Editorial, Opinion

2023 SSMU executive midterm reviews

The Tribune’s editorial board presents its midterm reviews of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) executives. Tribune editors researched and communicated with each executive before leading an editorial board discussion on the executives’ work and accomplishments. Editors with conflicts of interest abstained from discussing, writing, and editing relevant reviews.

President: Alexandre Ashkir

Ashkir ran on a platform focused on policy reform, increased accessibility of SSMU support and resources, and transparency. While Ashkir has little to point to in terms of achieving these goals, he says that this is due to his position requiring that he prioritize supporting all other executives. He also said that many of his goals, such as reforming SSMU policies, take longer than a semester to accomplish. Although he has yet to make policy changes, he is working with the Governance Reform Committee to create clearer and more institutionalized policies within SSMU. He aims to finish these projects by the end of the year or to set out a work plan for his successor. Ashkir has been able to slightly expand the SSMU Grocery Program, which his predecessor Risann Wright launched, and hopes to integrate it within a larger coalition of food accessibility programs on campus. One of Ashkir’s biggest accomplishments of the semester has been the steps taken toward increasing SSMU’s transparency. At the beginning of the year, he spearheaded a meeting with student media and created more accessible and reliable avenues for contact. He plans to increase transparency, hoping to regain student trust and engagement with SSMU. Overall, Ashkir has made good progress on his goals given the time constraints; however, as he goes forward, having more specific plans would be an asset to himself and his constituents.

VP Student Life: Nadia Dakdouki

Going into this position, Dakdouki sought to boost engagement with SSMU, increase clubs’ visibility, and ultimately improve students’ and student groups’ experiences interacting with the Society. Her biggest challenge so far has been initiating new projects while both she and SSMU have been overloaded with work. That said, she put together a very successful Activities Night, organized an Activities Night Lite, and created a Clubs Guidebook. She has also maintained good communication with students via office hours, event advertising, emails, and the Vice President (VP) Student Life Instagram. Additionally, Dakdouki is helping to develop a financial how-to guide for clubs, creating a SSMU insurance guide for students, and starting a student volunteer program at the SSMU daycare. In the winter semester, Dakdouki plans to run more club events and will bring back Mental Health Action Week. She is also looking into creating a relaxation area on campus, as well as new mental health services with Keep.meSAFE that would be tailored to students affected by the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. As was mentioned in her campaign, she hopes to increase in-class announcements and student group tabling. So far, Dakdouki has made strides in bolstering student groups while mental health and family care, which are also under her portfolio, seem to have been given less attention; this will be resolved if Dakdouki accomplishes what she has planned for this upcoming semester.

VP Finance: Amina Kudrati-Plummer

Following the resignation of former VP Finance Alice Fang in Aug. 2023, SSMU held a by-election resulting in the election of Kudrati-Plummer on Oct. 20 with 60.6 per cent of the vote. Kudrati-Plummer underwent two weeks of training and only officially assumed the position on Nov. 13. SSMU had to divide the responsibilities of the VP Finance position between the other executives prior to Nov. 13, meaning that Kudrati-Plummer is still consolidating her responsibilities in the role. Kudrati-Plummer has a clear vision for reforming SSMU’s internal accounting processes. Improving financial transparency within SSMU is her main goal, an endeavour she believes is crucial to restoring the student base’s faith in the governing body. She also hopes to develop cost-saving programs for students to alleviate financial stressors and re-evaluate the SSMU’s internal accounting process, specifically concerning tracking services and budgets. Regarding complaints from SSMU clubs about difficulties accessing their finances, Kudrati-Plummer explained that this is due to issues with the Royal Bank of Canada—SSMU’s bank—that SSMU cannot directly control. She further explained that this went unaddressed before she stepped into the position, as immediate tasks such as re-budgeting and SSMU’s financial audit needed to be prioritized. With improving the current banking system as her top priority, Kudrati-Plummer will hopefully be able to address this pressing issue next semester.  The Tribune sees these goals as critical, especially given the SSMU’s claims of “financial peril” that prompted the request for a 71 per cent base fee increase in the fall referendum. The Tribune hopes that Kudrati-Plummer will emphasize financial transparency and accessibility in the coming months.

VP External: Liam Gaither

Gaither’s main priority going into this position was to ensure that SSMU would be able to continue supporting groups on campus and aiding in student mobilization efforts. He cites the creation of the Community Solidarity Fund fee—a $1 opt-outable fee that feeds a discretionary fund for social justice-oriented individuals and groups—as External Affairs’ biggest accomplishment of the fall semester. To promote off-campus volunteering opportunities, Gaither revived the Community Engagement Day, which took place on Oct. 26 and featured around 30 organizations from the greater Montreal area. An important part of Gaither’s work has focused on mobilizing students against tuition hikes. On the week of Nov. 20, a successful petition calling for the cancellation of tuition increases for out-of-province students that he participated in writing gathered more than 30,000 signatures and was sent to the Quebec National Assembly. This work will carry into the coming months, with an emphasis on building a better sense of student solidarity on campus. The External Affairs department will also bring forward two policies next semester: A food security policy to make the issue more actionable by executives and a union solidarity policy to provide the department with an official mandate to work with unions on campus. However, initiatives aimed at creating links between organizations on campus have been lacking, and a focus on strengthening relations between groups would be an asset in mobilizing students.

VP University Affairs: Lalia Katchelewa

The VP University Affairs is responsible for facilitating relations between the SSMU and the McGill administration, supporting and furthering equity and student advocacy as well as fostering academic innovation in the library. During her campaign, Katchelewa emphasized advocating for food security, menstrual health, and supporting student advocacy. However, she has only been able to partially stick to these goals, mainly strengthening food security initiatives on campus. A significant hurdle Katchelewa has faced is the bureaucracy and power structure of the McGill administration. In the second part of her term, Katchelewa hopes to further press the administration to take action on several critical issues facing students—especially food insecurity. She aims to foster collaboration between faculties as well as other institutions by organizing an inter-faculties summit and cooperating with the Concordia Student Union. Similarly, Katchelewa would like to double down on student outreach. She emphasized the need to be more accessible and visible on campus and proposed tabling at football games to better engage with the community. She says that the “corporate aspect” of the SSMU, as she calls it, often conflicts with its union role, and that she has been working towards striking a just balance between both. As her portfolio encompasses crucial political components, such as sitting on the Indigenous Affairs Committee, the Francophone Affairs Committee, and the Black Affairs Committee, her lack of clear accomplishments and attention to these matters is concerning. The Tribune urges Katchelewa to increase transparency on the equity and advocacy initiatives and support she provides to students.

VP Sustainability and Operations: Hassanatou Koulibaly 

After serving as last year’s VP Student Life, Koulibaly returned to the SSMU executive team this year, taking on the newly-reinstated VP Sustainability and Operations role which has not been filled since 2017. She ran on a platform that promised a thorough and thoughtful reestablishment of the role’s portfolio, an expansion of MiniCourses, and ensuring clubs follow the SSMU sustainability mandate. Koulibaly returned to SSMU prepared; although she effectively trained herself in this renewed role, she has been responsive and proactive. Already, she has laid the groundwork for athletic insurance in the SSMU building, a Gerts ambassador program starting in the Winter term, and auditing SSMU spaces to ensure clubs can operate. While Koulibaly is clearly on top of the operations aspect of her role, she had less precise action plans for integrating sustainability into executives’ portfolios. Hopefully, now that the VP Finance role has been filled, Koulibaly can better estimate sustainable resource management and put equal emphasis on that aspect of her role. 

VP Internal: Jon Barlas

As part of the VP Internal mandate of community and communication, one of Barlas’ main priorities throughout his campaign was to increase the accessibility of SSMU events by breaking away from their traditional alcohol-centred parties. In line with this goal, he organized two highly successful dry events: A Friday the 13th movie night and a thrift flip. In addition, he has worked to increase SSMU’s accountability by holding weekly travelling office hours in the Arts Undergraduate Society, Management Undergraduate Society, and Engineering Undergraduate Society offices. This has allowed Barlas to meet executives and students alike and answer their questions about SSMU. Barlas has also worked to improve alumni relations, which he did not feel were well-handled by previous VP Internal Cat Williams, by sitting on the McGill Alumni-Student Engagement Council and working with the Scarlet Key Society. Overall, Barlas is performing well in his role. Going forward, he aims to continue planning accessible events in collaboration with interfaculty organizations and hopes to create a SSMU Wiki, inspired by the EUS Wiki, to share resources with students.

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