Topics included divestment, mental health initiatives, and combating international student tuition hikes
This year, Super Tuesday took on a new meaning at UVic as the day of the Lead Directors Debate preceding the UVSS election. On March 3, the candidates gathered in the Vertigo Lounge in the Student Union Building (SUB). With two students running for each Lead Director position, it was time for candidates to go head-to-head answering questions about their platforms from moderators Emily Fagan, Editor-in-Chief of the Martlet, and Glen Swarnadhipathi, Station Manager of CFUV 101.9 FM, as well as questions from the audience.
First up were the Campaigns and Community Relations candidates — Tal Katz and Emily Lowan. Questions centred around advocating for students with BC Transit, and on-campus initiatives regarding mental health resources, consent, and divestment. Katz wants to focus on data collection through photos to persuade BC Transit to make changes that would benefit students. Lowan plans to gain a seat for students on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission.
Mental Health initiatives are important to both candidates. Part of Katz’s plan to revitalize existing UVSS campaigns that he believes are being neglected is to reboot the campaign ReThink Mental Health. Lowan’s focus is on community-based care — because self-care can be difficult. She wants high-quality training for volunteers.
Both candidates expressed the desire to focus their portfolios’ funds on diverse ranges of initiatives, not only that of divestment from fossil fuels.
Second on the stage were Director of Events candidates Tommy Lay and Sebastian Franco-Monroy. The two candidates focused on different types of events they wanted to run. Franco-Monroy wants to prioritize philanthropic events, such as Cops for Cancer. Lay is carrying forward the dream of hosting a large-scale event at UVic, something that previous Directors of Events have tried to achieve and failed; however, when questioned about his ability to pull off such an event, Lay referenced the work put in by last year’s director, Noor Chasib. Lay believes he can build on Chasib’s groundwork.
Had the most recent Semi-Annual General Meeting made quorum, the UVSS would have voted on removing “FUN!” from their stated values. Asked about which values the UVSS should be promoting with their events, Franco-Monroy said that “fun” could be incorporated into other UVSS values. Lay, while acknowledging the value of having fun, said that stating “fun” as a value takes away from the UVSS’s more serious values and events.
Director of Finance candidates Caleb Burd (a Director-at-Large with the current UVSS board) and Shaun Zhang took the stage next. The candidates fielded questions about individual projects, how they would balance fiscal responsibility with meeting students’ needs, and how they would increase fiscal transparency.
Burd’s most notable project, should he be elected, will be lobbying to make the athletics fee — paid by all undergraduate students — optional. To that end, Burd intends to create a joint committee with UVic and Vikes Recreation. This raised questions about whether or not making one fee optional would place the UVSS at the top of a slippery slope of allowing students to opt out of necessary fees. Burd reminded the room that the UVSS is mandated by the Societies Act to collect fees; however, he has been approached by numerous students who do not feel that the athletics fee is in their best interest.
Zhang’s focus is on transparency and avoiding “frivolous” spending. He believes that costs could be cut in SUB business advertising. He also wants to encourage more students to attend Finance Committee meetings.
The candidates for Director of International Student Relations, Dipayan Nag and Justin Lo, faced questions about how they intend to increase international student involvement and community cohesion on campus. Speaking about increasing student involvement in the International Student Committee, Nag described the current atmosphere as “fractured.” He wants to work with other outreach groups and student associations to generate more participation with the committee. Lo, asked about how he would promote diversity and inclusion, stated his intention to unite existing campus groups that serve international students in order to host more events that promote different cultures. Lo also wants to provide international students with additional support by engaging them in a mentorship program that, unlike the UVic Global Community, would operate on an “opt-out” basis, rather than requiring students to sign up.
International student tuition hikes are an ongoing concern at UVic, and the Board of Governors will vote on another increase this month. Lo and Nag were questioned by Efe Türker, current Director of International Student Relations, on how they intended to advocate against tuition hikes on behalf of international students, when the position does not have full Lead Director privileges. Both candidates agree that intermittent protests are not enough, and expressed their intention to establish and maintain a continuous dialogue with the Board of Governors outside of a financial context about the issue.
Next in the hot seats were Sarina de Havelyn and Isabella Lee, running for Director of Outreach and University Relations. De Havelyn is a current Director-at-Large, and Lee served as Director of Student Affairs on the 2018/2019 UVSS board. The candidates were questioned about their initiatives for mental health and the environment, and how they would encourage increased student participation in UVSS general meetings (which often do not meet quorum) and board meetings.
Asked about whether or not her intention to establish an evening and in-faculty counselling would conflict with the soon-to-be-up-and-running 24/7 mental health support line, de Havelyn clarified that her initiatives would not draw resources from any existing services.
Lee’s primary campaign focus is implementing a Green New Deal for UVic. Asked about how she intends to achieve this, she spoke to her previous experience on the Board of Governors.
The Martlet is often the only audience member at UVSS Board meetings. De Havelyn says that she intends to use social media to promote awareness, and free food to draw students towards becoming more engaged. Lee believes that students will attend meetings if issues important to them are being discussed.
The final candidates called to the stage are the Director of Student Affairs candidates, Dalal Tubeishat and Katy Berglund, who each have projects in mind that they feel will benefit students. Asked about her promotion of a “consent and accountability framework,” Berglund clarifies that she intends to build on existing guidelines, providing a standardized structure applicable to all clubs and course unions. Tubeishat’s platform includes a plan to make clubs voting members in the allocation of UVSS funds. Asked about whether or not clubs should be able to make decisions about club funding from a limited pool, Tubeishat points out that course unions are able to vote on their own fund allocations, so clubs should be able to do the same.
Both have plans to make themselves more available to club and course union representatives. Berglund intends to hold office hours specifically for this purpose, and Tubeishat (a current Director-at-Large) has already spoken with several representatives about issues that they feel require advocacy.
Fagan and Swaradhipathi then opened the floor for a 20-minute question period for any candidates remaining in the room.
Following audience questions, the three-hour forum came to a close.
To watch the live-stream of the Lead Directors’ Forum, visit the Martlet’s Facebook page. Voting takes place from March 4-6, and can be found at webvote.uvic.ca.