to have a healthy work-school-life balance will be a challenge for me.”

Effect of the SSMU Membership Fee Increase: “With the passage of the increase of the SSMU Membership Fee, the SSMU was able to hire a Governance Manager, a full-time staff member whose primary task is to help our governing bodies […] with their administrative workload. In the past, the SSMU President has had to bear the brunt of this work, taking many hours away from other initiatives or tasks […] This increase has also allowed me to commission more research and hire more student staff.”

Relationship with the administration: “I would describe my relationship with the McGill administration as cordial […] It is important to be able to discuss important student issues directly with the people that have the power to effect the changes at McGill that we wish to see, so having a good working relationship with these administrators will go a long way.”

VP Student Life – Billy Kawasaki

Priorities: “Last year, there were some confusion about what the expectations were for clubs […] and this led to sanctions. This year, we are working on implementing a club portal […] that should make it easier for student groups to understand the requirements and to fulfil them. […] I am [also] working on raising awareness about the [mental health] resources available, such as the Eating Disorder Resource and Awareness Centre.”

Anticipated difficulties: “With Schulich Library closing, the Leacock building renovations, and the lack of the university centre, there is a serious space shortage on campus. We are working with the various departments, such as Athletics, Residence, Special Events and Enrollment services in order to find as much space as possible for student group activities.”

Effect of the SSMU Membership Fee Increase: “[It’s] led to the hiring of the Clubs and Services Coordinator. This position is instrumental as she is organizing the club workshop, administering the sanctions process, and will help with other club governance. Traditionally, the office of the Vice-President (Student Life) is quite charged […], and this is much needed support.”

Plan to address last year’s club sanctions: “This year, we are putting a lot of work in educating student groups of what the requirements are […] The CS Coordinator and I are working on creating comprehensive and easily accessible resources, such as Google classrooms, and consolidating information so that everyone is aware of the requirements. Furthermore, I intend to review the sanctions process.”

VP Finance – Samuel Haward

Priorities: “My main priorities for the year are: working with the Vice-President (Student Life) to ensure that clubs’ requirements are standardized and resources are easily available to club Execs.; revising the Society’s Internal Regulations to match the current practices of the Society and its Services; [and] collaborating with Student Services to see if it is possible to reduce the premiums that international students pay for health insurance.”

Anticipated difficulties: “The cost of renting space downtown is incredibly high […] Club banking is another huge task that we need to take on early in the academic year. This is the first full year with RBC, so the process of trying to get everything up and running is brand new.”

Effect of the SSMU Membership Fee Increase: “Directly within the Finance portfolio there will be six student staff members in Fall 2019, up from two in Fall 2018 […] The additional staff will [also] make a significant difference for club banking, reimbursement/payment requests and enhance the detail and frequency of financial reporting.”

Plan to address last year’s club sanctions: “I’m working with the Vice President (Student Life) and Clubs and Services Coordinator to create and develop resources that will be available to clubs year-round. The finance workshop this year will also contain complete information on event declaration and insurance requests. Last (but not least!) one of the new student staff positions in the finance department will be dedicated to supporting the club execs.”

VP External – Adam Gwiazda-Amsel

Priorities: “I mostly want to ensure that McGill students are able to connect with Montreal, and that Montreal students are effectively engaged […] this is of course inextricable from political participation, so I’m looking at increasing levels of consciousness around issues that McGill students find important.”

Anticipated difficulties: “Provincial representation is always a challenge – it’s almost impossible to get the government’s ear on anything unless we collaborate with other student unions, but students have historically had mixed feelings about joining a federation of associations […] I also haven’t found too many avenues to reach off-campus students, but I’m looking forward to working with Campus Life & Engagement.”

Effect of the SSMU Membership Fee Increase: “So far, I’ve worked to expand our outreach capacity when it comes to student consciousness, so look out for people giving talks at GAs and faculty councils […] The increase also allowed for an increase in capital expenditures […] if we work toward housing projects like Concordia’s Woodnote, students will have to pay less per semester in an Affordable Student Housing Fee.”

SSMU and Bill 21: “[SSMU has] condemn[ed] this interpretation of laicity, which is discriminatory, misguided, and incompatible with our stated values […] We will be supporting and participating in solidarity with groups on campus and around Quebec […] We’ll also make sure that, whenever we work with other student unions and federations, we push them to understand that this is as much of a ‘student issue’ as something like affordable education.”

VP University Affairs – Madeline Wilson

Priorities: “Forcing McGill to rethink the way it governs itself. This involves increasing student representation on university committees, calling out and dismantling hostile governance environments where they (so often) occur, and publicly holding the administration accountable.”

Anticipated difficulties: “Universities are intentionally designed to resist change. So that’ll be a difficulty. Also, as a person, I’m terrified of burnout and tired of institutional power dynamics!”

Effect of the SSMU Membership Fee Increase: “Commission[ing] more research. Current UA researchers are exploring student assessment and accommodation policies, anti-sexual violence advocacy, and the university tenure process. Summer research on the first generation student experience has just wrapped up, and will be published shortly.”

Equity at McGill: “Overall, McGill needs to work a lot harder to put its money where its mouth is […] For example, a key pillar in McGill’s Strategic Academic Plan is ‘openness to the world’, which involves attracting socioeconomically diverse international students, yet the administration also celebrated the government’s recent full deregulation of international tuition, […] disproportionately disadvantaging lower and middle class international students.”

And within SSMU: “As an institution, SSMU has historically cultivated a brand of toxic masculinity and careerism that is frankly unacceptable […] The second issue that SSMU faces is in the usage of our Equity Policy and treatment of our equity work at SSMU, which is historically devalued […] I’ll work with our Equity Commissioners to take a hard look at the Equity Policy. Also, for the first time, we’re making Equity Training mandatory for SSMU Councilors, Senators and Clubs & Services exec.”

VP Internal – Sanchi Bhalla

Priorities: “Broadly, increased involvement! Specifically, higher listserv readership, more alcohol-optional events, a potential collaboration between the first year council, the inter-rez council, and COMunity, and more people being aware of what SSMU is and how it operates. I am […] revamping the listserv to be more visual-heavy than text-heavy and running a couple of alternative events during frosh.”

Anticipated difficulties: “The Shatner building was a hub of student-life and one of the only non-library interfaculty spaces on campus. Having that building (and Gerts) would definitely help boost student morale and spirit. Also, finding spaces to hold events – I really want to move the Halloween party back downtown.”

Effect of the SSMU Membership Fee Increase: “The allocation towards increased staff allowed us to hire a Communications Coordinator and she and I have been working together to improve SSMU’s social media presence and come up with a cohesive image.”

Dry student events: “[We plan to make sure] there is more than just water or Coke present as a alcohol-free substitute. For people who choose not to drink, it isn’t fair that they’re stuck with that while their friends have shelves worth of drink ingredients to pick from. Mocktails exist!”

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.