Editors’ Note: Covering SSMU this year has been a uniquely depressing experience. SSMU staff and representatives have experienced gender-based discrimination, harassment, and racism; executives have withheld serious information from the student body and mistreated the student press. Frankly, the Society was a dysfunctional mess throughout the 2021-2022 term.
Understandably, the ordeals of the past year have left students reluctant to engage with SSMU. But despite the challenges which SSMU’s structural flaws have presented, many of the Society’s elected representatives have worked incredibly hard to serve their constituents; additionally, SSMU funds services that are vital to the well-being of students, compensating for the University’s failure to address food insecurity and provide adequate mental health services, among other issues.
Defunding SSMU is not the solution to students’ frustrations with the Society. Under the right leadership, SSMU can continue to provide necessary services to students and make the university a more inclusive, accessible place for students. It is ultimately the responsibility of the student body to make SSMU an organization which we can be proud of; as such, we encourage our readers to vote in this election, and to continue participating in SSMU affairs after the election by attending Legislative Council and Board of Directors meetings.
The following encompasses The McGill Daily’s endorsements for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) 2022-2023 Executive Committee.
Buraga has several years of experience with SSMU – notably, he served as SSMU President in the 2019-2020 term. Additionally, Buraga was Chair on the SSMU Ad-Hoc Fall Reading Break Committee from 2018-2020, a Director on the SSMU Board of Directors from 2018-2020, a Senate Caucus Representative on the SSMU Legislative Council from 2018-2019, and a Student Advocate on the SSMU Judicial Board from 2020-present. Buraga is also an organizer with Divest McGill and the McGill Student Union Democratization Initiative (MSUDI).
Buraga’s platform is focused around three pillars: 1) Democratize SSMU and faculty associations, 2) democratize university governance, and 3) create a McGill tenant’s union. To achieve his first goal, Buraga plans to work with the student body and faculty to transition SSMU from having full-time SSMU executive positions in favor of several part-time coordinators. The portfolios of such coordinators would be formed from the split-up duties of the executive portfolios, and the coordinators would ultimately have limited power to make unilateral decisions. If elected, Buraga also promises that SSMU will use its institutional power to work towards efforts to democratize the university. He envisions transitioning to a system of “rank-and-file” community governance with power collectively in the hands of McGill’s students, instructors, and non-academic staff. Finally, Buraga promises to create a new SSMU service or an internal department dedicated to organizing McGill student renters into a tenants’ union. The union would provide legal information and support to renters, as well as coordinate direct action measures.
Guidote has served as SSMU Mental Health Advocacy Coordinator since 2021. He also is the Union President of Syndicat Jeunesse J’Écoute/Kids Help Phone since 2020, and was the Co-President of LGBTQ+ Marianopolis at Marianopolis College between 2017-2018.
Guidote’s platform prioritizes “celebrating,” “care,” and “coming together.” He outlines plans to celebrate the McGill community by organizing an open-air street party on McTavish, hosted by SSMU. He also proposes establishing a committee under the BoD to evaluate the possibility of purchasing a SSMU Clubs and Faculties Retreat Cottage that would “support” faculties and clubs. Guidote also emphasizes SSMU’s mandate to care for all members of the society – he thus promises to bolster the Social Committee’s mandate by including casual staff in the mandate, requiring the committee to host a minimum number of networking events, and adjusting the committee’s budget and staffing accordingly. He additionally proposes establishing a translation and transcription service to support non-English speakers. Finally, Guidote presents plans to improve the University Centre; he proposes the creation of a SSMU cafeteria in the Centre, the creation of a green space in the Centre, and the creation of a curator position that would organize artistic showcases in the Centre.
Wright has experience within SSMU working as a Faculty of Arts Senator, Student Rights Researcher and Advocacy Commissioner, Black Affairs Commissioner, External Affairs Commissioner, Black Affairs Committee Chair, and as a member of SSAMMOSA. She also has experience in McGill-level policy development (having worked with McGill on the University’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion plan, along with the Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism), and has served on several of McGill’s Senate committees. In addition, Wright has worked with a number of non-profit organizations in leadership roles, such as the Canadian Federation of University Women, and the International Relations Students’ Association of McGill.
Wright prioritizes advocacy, equity and governance, and leadership and support in her platform. Her key initiatives include student support on immediate issues addressing student health and financial insecurity – for example, one program which she plans to implement is a “pay what you can” SSMU groceries program. Wright also seeks the creation of a SSMU Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Plan and Committee, and the SSMU Social Responsibility Strategy in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Another element of her proposed reforms to SSMU’s workplace culture is updating SSMU’s policies, such as the Equity Policy and the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy. Wright further outlines the creation of the SSMU Student Advocacy Objectives, which would set the strategic advocacy objectives of the society to McGill and all levels of government. Finally, Wright aims to make reforms to SSMU’s human resources department.
Endorsement: YES to Risann Wright
The McGill Daily editorial board endorses a YES vote for Risann Wright. While all three candidates expressed an interest in making SSMU more equitable and inclusive, Wright is the candidate with the most actionable goals for reforming SSMU’s toxic environment. Her proposals to establish an EDI Committee, reform the HR Department, and facilitate better communication between SSMU Commissioners demonstrate a commitment to making lasting concrete changes within SSMU. Additionally, her extensive prior experience with non-profit organizations and student advocacy prepare her well for both the political and business responsibilities of the SSMU President.
While the governance structure of both SSMU and McGill are in desperate need of democratization, it is to the Daily’s understanding that the McGill Student Union Democratization Initiative could work alongside the Executive Committee, rather than needing to occupy a space within SSMU’s existing hierarchy. Moreover, democratic reforms are not a substitute for actionable equity initiatives such as the ones which Wright is proposing. Wright has clear plans to address SSMU’s immediate needs – it is our hope that the MSUDI continues their work alongside SSMU to begin its long-term plans. Additionally, we encourage readers to support the democratization initiative whenever possible, and urge whoever is elected President to promote democracy within SSMU and McGill governance.
Kaur currently serves as the Parliamentarian for SSMU. Additionally, Kaur currently chairs the Nominating Committee and has sat on the Steering Committee. Furthermore, Kaur has served as VP Administration for McGill Students for World Vision. Kaur serves as VP Events of the Multi-Ethnic Student Alliance and as VP Operations of the McGill Dharma Society.
Kaur’s platform centres around making SSMU a safer space for gender and racialized minorities, in light of allegations of sexism and racism within the current administration. Kaur aims to organize inclusive and diverse events to represent the international student body, as well as provide greater resources for international students. She plans to work toward providing accommodations and increasing accessibility of events, especially Frosh. Further, Kaur aims to increase transparency through providing monthly, rather than quarterly, updates about the goings on at SSMU and continuing regular communications through social media.
Seth is the current Co-President of the Indian Students Association, as well as having served as First Year Rep, and is Director of Events at McGill Women in Leadership and an International Student Buddy. Seth has student government experience from high school and has work experience as a social media manager.
Seth’s platform focuses on improving campus mental health initiatives, increasing international student representation at SSMU, and increasing transparency through social media engagement and including a feedback form in VP Internal listservs. Seth wants to implement same-day, single session counselling at the Wellness Hub as well as create a mental health training module for students in the style of It Takes All of Us. As well, Seth aims to create a food bank where SSMU pays students to make meals, which are then provided for students free-of-charge up to 5 times per semester.
Williams has experience in Frosh leadership. Additionally, Williams serves as VP Social for a campus dance group. Williams has communications experience through the McGill Design Consultancy. However, she does not have significant experience in student government or SSMU.
Williams hopes to reinstate the “university experience” by making events more inclusive and accessible by distributing equity packages to students and equipping students and staff with equity, accessibility, inclusivity, and sexual violence training prior to drinking events. Williams plans to diversify the modes of outreach between students and SSMU through creating an SSMU app, as well as restructuring the website and continuing to send listservs. Williams aims to prioritize communication with students who might feel excluded from SSMU events.
Endorsement: YES to Jasleen Kaur
The Daily editorial board endorses a YES vote to Jasleen Kaur. Among the candidates for VP Internal, Kaur has the most experience in SSMU politics. Her experience as Parliamentarian for the Legislative Council and sitting on the Steering Committee makes her well versed with the Society’s Constitution and Internal Regulations. These positions have given her valuable insight into the inner-workings of SSMU – including SSMU’s alleged issues of being a toxic work environment, hostile to gender and racialized minorities. Kaur’s experience makes her the most knowledgeable about the current needs of SSMU. As well, Kaur’s positions as VP Events and VP Operations in student organizations provide her with event-planning experience, which is crucial to the VP Internal portfolio. Kaur’s dedication to maintaining transparency between students and SSMU, providing accommodations and ensuring that events reflect the interests of the diverse student body make her a promising candidate for the position.
Williams is not fit for the position due to her lack of experience in student government – this includes a lack of understanding of policies that already exist within SSMU, like that Frosh staff are already mandated to complete equity training prior to events. Other than having clear plans for developing avenues of communication between students and SSMU, her platform points are generally vague. Although Seth does have some experience with student government and specifies key ways to achieve greater equity within her platform, the Daily has reservations about her mental health counselling and food bank initiatives. Mental healthcare should go beyond single-session counselling; additionally, because student-led services already take a great deal of responsibility in caring for students’ mental health, we believe it would be more productive to advocate for more mental health services at the University level instead of introducing a mental health first aid initiative. Finally, the existence of Midnight Kitchen would make the food bank redundant.
Kaur’s experience in SSMU is what makes her the superior candidate – it is unacceptable to run for a position on the executive committee if a candidate does not have a thorough understanding of the inner workings of SSMU. Some candidates run without having even a basic knowledge of SSMU’s structure and governance, let alone the expertise which a position on the Executive Committee demands. In particular, it is crucial for the VP Internal to be knowledgeable of the Involvement Restrictions Policy as they are tasked with event planning; whichever candidate is elected to this position ought to familiarize themselves with the Policy before their term begins. Given Kaur’s experience and knowledge of SSMU, as well as her equity-focused platform points and plans for greater transparency, the Daily endorses a yes vote for Jasleen Kaur.
Masny has a great deal of experience in activist networks throughout Montreal, as well as experience with accessibility and experience working under the VP External portfolio. They have four years of organizing experience in various organizations, including with C-JAM and engaging with the Milton-Parc community. Notably, they have been involved in solidarity work with the kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera in the Royal Victoria Hospital context, a particularly important facet of the VP External portfolio. Further, Masny’s experience in the VP External portfolio as the External Affairs Coordinator means they have a strong understanding of the office and the nature of the roles working within it.
Masny’s platform focuses on student engagement, solidarity building, and generally fulfilling the VP External’s mandates. They plan to do more consultation with councillors and constituents in order to make SSMU a more democratic institution and to engage more with the student body. They also intend to create a framework to facilitate ease of access to support for initiatives like mutual aid projects in Milton-Parc and campaigns opposing Bill 2 and Bill 21. They also propose more clarity regarding the definitions of ‘confidentiality’ in the SSMU context, which they believe would help avoid abuses of power and promote more transparency between SSMU and the student body.
In terms of building solidarity, Masny wants to work with the Black Affairs Commissioner to better employ the Institutions of Public Safety Position, and noted that there should be a better use of positions like this to further the SSMU’s mandate. They also want to work with student unions across campus and across the city, build relations with Indigenous stakeholders and Montreal community organizations, as well as with Undergraduates of Canadian Research Intensive Universities (UCRU).
Endorsement: YES to Val Masny
The Daily endorses a YES vote to Val Masny. Masny’s platform is extensive, with actionable and realistic goals that they have clear plans to implement. Their experience in the Montreal activist community will be invaluable to the VP External portfolio in its relations with the city and other student unions, and their knowledge of the work of community groups like the kanien’kehá:ka kahnistensera in their fight against McGill demonstrates a fundamental understanding of power dynamics at play in the university. They have a great deal of experience with the External portfolio at SSMU and have an extremely clear understanding of the duties of the role, which has been a historic issue with inexperienced candidates running unprepared for SSMU office. Masny is also clear about the unregulated nature of confidentiality within SSMU, and believes there should be more clarity about what is and is not confidential in order to increase transparency between the union and the student body – with the issues that this year’s Executive Committee had regarding confidentiality, a candidate passionate about clarity will be an asset to the university community.
VP University Affairs
During his first year, Yang served as an Associate Senator; currently, he is the Science Senator representing SUS. This experience gives Yang knowledge about student government and SSMU. His involvement in student governance has given him the chance to build a working relationship with administration and deans, including correspondence about his proposed Academic Wellness Proposal. Yang also has experience with the McGill United Nations Assembly, which includes educating on racism and equity.
The Academic Wellness Proposal is designed to provide the resources necessary to achieve wellness in the classroom. It would include centralized syllabus repositories, modules for wellness, universal design and learning, and increased accessibility with universal note taking. In this vein, Yang also intends to advocate for the installation of audio/visual equipment in classrooms, where possible. Yang also seeks to increase knowledge about student rights and the responsibilities of SSMU, and ensure mechanisms of transparency to allow students to hold McGill accountable. Included in this is a goal to improve clear communication channels with and within SSMU – notably, Yang plans on meeting with the VP Academic of faculty-level associations once per semester. Further, one of Yang’s goals is to “expand autonomy” of Black Affairs and Indigenous Affairs by stepping up to administrative and organizational tasks, allowing more time for commissioners to focus on advocacy and activism.
Endorsement: YES with reservations to Kerry Yang
The Daily editorial board endorses a YES with reservations vote to Kerry Yang. Yang is passionate about his ambitious ideas, but elements of his platform remain vague; for example, it is unclear what channels Yang has in mind to increase communication between SSMU and faculty-level associations. Further, his criticisms of the Know Your Rights campaign expressed in an interview with the Daily are unclear – it is not our belief that the campaign has been unsuccessful in the past. However, Yang’s experience in student governance and his passion for improving students’ well-being will be highly beneficial if he is elected to the VP University Affairs position.
VP Student Life
Koulibaly has three years of experience serving as a club executive. She is currently the president of the McGill African Students’ Society. She has also been involved in overseeing the implementation of the Action Plan to Address Anti-Black Racism, and was involved in Frosh. While Koulibaly does not have experience directly working under SSMU, she has experience working with the Society, notably interacting with VP Finance and SSMU events coordinator in her capacity as a club executive.
Koulibaly proposes to improve the relationship between SSMU and its clubs and services by streamlining communications through a functional events calendar, providing greater access to event spaces, and increasing recognition for club and service involvement by creating more opportunities to build up co-curricular record through club participation. She also proposes the introduction of a new policy modelled after Western University’s academic consideration policy – if implemented, the policy would make it easier for students to submit late work. Her plans for the mental health component of the VP Student Life portfolio also include supporting the implementation and design of software that centralizes existing mental health resources. Finally, Koulibaly stresses the importance of family care under the VP Student Life portfolio; she aims to provide further support to caregivers and expecting parents, and to support and promote the expansion and relocation of the SSMU daycare.
Bornyi has served as SSMU’s Mental Health Outreach Coordinator this past year. She has served as VP Communications on La Citadelle Residence Council, and Communications Coordinator at NDP Students at McGill. She has also worked as Staff Wellness Room Coordinator at Secondary Students’ United Nations Symposium, and Director of Health and Wellness Education at Alpha Phi McGill.
Bornyi’s platform proposes 1) mental health service provision and accessibility for SSMU members; 2) improved liaison between SSMU and its clubs, services, and student groups; and 3) a positive, productive relationship amongst SSMU and its members. Towards her first goal, Bornyi pledges commitment to supporting and growing SSMU mental health services, creating designated mental health days in residences, increasing opportunities for student interaction outside their own faculties, and ensuring that the SSMU Mental Health Policy is adequately overseen by the SSMU “Mental Health team.” Next, Bornyi promises to improve liaison between SSMU and its constituents through the implementation of mandatory mental health/wellness training for club executives, instituting monthly check-ins for club representatives, and the creation of a collaborative SSMU Google Calendar. Finally, Bornyi promises to work towards increasing the affordability and accessibility of Gerts, expanding and promoting volunteer services at SSMU Daycare, and increasing the number of certifications available through SSMU MiniCourses.
Endorsement: YES to Hassanatou Koulibaly
The McGill Daily editorial board endorses a YES vote for Hassanatou Koulibaly. While both candidates are entering the position with a wealth of experience and innovative ideas, Koulibaly has the most tangible plans for improving accessibility and equity in student life. Her emphasis on providing adequate and accessible space for clubs and events demonstrates an understanding of the need for such spaces – this is crucial given SSMU’s history of making changes to the spaces available to student organizations without consulting or communicating with students. Additionally, this is an especially important consideration as the university continues to transition to in-person activities in the upcoming governance year. Koulibaly also has concrete goals for enacting structural change to improve students’ mental health, notably citing policies put in place by other universities regarding academic consideration. These policies will enact foreseeable structural change, and do not place the onus on students unlike proposed policies from several other candidates. Furthermore, Koulibaly’s comprehensive plan to make reforms to the SSMU daycare demonstrates her understanding of SSMU’s family care program and the issues surrounding it and indicates a sensitivity to the challenges that student parents and caregivers face at large.
Previously, Pizzarro has worked as a treasurer for summer camps in France; he has no experience in McGill’s student government.
Pizzarro believes that VP Finance has previously been treated as an apolitical position; contrary to this, he seeks in part to treat the position as a way to support the Society’s political initiatives. He also aims to streamline the funding process for SSMU services and student groups, as lack of communication and complex bureaucratic processes have made it difficult for student groups to receive funds in a timely manner.
Endorsement: YES with reservations
The Daily editorial board endorses a YES vote to Marco Pizzarro, with reservations. We commend Pizzarro’s emphasis on using the VP Finance portfolio to support sustainability and democratization initiatives. There is no such thing as an “apolitical” role in the Society; a VP Finance who aims to use their position to support the political work of the Society would be instrumental in fulfilling the Society’s political mandate. In his interview with the Daily, Pizzarro also expressed a desire to support the work of other executives through the VP Finance portfolio. As much of his platform aligns with the VP External portfolio, this cooperative attitude will be essential to carrying out his ideas, if he is elected. Finally, his goal to make SSMU’s funding process more efficient indicates that Pizzarro is sensitive to the concerns of student groups, suggesting that he will be receptive to student feedback.
The Daily’s reservations lie in Pizzarro’s lack of experience in student government and managing large sums of money. However, Pizzarro acknowledges his lack of experience and appears to be taking proactive measures to prepare himself for the role of VP Finance; for this reason, we do not believe these concerns warrant a “no” vote.
The voting period for the Winter 2022 Executive Elections will take place from 9:00 a.m. on March 14 to 5:00 p.m. on March 18. Please visit ssmu.simplyvoting.com to cast your vote.